Continuing in my Lenten journey, this week, I finished reading the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Most of this reading is so much easier and so much quicker for me than the Old Testament. For one, it is material I have been familiar with since I was a young boy, even if I had never read through it end-to-end before. But moreover, the narrative and the story of Christ is fascinating, especially when told from the four different perspectives.
The Gospel of Mark is the earliest of the stories, very terse and quick to move along in its telling. Most scholars believe that Mark's gospel is the first of the synoptic gospels, written maybe 30 years after Christ's death. Afterward, both Matthew and Luke were written by authors familiar with Mark's writing.
Matthew takes the basic narrative of Mark, and embroiders it with countless references back to the prophesies of the Old Testament. Truly, it is an amazing and entertaining endeavor to go back and look up all the quotations and see how they bring relevance into the story of the Messiah.
Luke's story is very similar to Matthew's, but told with a prose that is very easy to read. Luke tells the good story, and I moved through his writing almost unable to put it down.
And then, there is John. John writes the most enigmatic of the three Gospels. His writing, at times, almost takes on poetic qualities, as for instance in the introduction in John chapter 1:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
This is a beautiful retelling of the story of Genesis. I am struck by the repetitive format of the verse, and how it doubles back on itself poetically:
- Begins with the Word (A)
- Word → God (A → B)
- Word → God (A → B)
- He (Word) → God (A → B)
- Things → Him (C → A)
- Him → things (A → C)
- Thing → Him → life (C → A → D)
- Life → light (D → E)
- Ends with an emphatic note on light (E)
John clearly was written without the influence of Mark, so it provides interesting corroboration to the perspectives of the three earlier gospels, and adds some new stories not found in the earlier, like the Wedding at Cana, the resurrection of Lazarus, and Christ washing the feet of his apostles.
The story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection is the story of salvation for us all. It is a rejection of religious hierarchy over true faith, a rejection of wealth over humility, a rejection of all things material that distract us from our relationship with our Lord and our neighbors.
For all this, the story of the four Gospels is strikingly simple. The message is simply this:
- Love God above all else
- Love each other without exception
If we get these two right, everything else in this world will take care of itself. For how can we steal from our neighbor if we love both God and our neighbor? How could we commit murder when this breaks our Lord's heart? How can we not help the poor and homeless, when they are our brothers?
All four Gospels spend their entire time trying to drive this simple message into our thick skulls. But we are a dim-witted and stubborn people, and we often make dogma into what we want it to be for our own contrivance or convenience. But I think Christ said it best in Luke chapter 10, verses 27-28:
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." ... "Do this, and you will live."
It's really just that simple.