Four Gospels

Compare and contrast the 4 Gospels – meditations during Adoration. These thoughts occurred over several months as I spent an hour with the Lord each week.

Story of John the Baptist

Mark – introduces characters, basic information, a voice speaks to Jesus (written in Rome to Gentiles we think)

Matthew – shows John more fully like the prophets (Elijah), confrontation with Sadducees and Pharisees, Jesus has a winnowing fan to separate the wheat from the chaff, He identifies with us, tells John that He and John should fulfill all righteousness, the voice of God is heard by others (written to a Jewish Christian audience so it was necessary to align Jesus and what happened to Him with the prophets and prophecies of the Old Testament

Luke – adds historical markers to show us where and when and align with history, John baptized in more than one place, he confronted crowds – not sure if these confrontations were only with Sadducees and Pharisees. John tells people what to do after repenting of sins, confirmed that he was not the expected Messiah; he had trouble with Herod due to Herod’s living with his brother’s wife.

John – little different arrangement, starts with John the Baptist after introductory prayer or song, John the Baptist gives testimony about himself, no angry confrontation with Pharisees and Sadducees, tells us where Jesus came to John’s baptism – Bethany. John had been called by God, like simeon, God had imparted important information to him. He calls Jesus “son of God” though others alluded to it.

Temptation of Jesus

Mark – very short, immediately after His baptism, the Spirit of God led him to the desert which is a place of great danger with little water or food. The desert was a place where Israel rebelled after leaving Egypt. Yet here was a place  where in the solitude Jesus found and understood His mission – obedience to the Father’s plan.

Matthew – We learn how Jesus is tempted, (1)to be a bread king and accepts whatever God wills, (2) Jesus refuses to test God as Israel did demanding signs, (3) Jesus will not worship anyone but God while Israel built an idol in the desert. Matthew shows how Jesus’ experience is like the Jews in the desert, but Jesus does not sin.

Luke –  Both Luke and Matthew flesh out the devil who may have guessed who Jesus truly is. The order of the temptaions is different. Third temptation is in Jerusalem where Jesus’ final obedience to His Father is revealed. Luke speak to Gentiles – just as everyone is tempted by drive to power, worldly honor or material good, Jesus was tempted by chose obedience to God.

John – does not reflect on this story.

Beginning of Jesus ministry

Mark – this is one sentence but full of words that speak of amazing things. Gospel means “good news”. Jesus says: “This is the time of fulfillment ( what the Jews were promised, what they were waiting for)  The kingdom of God is at hand (it is here where you can touch and see it.) Repent and believe the Good News. (Prepare yourself by changing inside so you can listen and see). The scene makes me think that Jesus was saying as clear as could be – Yahweh is here and I am He. The Jews would have understood that.

Matthew – After John’s arrest, Jesus left Judea and went to Galilee. He left Nazareth where He had been living and working and went to Capernaum. Did Mary go with Him? One would think so, for He would not leave her alone to fend for herself. Capernaum is part of the prophesy of Isaiah, that “a great light” would come from that land. There Jesus began to preach that the kingdom of heaven was here. God has come as He had promised.

Luke – Jesus returns to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit” – don’t really understand that, but news of Him spread, so He must have been preaching and healing. His works announced that God had come, as He had promised.

John – John does not reflect on these first days except to speak of the call of the Apostles.

Call of the first disciples

Matthew and Mark are almost word for word the same. The call of Jesus “entails abandonment of the family and former way of life and emphasizes Jesus mysterious power.” (footnote) In Mark, Zebedee the father of John and James is left with hired men to help him. There is no indication in Matthew that someone is left behind with the father.

Luke – the story is arranged differently. We first see Jesus curing people and being rejected by those in the synagogue in Nazareth and had left Capernaum to ray in a deserted place. The story is arranged so that one who assume that the disciples had a previous encounter with Jesus for we read that He healed Simon’s mother-in-law. Then he preached by the side of the sea where Simon and his friends were working, cleaning their nets. Andrew is not mentioned. Jesus gets into Simon’s boat uninvited and suggests that they row out a bit and lower their nets. They had been unsuccessful with fishing the night before (the ordinary time to fish) but they comply with Jesus. After catching so many fish that help was needed to haul them all ashore, Simon recognizes Jesus power and along with James and John decides to follow Jesus. Jesus tells Simon “do not be afraid”, a customary saying when one is approached by the supernatural.

John – The first disciples have Jesus pointed out to them by John the Baptist who has baptized Jesus and then calls Him the “lamb of God”, a phrase ripe with meaning. Having been disciples of the Baptist, (Andrew and John)  they understand his words and begin to follow Jesus as they believe Jesus is the prophesied Messiah. So they follow to find out if the Baptist is correct. After spending the day with Him, Andrew gets his brother Simon and brings him to Jesus telling him that they have found the Messiah.

The author of this Gospel was a witness to these events, so I wonder if this re-telling is closer to the actual events. Did Andrew bring Simon first – perhaps he was close by? There are some suggestions that the Sabbath was quickly approaching as we are told it was 4 in the afternoon. Sabbath would have begun at sundown.

Cleansing of a Leper – June 1, 2012

This story only occurs in Matthew Chapter 8 vs. 1 -4 and Luke Chapter 6, vs 12-16.  The words of both of these episodes are exactly the same. The leper says to Jesus: “Lord, if you wish, you could make me clean”. Who  could cure leprosy? Only God could, so it appears that the leper has faith and great courage in approaching Jesus, for lepers were required to stay away from the healthy. The leper fell prostrate – only God deserves such honor – it speaks of total vulnerability. Leprosy was thought to be a sign of sin. Who can forgive sin? Only God can.

Jesus replies: “I do will it” and then He touched the leper. According to the Law, touching a leper was one of those actions which made a person unclean. Most people would not touch a leper, fearing they would contract the disease. Isn’t that what Jesus does with every man’s sin? He touches us and cleanses us of our sin. In Jesus words “I do will it” – those hearken back to the words of creation.

Then to touch another or be touched by another – what a gift that is, especially for the leper. How long had it been since the leper had been lovingly touched by another?

At least three gifts were given by this act of Jesus – a touch of love which is acceptance of the man, forgiveness of sin, and healing of a horrible disease which returned the leper to society and to his loved ones.

Touch encompasses acceptance and communion with others. God says in Genesis: “It is not good for man to be alone”. Yet the leper or anyone with a skin disease became an outcast, and therefore, alone. In so many of these stories of healings, Jesus returns the sick to society, and more importantly, to worship. Even now He does that, for what is a sinner but one who is sick and separated from God? 

Healing of the paralytic

Matthew Chapter 9, verses 1-8

In this story Jesus is back in Capernaum where He is living, although the story does not tell us the exact location. Knowing Jesus had returned people brought to Him a man on a stretcher. Jesus acknowledges the faith of the people and addresses the paralytic, telling him his sins are forgiven. Scribes standing nearby know that only God can forgive sins for it is God who is offended by our actions. Jesus questions the scribes, whom He knew were questioning His actions, and asks which is easier to say – your sins are forgiven or rise and walk. Each of these statements requires some kind of action which only God can do. To prove that He has the power to forgive sins, Jesus heals the man to the amazement of all.

There doesn’t seem to be any question that the man was truly paralyzed for all must have known him.

Mark Chapter 2 verses 1 – 12

Same basic story as in Matthew except Jesus is in His(?) house and the men who are carrying the paralytic cannot bring him to Jesus so they take him up on the roof and open the roof above Jesus’ head. There are 4 men – wonder if they are brothers or close friends of the man due to the extent they were willing to go to bring him to Jesus. (storming heaven with our prayers)

Luke  Chapter 5 verses 17 -26

Same basic story as Mark and Matthew although Pharisees are there as well as the scribes. The setting has changed somewhat. There are tiles on the roof, reflecting a Gentile home, rather than a dirt and straw roof. After the man was healed, he glorified God and went home, which we were not told in the other versions. The crowd states that “we have seen incredible things today” as if this were some kind of performance, although it may not have been meant that way. When Jesus is surprised by the faith of the four men who brought the paralytic, is He forgiving the four who brought the man or the man himself. In the other versions, he seems to be forgiving the paralytic.

June 15, 2012 The call of Levi (Matthew)

In Matthew’s Gospel we are given a name of this man – Matthew, one of the 12 apostles. The story is almost exactly the same in Mark and Luke except the tax collector is called Levi. Mark’s gospel adds “son of Alphaeus”. Alphaeus – who is he? Was another apostle also a son of this man – James, the first bishop of Jerusalem who wrote the Letter of James and was one of the early martyrs. There is some question about James the less, son of Alphaeus and James the apostle. The Gospels never mention that Matthew and James were brothers.

Only in Matthew’s Gospel does Jesus say to the Pharisees and scribes who question his eating with tax collectors and sinners “learn the meaning of the words “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. 

I question how it was that the Pharisees and scribes knew what Jesus was doing. Did they follow Him about or have spies watching him? Why? The only answer I can come up with is that the miracles of Jesus and the prophesies let them to wonder whether Jesus was “the one who is to come.” So they would watch and judge His actions to determine if they fit with what the Scriptures claimed.

In addition, they were zealous for their faith and tried to follow all of the laws of Moses. They may have considered themselves less sinful than the common man. They seemed to be the elite of their community. Did they work at all or spend all their time studying the Scriptures?

When Jesus says, “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners”, was he being sarcastic, referring to their belief about themselves?

We see many common people are friends of Matthew and came to the banquet he hosted. Perhaps he welcomed any who accepted him.

Job of the tax collector – one needed some education and an ability to speak with Romans. They kept records, tallied up sums and would have been separated from most Jews who considered them traitors and thieves.

The question of fasting —

Matthew 9:14-17

Remember that Matthew is addressing Jewish Christians. People watched Jesus and His disciples much as people today watch others who interest them – I do this too – in Adoration Chapel I watch how people reverence the Lord and try to imitate behaviors that I find beautiful. We watch how people live, what they wear and eat, whether they are kind and charitable, what friends they have and if these people meet with our approval, we imitate them. This is no different than people have always done.

So it must have been with Jesus. People were curious about Him. They expected the Messiah and wondered if He fit the image they had of who the Messiah would be.

Jesus compares Himself to a bridegroom. God often spoke of Israel as His spouse. At a wedding banquet people eat, talk, dance and celebrate the beginning of a new life which two people are making. The disciples of John would have noticed the connection Jesus was alluding to – John may have been imprisoned or dead at the time, so it would have been natural for John’s disciples to seek out Jesus – the Baptist had pointed to Him. Jesus tells them He will be forcibly taken away and then His disciples would mourn. Given the way John the Baptist was taken, his previous disciples could visualize this as well. No doubt they mourned and fasted for him, praying that God would restore the Baptist to them. Jesus calls His disciples wedding guests who would be celebrating. He questions why they should mourn when He is near.

There is a comparison of old and new cloth and old and new wineskins. How is this connected to the bridegroom? Perhaps as the footnote describes Jesus is bringing in a new tradition. Patching it with parts of the old would not work – the old would be damaged in some way. Perhaps He is saying the old is still good, but the Bridegroom is a new way of being.

Mark 3:18-22

In this version written to the Gentile Christians of Rome, it is the generic “people” who objected that Jesus and His disciples did not fast. Others – disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees – did. Perhaps these groups were seen by the “people” as being more outwardly religious and therefore closer to God – they made a point of fasting. So why doesn’t Jesus – who presents Himself as close to God – fast?

When the bridegroom is taken away – again not by choice “on that day”, the disciples of Jesus will fast, for then they shall mourn. Again Mark continues with the old/new cloth and wineskins.

Luke 6:33-39

Luke also addresses the Gentiles but gives a little fuller description of the event. We read that the disciples of John and the Pharisees “fast and offer prayers”, but Jesus and His disciples eat and drink! Jesus once again speaks of a bridegroom and guests. Then we are told that Jesus tells them a parable of cloth and wineskins. In the other two versions the statements are just given to us but here Luke tells us they are parables – a message perhaps that Jesus is expressing something important. 

The cloth story speaks of tearing a new cloak (this is different – before it was just new cloth patched to old) which is the way of Jesus, and patching the old cloak which was the old covenant. New and old won’t match – the old will be torn by the new. The wineskin story just repeats the idea. Then an addition to the previous two Gospels – Jesus says that no one who is drinking old wine wants the new. The footnote says this may be sarcasm about the Jews.

Further notes: Jesus often speaks of Himself as the Bridegroom.

Calming The storm at sea – Matthew 8: 23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25 no corresponding story in the Gospel of John

Note previously written in Matthew about this episode — They looked to Jesus to save them when they were powerless to save themselves.

Matthew –This Gospel was written for Jewish Christians primarily. Many Jewish Christians in Palestine would have been familiar with the Sea of Galilee, so the story about the storm might have made sense to them. According to Fr. Robert Barron storms on this large lake were not predictable, at least in the time of Jesus, and seemed to come up suddenly without warning. The story tells us that the disciples followed Jesus onto the boat. If he was their teacher, they would have followed His lead, walking after Him. The author leaves out any information as to where they were going or the time of day or even how long they had been rowing. The disciples must have believed that Jesus could do something to help for they call out “Lord, save us, for we are perishing.” Many who heard the story would have marveled that Jesus could sleep through a storm in an open boat with the waves breaking over the boat. The audience would have been able to envision the story, especially if they were familiar with the sea of Galilee. Though the Apostles believed that Jesus could help, He chides them for their unbelief. When He does calm the sea, they were amazed for only God controls the natural world.

Mark – expands the story, perhaps more for Gentile hearers. He sets the stage by telling the time of day and that there was more than one boat. Perhaps not all twelve apostles could have fit into one boat. Mark tells us that waves were breaking over the boat and it was filling up with water. We also learn that the squall was violent and where Jesus was seated.  In this version Jesus is addressed as “teacher”  instead of “Lord” and is asked “don’t you care that we are perishing”. One could imagine the scene and wonder why He wasn’t helping bail out the water. The apostles don’t ask Him directly to save them. Jesus asks why they are terrified. “Do you not yet have faith?” So we can conclude that the apostles have seen much that Jesus has done. After Jesus calms the waves, the apostles are filled with awe. Only God’s actions fill us with awe.

Luke— In Luke’s story addressed to Gentiles, the sea of Galilee is termed a lake. One would expect that the hearers did not have experience of the sea of Galilee. The selection opens just like a story — “one day he got into a boat”  and said to the disciples “Let us cross to the other side”. We see Jesus directing the action. They set sail so we see a sailboat perhaps with oars although that is not told to us. A squall comes up after Jesus has fallen asleep and the little boat takes on water – not a good sign in a boat. Jesus is called “Master” in this story. He is told that all in the boat are perishing. He is not asked to do anything, but after He awoke “He rebuked the waves and wind”, acting in the person of God and the Word of God which causes events by His very words. Afterwards He asks them “where is your faith” They are filled with awe once again and spoke to one another “Who then is this (man), who commands the winds and waves and they obey Him”. So no matter what they have seen or heard, they still do not see Him as God but as a man with extraordinary knowledge, ability to communicate and close to God who gives Him the power to do what He does.

The healing of the Gadarene demonic

Matthew 8:28-34

This story appears in all synoptic Gospels, but Matthew’s is the shortest. In his version, there are two men (unlike Luke and Mark) who are possessed by demons. The  men live away from the nearby community. Jesus is recognized by the demons who plead that they will not be tormented by Him “before the appointed time”. I suppose the message here is that the demons recognize the Son of God and His power – this Gospel is directed originally to Jewish Christians who would have known that the Gadarenes were Gentiles. What is amazing to me is that the demons beg not to be tormented when that is what they are doing to the people they possess. I wonder if there is a message there for me.

The demons ask to be sent to a herd of swine (Jews would not associate with those who raised them, considering swine to be unclean) The demons immediately rush into the sea once they are allowed into the herd, destroying the entire herd. The people in the nearby town come out to meet Jesus and are so afraid of Him that they ask Him to leave.  They apparently recognize Jesus’ power. They may also not want anyone around who messes with their way of life, their ability to make money.

The demonics in all three stories are so debased by their lifestyles that they live among the dead in what seems to be a cemetery. I think here of drug addicts and alcoholics and anyone possessed by some kind of addiction which drives them away from human contact.

In Mark and Luke, the longer versions, we read that the demonic individual has been so violent that he had been chained to keep him from hurting others, but he was able to break the chains. This makes me think of people addicted to pcp’s. In Mark we see the poor man hurting himself with stones. In Luke he has no clothes – he could not fall any further and had become like the wild animals.

In Mark and Luke it is revealed that more than one demon possesses the man. They call themselves Legion. In both Mark and Luke the healed man wants to accompany Jesus, but is sent home to speak of his healing. Wouldn’t we all like to stay close to the One who has healed us, but we are asked instead to speak God’s Words to others.

Curious that the demons wanted to inhabit the pigs which were considered unclean – perhaps it points to their (the demons) uncleanness.

This is one of the most curious of the stories I have read so far.

July 20, 2012

Luke Chapter 1 (no comparisons today)

Luke is a second or perhaps third generation Christian writing around 80 -90 AD. He is a Syrian from Antioch. His purpose, as stated in the prologue, is to write down, in an orderly sequence, as accurately as possible, everything he has been taught, read and learned about Jesus. His sources were the Gospel of Mark, a written collection of sayings of Jesus (Q) and other un-named traditions used by Luke alone. This Gospel is written primarily for Gentiles.

When I think about these stories of Jesus’ birth and childhood, I can’t help but believe that he or someone close had personal access to Mary. For who else would have known all of this? Perhaps these stories were written down or came from John the Apostle, with whom Mary lived after Jesus death. These stories have too much detail to have been imagined.

Luke sets the time and place and relates this to both Palestinian and Roman history. Then he begins to weave the stories of Jesus with Old Testament prophesies.

We meet Zechariah and Elizabeth first. They were two faithful Jews who have an important part to play. Through God’s design they give birth to the one who will announce and prepare the way for the Messiah. An Angel (Gabriel) appears to Zechariah while Zechariah is ministering in the Temple in Jerusalem. He becomes troubled and afraid, which is understandable. The angel tells Zechariah that his prayers will be answered and more spectacularly than could be imagined. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth are both elderly. They have prayed throughout their marriage for a child, but none came.

It is curious that Zechariah does not believe the angel. But even now ministers of our faith caution us to test what may appear to be a revelation from God. Had an angel appeared to me I would question whether my eyes were deceiving me or if due to my age I were hallucinating. Nevertheless, Zechariah questions.

Yet the angel knew Zechariah and Elizabeth’s prayers – surely that would count for something. What the angel reveals about the son to come is spectacular – like Samson and perhaps other ancient heroes _ he will drink no wine, he will be greatly favored by God, he will receive the Holy Spirit in the womb, and he will turn many hearts back to God.( In every age many turn away from God. Surely Zechariah had seen this in his time.) The angel also says that his son will fulfill Old Testament prophesies.

But Zechariah questions the angel. But his questions don’t revolve around his son’s ability to do great things for the Lord, but the ability of an old man and an old woman to conceive a child – the mechanics of it that seem to puzzle him. The angel strikes Zechariah mute until the child is born and named John.

Elizabeth conceives after Zechariah returns home mute. Then curiously, Elizabeth secludes herself for 5 months after conceiving. Why?

Luke Chapter 1 (continued) The Angel Gabriel visits Mary

The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary – there is no indication where or what time of day. He addresses her as someone greatly honored. As with Zechariah, the angel tells Mary that there is no reason to fear. And just as with Zechariah, the angel tells Mary what her child will be like – what honors will be bestowed on Him. And the angel names the child just as he did with Zechariah and Elizabeth’s child.

As the angel gave Zechariah a sign (making him mute for his disbelief), the angel gives Mary a sign, although she did not ask for one. She did question how an unmarried woman could become pregnant. The angel tells Mary that the conception of Jesus will be miraculous. The sign he gives is that her cousin Elizabeth, an older woman who has been barren, is with child, also by God’s intervention.

Mary had to discern if the angel was from God, but since we believe that she was born without sin, the devil would not approach her (at least that is what I think).

Then Mary goes to visit Elizabeth. I assume that Mary had been around pregnant women before and knew that difficulties even a young woman would face during a pregnancy. Seeing her cousin pregnant would confirm the angel’s message.

Love and concern for others is a natural condition of the human heart. Mary displays this by making the difficult and dangerous journey to visit her cousin.

The Holy Spirit is given to John at this time (Mary’s visit) and also given to Elizabeth. Perhaps Elizabeth had been told what the angel said to Zechariah about the child she carried but until Mary’s arrival she did not know just whom John would announce.

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