My school starts next Monday. I teach at the Osher Life-long Learning Institute (OLLI) at the UConn branch in Waterbury. This term I'm doing a 5 week session on "Reading the Gospels Side-by-Side". One of the things we do that annoys me no end is 'conflate' the 4 very different stories of Jesus into one narrative. So, I teach this course, making sure people realize Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are distinct and different.
I'll jump to the end and share with you what I share to end the class.
LOOKING FOR JESUS
Most of us are looking for Jesus.
One place we could expect to find Jesus is in the Four Gospels. So we turn to them. If we read them critically and carefully, what we discover is not Jesus but Four distinct Jesus'.
When confronted with that reality, there are two obvious reactions. Either I (I'll speak only for myself here and invite you to ponder your reaction)...either I despair and give up my search OR I walk the road with each of the Gospel writer's Jesus' and glean what I can from the four of them.
When I am doubtful, it is Mark's Jesus I want to walk beside because he too struggled with doubt. He spends time with the wild beasts. He can't seem to understand what is being asked of him by God. He agonizes in the Garden. He feels abandoned on the cross. Mark's Jesus is a good companion in times of doubt.
When I am confused, it is Matthew's Jesus I turn to. Matthew's Jesus is jerked away from his home to a foreign land. His earthly father relies on dreams and visions of angels in his confusion. The Magi visit him and give him great gifts. Matthew's Jesus knows that traditions and boundaries and scripture can help in times of confusion. Matthew's Jesus knows right from wrong, truth from Falsehood, the sheep from the goats. Matthew's Jesus stands on the mountain top and speaks wisdom to those who are in darkness and confusion. The Jesus of Matthew has correctives to my confusion.
John's Jesus is my traveling companion when things are going well and I am feeling confident. John's Jesus is certain and resolute and convinced of his purpose and his way. John's Jesus has an ego to match my own. Nothing much bothers him. His eyes are on the prize. His feet are firmly on the ground even as his soul soars to heavenly places. In 'good times' John's Jesus is the ideal companion. He can validate my confidence, inspire me to even greater things, teach me that I am loved and meant to love others. He breathes on me and wishes me “Shalom”, which means fullness and health and hopefulness. There is nothing like the Jesus of John when God's in his heaven and all is right with the world. Walking the road with him just reaffirms my optimism and hopefulness and sense of well-being.
But when I suffer, when I am in pain, only Luke's Jesus will do. He will walk with me to Emmaus and calm my fears and set my heart of fire. The breathless, timeless songs and poetry of Luke soothe me, heal me. Luke's Jesus is the healer, the non-anxious presence, the font of all Compassion. Luke's Jesus walks with those in distress, in pain, in need. Luke's Jesus is constantly standing with the marginalized and outcasts. Luke's Jesus teaches us on the same level where we stand. He is always on my level, near me, suffering with me, forgiving me, holding me near. Luke's Jesus walks the road of our world's suffering. He knows me through and through. He bears my burden. He lightens my load. He touches me and makes me whole.
Seeking Jesus and finding four is 'good news'. Four companions on the Way to the Lover of souls, four brothers with various gifts for various needs, four faces of God, four revelations of the Almighty.
A hymn from my childhood says, “What a friend we have in Jesus....” It is wondrous and precious to have a friend. But to have four, all of whom love me and care for me and walk my road with me. What could be better than that???