In the first of these two posts on John’s gospel, I looked at some of the ways he differed from the other gospels. We saw how much he organised his writing around Jewish festivals in Jerusalem, and also took a look at the problems his language created for Christian attitudes to the Jewish people. Today I want to go on to explore, especially, two key themes that are have a significant impact in the life of the church and are well reflected in the lectionary’s choices.Continue reading “Truth in the dock, the Spirit at the bar: John’s distinctive themes”
I expect this to be the first of two posts on John’s gospel as I resume this series after Christmas. But anyone coming to this version of the story after reading the other three immediately sees significant differences in both style and content. Short pithy sayings are out, and long meditations are in. There are no exorcism stories from Jesus’s ministry, but the cross is portrayed as a casting out of Satan, described as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31). Disciples who occur as significant characters in the synoptic gospels, like James and John the sons of Zebedee, don’t get a mention, while others like Philip and Thomas, who only appear as names in the first three gospels, get speaking parts in John.Continue reading “Retelling the Jesus story after long meditation: John’s gospel”
In my first post on Luke, I noted how important Jerusalem was for the way he tells his story. The story begins in Jerusalem with Zechariah’s temple service, and ends there too with the disciples in the temple praising God. From the time of the transfiguration, Luke talks of Jesus journeying to Jerusalem, arriving there on that first Palm Sunday. And in his second volume, Luke tells the story of how the good news is carried from Jerusalem at the beginning of the story, to Rome, the heart of the empire, at the end.Continue reading “To infinity and beyond! (journeying via Jerusalem) – Luke’s journey structure”
The comedian Emo Philips used to have a great one-liner:
When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.
St Luke has more about repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ ministry than the other gospels, and in a way his take on it is as strange as Emo’s. Luke’s Jesus is very much the friend of sinners.
It should be said straight away that Judaism was very much in favour of repentance, and was always happy to see sinners engage in it. It’s just that some of those who clashed with Jesus didn’t recognise people’s responses to Jesus as repentance. Repentance was laid out clearly in the law. It involved making sacrifices and reparation, and amendment of life. Partying with Jesus didn’t look much like that kind of serious acknowledgement of sin.Continue reading “When repentance is more God’s work than ours: Luke’s strange stress on divine mercy”
This post is in the series Rite Reading. The first of three posts on Luke.
If (as I noted yesterday) Mark feels rushed, Luke feels well-paced. Unlike Matthew he does not collect Jesus’ teaching into long sections, but intersperses it with stories. He describes his work as an “orderly account” and implies that he knows of others which aren’t! Perhaps because he is such an accomplished story-teller himself, he makes a point of including more parables than the other gospels, including two which usually number among people’s favourites: the Good Samaritan, and the parable often referred to as the Prodigal Son.
Luke includes quite a wide range of material, and seems to be aiming for a rounded picture. Perhaps sometimes he includes a story because he thinks it’s too good to leave out. But this wealth of Jesus-tradition means that it is sometimes harder to detect his key themes than it is with Matthew and Mark. Because of this wealth of material, I’m going to break this section on Luke into three blog posts, over three days.Continue reading “A gospel rich in stories: Luke”
Unlike Matthew’s carefully introduced and triumphantly concluded story, Mark begins fairly abruptly and ends even more suddenly than it begins. That beginning reflects a sense of pace that Mark injects into his gospel; Jesus is constantly on the move, and his mission is presented with a sense of urgency fitting to a figure who is announcing that the kingdom of God has come close.Continue reading “Riddle me this: Jesus as a misunderstood puzzle. Mark’s story”
In yesterday’s post on Matthew, I looked at some of his key themes. Today I want to develop that further, by looking at what seems to be a fairly complicated relationship between what we would nowadays call Christians and Jews. In Matthew’s context, both communities are made up of Jews, one a community that believes in Jesus as the Messiah, and one that doesn’t. Matthew’s group of Jesus-believing Jews may include some non-Jews, but his book seems mainly directed to Jewish believers in Jesus.Continue reading “Anti-semitic? The Pharisees and the Jewish people in Matthew’s gospel”
This will be the first of two posts on Matthew’s gospel. As he tells the story, Matthew showcases both his admiration for, and frustration with, Mark’s version of Jesus’s life. We see his admiration, because he adopts Mark’s basic idea, and often follows him almost word for word. We see his frustration because while Mark describes Jesus as a teacher, he includes very little of Jesus’ teaching. Matthew, by way of contrast, has gathered together a wide range of Jesus’ teaching, which he often presents in extended teaching sessions, beginning with the collection we now know as the sermon on the mount.1Continue reading “A well-trained scribe: Matthew and the call to perfection”
The order of the biblical books is is not accidental but deliberate. The Old Testament ends with prophecy. The New Testament begins with the gospel that puts the greatest stresse on Jesus as the fulfilment of prophecy. This is Matthew’s version of the story of Jesus.
The canonical order is almost certainly not the order in which the gospels were written. In a rare instance of near universal academic agreement, biblical scholars think that this sub-genre of ancient biography was invented by Mark: the first person to write a gospel.Continue reading “Four portraits, no photo: every gospel tells a story”
Today’s is the third of three posts looking at the so-called minor prophets. It brings to a close my whistle-stop tour of the First, or Old Testament for those who are trying to understand better what they read in their Sunday assemblies. Today’s four prophets are Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.Continue reading “Waiting for the return of the King: at the end of the First Testament”