Thursday, May 1, 2014

Reading the Gospels side by side

I'm teaching a course at The Osher Life-long Learning Institute at UConn in Waterbury called "Reading the Gospels Side-by-Side".

The point to the course is to make distinctions between the 4 different stories the 4 gospels tell. Matthew, Mark and Luke are quite similar because both Matthew and Luke had a copy of Mark to work from Over 50% of Matthew and Luke are plagiarised from Mark though altered in some ways--Matthew to make his story more "Jewish" and Luke to make his story more "compassionate". Matthew and Luke also share a source--"Quella" in German and therefore referred to by scholars as "Q". And their are exclusive Luke and exclusive Matthew stories--Luke tells the birth narrative from the point of view of Mary, for example, and Matthew tells the story from Joseph's perspective. Neither Mark or John tell the birth narrative at all: Mark begins with Jesus being baptized by John and John--remarkably--begins his story "In the beginning" where "there was the Word".

In the 'synoptic' gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke--syn in Greek means roughly "the same place" as in "synonymous" and optic, of course, means "to see"--so those three 'see from roughly the same place") Jesus is constantly struggling to understand his identity--who he is and what he is meant to do. John has no such struggle. John's Jesus knows exactly who he is. The synoptic gospels tell us of Jesus' teaching (in parables for the most part) and his healing ministry (one out of five verses are about healing...which the church doesn't seem to take very seriously....)

John, on the other hand, is about Jesus' Identity--'who he is' rather than 'what he does'.

My favorite Gospel has always been Luke--the gospel of compassion. But this Lent and Easter were the year to read John and I must admit, several times during the Lenten and Holy Week and Easter Gospel reading, I found myself near tears. John is so beautifully written and so mystical that I was profoundly moved by his words almost every Sunday.

I think I may offer a class at OLLI in John's gospel--just reading it from beginning to end and noticing how wildly different it is from the other three. If  we only had John, Christianity would be quite different: more contemplative, more mystical, more sure of itself.

Every time I do this course on the gospels side-by-side, I am more appreciative of their differences and the difference their differences makes to the reader....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.