Christ Preaching in the Synagogue, c.1350, Visoki Decani Monastery, Kosovo.
[Jesus] said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Mark 4:21
Words highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.
There are four gospels accepted as canonical, which is to say, officially accepted as genuine and worthy of belief. All mainline Christian churches accept that as a given. The gospels are not identical, but the those of Matthew, Mark and Luke are called “synoptic”, which is to say they approach the narrative of Christ’s ministry and teaching from a similar point of view. John’s gospel is different with a much broader perspective, and much more theological discussion than the other three. The style of Greek (in which all four are written), is also different. If you take them together, an interesting pattern emerges. Scholars are pretty much certain that Mark’s gospel is the oldest, which is to say, the first to be written down. It begins abruptly with John the Baptist in the River Jordan baptizing Jesus, who receives his identity and vocation at that moment (see last Sunday’s reflections). It also ends with Jesus’ empty tomb. Scholars are pretty certain about that: the other endings, even though accepted as canonical, which talk of Jesus after the Resurrection, are later additions. Then there is Matthew which begins with a genealogy of Jesus from Abraham, and then immediately to Jesus’ birth. It concludes with Jesus’ ascension and his promise to be with us to the end of time. Luke is interesting as he begins with a sort of dedication to an unknown person called Theophilus (a name which means Friend of God in Greek) mentioned in today’s gospel, and which prompted this reflection. He then describes the birth of John the Baptist, and only then talks of the birth of Jesus. Now the Acts of the Apostles also begins with a dedication to Theophilus, mentioning “the first book”, namely Luke’s gospel, in the first verse. Acts ends with St. Paul preaching in Rome after he had been condemned to death for his belief. Then there is John, beginning before time itself, “In the beginning was the Word…” By tradition, the Book of Revelation is also by John, who is mentioned at its beginning, and it ends with the end of all things, Jesus as the Alpha and Omega (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet A and Ω as a “merism”, a rhetorical term for a pair of contrasting words or phrases). So in the four gospels there is a progression from the stripped down essentials of Jesus’ mission on earth in Mark, then wider in time through Matthew, then still wider in Luke, and then to the beginning and ending of all creation in John. They are all focussed on Jesus of course, as is today’s gospel, but each from a different perspective, beginning small (Mark) and ending cataclysmically (John).
Today’s second reading taken from Paul’s letter to the first Christians in Corinth in Greece, is a statement of his model of the church as the Body of Christ. Just as the human body is made up of different parts, some grandiose such as the brain, and other less so, such as the little toe, so each of us has a place in the church, the Body of Christ, here on earth. Just as in the human body, so each of us has a place in the church, some greater, some less, but each important. I like to give a brutal example here; yes, some of us have lesser importance, but if, for example, we slam our little toe into the door frame one morning, the whole body is instantly focussed on that little toe…. Each of us has a real place in the Christian community. There we are expected to be as perfect as possible. How? By living up to our identity as a child of God and thereby fulfilling our vocation as Christ to the world by utilizing the gifts and talents God has given us as taught by the Lord. In that way the Body of Christ is healthy and holy and whole. And today’s gospel is simply Jesus proclaiming that all the prophecies concerning the long-awaited Messiah are now fulfilled in him, a belief which sprang from the revelations at his baptism. He was ready to fulfill God’s expectations of him as Messiah. We too are children of God, and each of us is Christ to the world in whatever way our God-given gifts and talents direct us. As the church’s “Ordinary Time” begins, that is a useful reminder of what it is all about.
Christ Reading in the Temple, T’oros of Taron c.1300, The Armenian Gospels of Gladzor, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles, USA.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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