Week 2 (Jan. 15-21): Matt. 17-Mark 4

Reading plan for Days 8 to 14:

Sunday, 1/15: Matthew 17-18
Monday, 1/16: Matt. 19-20
Tuesday, 1/17: Matt. 21-23
Wednesday, 1/18: Matt. 24-25
Thursday, 1/19: Matt. 26-28
Friday, 1/20: Mark 1-2
Saturday, 1/21: Mk. 3-4

Some introductory comments:

The “Synoptic” Gospels

As promised last week, let me share a few comments about the first three books of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and why they are called the “synoptic” gospels.

Based on two root Greek words (syn – together and optic – appearance), synoptic refers to the fact that these three gospels are extremely alike, and can be compared with one another in columns. (I have such a book entitled “Synoptic Gospels in Parallel,” which has  the content of the gospels aligned in columns.) These three gospels are so similar to one another that they were given this term. (The fourth gospel in our New Testament is different in form, structure, and content from these three; and the many non-canonical gospels are even more different.)

Note that the content of these three gospels is not always in the same order. In many editions that organize the gospels into columns, one gospel is used to determine the correct order of material (usually Mark). Nor is the content of the three gospels 100% the same. Matthew and Luke tend to include most, if not all, of what is included in Mark; but they also have some material common only to the two of them (not found in Mark) and each has content unique to itself. (Again, remember that each gospel was written for particular audiences, and with the intent to persuade; so the content chosen and shared would vary with intent as well as with the experience and memory of the author.)

The Two “Greats” of Matthean Christianity

The Gospel of Matthew gives us two “greats” that are familiar to most Christians. One is found in all the synoptic gospels, while one is found only in Matthew. They are:

  1. The “Great” Commandment, found in Matthew 22:37-40, to love God and love neighbor. (This is also found in Luke 10 and Mark 12.)
  2. The “Great” Commission, found only in Matthew 28:16-20, where Jesus commissions and sends the disciples out to “make disciples.”

Although common to all Christians and emphasized by many, the linkage of these two “great” statements can only be made because Matthew first recorded and shared them with us. Many, myself included, agree that the core of Christian discipleship, not to mention the life of the Church, is best found when we seek to fulfill both of these “Greats.”

Mark – The Action Film Gospel

In the classic 1980s film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the eponymous teenager Ferris tells the audience, at the very end of the film, that “life moves pretty fast; if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” The Gospel According to Mark might very well be considered one disciple’s taking a few moments to stop and record what he has seen in the fast paced life of Jesus. Throughout the Gospel Greek words translated into English terms such as “immediately” are used, indicating the fast-paced action of the story. Mark, the shortest of the Gospels (it can actually be read aloud in its entirety in about one hour!), is very much like an action film, giving us the details and major plot points of the life of Jesus, but not as much of the teaching content recorded in Matthew or Luke or the theological interpretation found in John.

Mark was most likely written by a Greek speaking Christian (it is attributed to Mark, the follower and interpreter of Peter in Rome) for a Greek-speaking audience (often identified as the Church in Rome). Some elements of Mark – such as inaccurate geographical statements – suggest that the author was not a direct witness to Jesus and the disciples.

However, Mark was likely the first of the Gospels written! It was probably written around 68 AD (which I should note is  later than  Paul’s letters, which are the oldest books of the New Testament, having been written as early as the late 40s).

Blessed reading to you this week! Be sure to post questions, comments, or insights in the comments section below.


3 responses to “Week 2 (Jan. 15-21): Matt. 17-Mark 4

  1. Reading through Matthew so quickly has been an interesting experience – I’ve started to notice that Jesus returns to certain set of themes/phrases often: farming/seed parables, his own gentleness/forgiveness/mercifulness, the frustration he has with “this generation” (mostly due to their not understanding something, or their demanding a sign, or their just being leaders who aren’t actually helping people), and the constant compassion he has for the crowds that show up EVERYWHERE.

    When Sarah and I lived in Thailand, we had to cross the border into Burma quickly to get our visas re-stamped. There’s a little market right on the other side of the border, and we tried to walk into it so as to be not-so-obviously just there for the visa stamp, but were quickly surrounded by the local folks who were living in the worst kind of poverty I’ve ever seen in my life – many of them were sick or had been maimed and some were carrying their crippled children. Some were trying to sell us a variety of illegal/illicit products. This was way to much for us, so we had to scurry back through the border station pretty quickly. I can’t help but imagine that this is kind of like what Jesus experienced on a regular basis, but he handled it much better than I did (it constantly reminds us that Jesus had compassion for the crowds, even when they interrupt his “alone time”), and was able to help them in ways that I never could as well.

    It was great to see the gentleness and compassion of God coming through so vividly in those stories. For me, especially, because Matthew also records Jesus giving some pretty tough-on-the-surface teachings about judgment and it can work up my sense of religious dread pretty quickly. The cool thing is that those tough sections are almost always followed by Jesus making it clear that he wants to help, and always seems ready to offer love and mercy to anyone who wants it, because I really know that I do want it myself, and that little seed seems to be enough for Jesus. Excited to continue on this week!

  2. Am I Any Better?

    Matt 23:30, CEB, “You say, ‘If we had lived in our ancestors’ days, we wouldn’t have joined them in killing the prophets.'”
    This really stood out to me (along with a few others that I’ll share Thursday night…). I don’t know how many of us can resonate, but I often think, “had I lived then…” Had I lived then, I wouldn’t have joined the crowd in condemning Jesus; had I lived then, I would have stood up for the Jews of Germany; had I lived then, I would have sided with and been involved with civil rights marches…

    But… what will my grandchildren be saying “had I lived then…” to that I completely fail(ed) to do? Certainly, we are not short civil rights or social justice issues surrounding us to this very day. Where have I become so complacent that I completely ignore God’s movement, God’s word, among us? You reading this can probably list off a litany of slogans, causes, and injustices (I know I can). Am I really responding as God might want me to?

    In 13:52, Jesus ascribes to the wise disciple the ability to bring “old and new things out of their treasure chest.” If Jesus’ teaching, God’s word, our Christian tradition are our treasure chest, what “new” things am I perhaps failing to help bring out to shine in the light? I shy away from the “prophetic” voice, from commenting on social or political issues too often (if at all) because I am aware of the complexities of our modern world; but perhaps I need to refocus on what it truly means to “love God” and “love neighbor,” and add my voice to those that are championing Jesus’ cause even if they are not, perhaps, naming him…

  3. On this snowy eve, I stayed home with the kids and Lynn is covering the devotional study. Since I shared, above, I was going to share a few thoughts from this week, I’ll just post them…

    I enjoyed the clarity of Matt 12:7 in Peterson’s The Message; I’ve usually read Jesus’ statement as “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” but Peterson paraphrases it as “I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual.” I think so often in religion, our inflexibility ends up hardening our heart. After Jesus’ example, my aim is a flexible, caring, tender heart that seeks to love God and love neighbor.

    My preoccupation with a clean heart gets echoed, again, in 15:18-19:  “But what goes out of the mouth comes from the heart. And that’s what contaminates a person in God’s sight. Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adultery, sexual sins, thefts, false testimonies, and insults.” What’s in my heart?

    Finally, chapter 17 is about the Transfiguration. I’ll share, again, that I’ve come to love the Eastern Orthodox liturgy, which shares that the moment was not about a change in Jesus, but a change in the disciples. The veil is lifted from their eyes and they, for a moment, see more fully who Jesus always has been, is, and will be. So often the mundane of our daily existence blinds us to the wonder of God, and the presence of Christ, that are always around us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s