Before I mention St. John’s gospel, here are a few things one should know about the other three gospels. For some of you, this is a review, of course. I don’t know about you, but I always find that a review reminds me of things I thought I’d remembered!
St. Matthew’s gospel, being written primarily for the Jews, begins with many well-known (to them!) prophetic scriptures over the centuries, shown to be perfectly fulfilled in the life of Jesus the Messiah, Son of Man and Son of David. This gospel will contain many teachings of Jesus in story form, parables which often frustrated and humbled Jewish religious leaders who were less than hospitable to this popular rabbi, even from the very beginning of His ministry among them.
St. Mark, on the other hand, is a book filled with action giving the impression of being an overview of what perhaps Peter remembered most vividly when relating the story of what it was like to be a disciple of Jesus the Christ. In Mark’s narrative eighteen miracles are highlighted but only four parables. Scholars believe he wrote primarily for the Romans while he was in that city, people for whom vividness of description as well as action would grab and hold the attention.
St. Luke’s gospel (continued in the Acts of the Apostles) is a carefully detailed exposition of Jesus’ life, which one would expect from a physician. He emphasizes from the beginning that Jesus Christ is the Divine Savior and Redeemer Who has come to save the lost, the poor, the oppressed…..the whole world. It is not surprising then that his narrative includes Mary’s Magnificat and Zechariah’s great Song.
These three gospels are called the Synoptics (“seeing-together”) because there is enough overlap in the narratives to make those who study them conclude that the three writers used some common orally-transmitted remembrances, ordering and highlighting them to inform and appeal to the various groups with whom they were in contact.
And this brings us to St. John’s gospel, recognized as being written some time after the others (AD 69-90). John lived longer than the other Apostles, and was in close touch with Jesus’ mother in Ephesus, tradition tells us, before he was exiled in old age to the island of Patmos and received the Revelation which is the very last book of our New Testament. St. John’s narrative is quite different in style from the synoptic gospels, and relates in detail many events and teachings (primarily in Jerusalem) from the standpoint of an eyewitness, a disciple and very close friend of Jesus. It is obvious that John was intense and passionate (a “son of thunder” is how Jesus described him!) and deeply spiritual. His gospel is often referred to as a book of signs, because he was able, at least in recollection, to penetrate the meanings or significance of the actions, words and miracles of our incarnate God and Lord.
In the First Letter of John, situated in the Bible immediately after St. Peter’s letters, he reminds his readers that “what we have seen with our eyes….and our hands handled….” is still the very Word of Life. It is interesting that John is the one who relates the very physical encounter of the doubter Thomas with Christ about a week after His Resurrection. It makes one speculate that these two disciples with such different temperaments finally came to a heart-and-mind oneness through their Lord’s glorified real presence with them. One also can imagine how the very facial features of Mother Mary became in later years a consoling touchpoint for John of Jesus Himself, while both Mary and he received news of the imprisonments or deaths of Apostles and other Christians. Something to ponder: After reading the accounts of “the cleansing of the temple” in Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, and Luke 19:45-46, look again at John 2:13-25 and ask yourself how St. John’s description of this incident gives us hints of his own spiritual perceptiveness and his lively interest in the significance, or deeper meaning, of what Jesus did.
I’ll write to you again on Friday, January 4 and then hope to see some of you on Wed., January 9 on the ferry. My prayers join yours today for the most recent holy innocents’ families and friends in Connecticut. Shalom, JC