Thursday, March 12, 2009

Recipe for Living -- Just 2 Rules

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:

  1. Love God above all else
  2. 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.


mike said...

My Big Brother!!! You are ready for seminary. I think you are much better suited than me for such a thing. The cerebral is much more of interest to you than me. I went to a pass fail school and I "P"ed my way through seminary. I loved it, but I didn't challenge myself as it seems you are doing for fun.

I am fascinated with your explanation and the truth you find in the writings about our Jesus. Love God, love people and wow you too can be just like him...

It really is that simple... If you challenge everything you do, every decision you make with the love of Jesus... it is amazing what a full and rewarding life we all could have.

I am glad that you have so thoroughly enjoyed your endeavor.

Your Little Brother...

Anonymous said...

I, too, am reading the New Testament during Lent. What's really neat is the fact that this year during my Bible study class, we are studying the life of Moses. So it is really neat to be reading and studying Old Testament at the same time I read through M,M,L (the easiest for me to read) and J. By the time Easter arrives, I will have read all of the NT. The OT is much harder for me to read without constantly relying on study group or references. I can't believe I'm 57 and have not read the whole Bible yet. Aunt Terry

Scott said...

Won't it be neat? You and I will finish the NT together!

And, I have to say, Aunt Terry, you are a horrible typist. You accidentally typed 57, when clearly you meant 32. I know those keys are pretty close together!

Fr. Tom Simmons said...

Dear Scott

Great stuff on the gospels. I love the way you engage the texts and see the differences between the different Evangelists and summarize them so ably.

There's one point I'd like to make as I reflect on what you've written (you know I'm a stickler for the Message). It's probably a rather obvious point...almost too obvious to make...ALMOST. Are you ready? Drumroll please... I'll begin and end by quoting your excellent summary:

"The story of the four Gospels is strikingly simple. The message is simply this:"

Jesus of Nazareth is LORD OF ALL, the One we've all been waiting for, the world's true King, the guy who alone wears the title Savior of The World. So it's time to repent of all rival allegiances and...

"1. Love God above all else, 2. Love each other without exception. If we get these two right, everything else in this world will take care of itself."

Do you see what I did? I inserted (in italics) the message about The Man to put the morality (love God and each other) into its truly powerful life- and world-changing Gospel context.

Keep up the excellent work Scott. It's really exciting to share this journey with you. What are you going to do when you finish the NT? At this rate it should be what...Easter time?


Scott said...

I don't know if anybody will read these comments, but this is where I must respectfully disagree with Tom.

Tom added to my 2 simple rules the concept that Jesus is the ONE TRUE WAY, the ONLY way, there are no others.

There are several scriptures backing up Tom's ideas, among them:

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

However, most of the time, the Gospels focus on keeping the 2 commandments I stressed already.

My own reading of the Bible does not jive with John 14:6. I cannot believe that modern peace loving and moral Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, etc. who live out the two commandments I stated, but may never personally know Christ, would be condemned in the sight of the Lord. I cannot imagine a God so capricious and so arbitrary.

My own supposition is that these stronger "conversion" claims may have been introduced by human hands in an attempt to convert early Jews to Christianity; or perhaps even that they were meant literally, that Christ is the son of the Father, and to know the Father (to understand the Divine Trinity), you must know Christ. Who knows? I am no scholar.

But I will end by quoting Dr. Katherine Jefferts Schori, presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church USA. In Time magazine, she was asked, "Is belief in Jesus the only way to get to heaven?"

She responded, "We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box."

This statement outraged many conservative Episcopals and others, but it rings true for me.

Dad said...

Great work Scott! And the comments are great also. I just have one thought to add to your last comments. Some religions, or sects within a religion, preach that their way is the only way to salvation. Others believe as Dr. Jefferts stated so well that God would have created multiple ways for people to achieve salvation. It seems to me that if you look at many of the wars documented in our history, the very narrow belief that relgion XYZ is the only true way to salvation is often the basis to create the hate necessary to engage in the war. Radical Muslims seem to be doing it today. Christians did it during the Crusades. The religious battles in India, ... If everyone believed in the two simple principles you came to, the world would certainly be a better place.

gaz said...

if there was another way to enter into eternity with our creator, then jesus’ crucifixion was a pointless act. he had to die in order to bridge the gap (our sin) between us and god. if there are other ways, as you’re implying, then god would not have had to send his son to die on a cross and jesus ministry is redundant.
in acts 4v12 peter tells the religious leaders…
“you put jesus to death on a cross, but god raised him to life. he is the stone that you builders thought was worthless, and now he is the most important stone of all. only jesus has the power to save! his name is the only one in all the world that can save anyone.”
in john 14v6 jesus himself tells us…
"i am the way, the truth, and the life! without me, no one can go to the father.”
please note that jesus did not, at any point say “i am one of the ways”.
you’re right, his message is simple. but his message was not love god and love your neighbour. his message was about the kingdom of god and telling it to the ends of the earth. a kingdom that is only attainable through him.

Scott said...

I hear ya, Gaz, and I know exactly where you're coming from. But this is something I wrestle with still.

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