By Sister Joan Mitchell, CSJ
Jesus teaches ordinary folks in his ministry. He teaches in stories, parables, and sayings that anyone can understand. That makes reflecting on the gospel an activity we believers can gather together and do ourselves. In fact, when we gather in Jesus’ name, we become Church. Jesus promises his real presence with us. We become learners together as we seek to live the gospel.
Simple Things to Know About the Gospels
The four gospels narrate four accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In earlier centuries theologians tried to harmonize the four gospels into one composite story. Today we value the distinct portrait of Jesus that each gospel draws. Jesus is:
- a dynamic prophet and healer in Mark’s gospel
- a teacher and lawgiver in Matthew’s gospel
- a Spirit-filled prophet who brings good news to the poor in Luke’s gospel
- Wisdom incarnate in John’s gospel.
Each evangelist writes in different decades for unique communities
About AD 70 Mark writes for fear-filled Christians, either those who fled Jerusalem ahead of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 or those in crisis in Rome after the martyrdoms of both Paul and Peter. Because martyrdom and old age have silenced the original eyewitnesses who told Jesus’ story orally, a Christian named Mark gathers together the oral traditions and writes them down to call new generations to faith.
About AD 85, Matthew writes for Gentiles, seekers like the magi, who believe in Jesus and his new law as a result of the apostles’ preaching to the ends of the earth. He follows Mark’s narrative and adds many more of Jesus’ sayings. He organizes many of the sayings into Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Matthew emphasizes that forgiveness and mutual love make Christian communities work.
Also about AD 85 Luke writes for educated Gentiles who want a formal, orderly, and inspiring account of Jesus’ whole life. Luke uses Mark’s narrative and adds more sayings and stories, emphasizing Jesus as a man of prayer who challenges us to invest in the poor.
In the AD 90s John writes a unique narrative for a community that washes one another’s feet and proclaims that Jesus is the Word who, like Holy Wisdom in the Old Testament, was with God from the beginning. Jesus is living water, living bread, the best wine, the light of the world, the resurrection and the life.