This summer with some extra time on your hands, you might want to read a Gospel or two. A Gospel? Why read a Gospel?
Every week in church we focus on two out of four readings from the Common Lectionary. This is a three year cycle, divided into a reading from the Old Testament (or Hebrew Scriptures), a Psalm, a letter (Epistle is the greek word) and one of the four Gospels, to be read each Sunday. We end up hearing the stories of Jesus in sort of a piece-meal fashion.
It might be fun to pick up the Bible and read straight through one Gospel. It gives you a different
perspective when you read the whole like of Jesus without skipping around. What Gospel to pick? I’d go with Mark or Luke.
Mark was the first Gospel ever written. It is also the shortest, with only sixteen chapters. Most scholars believe it was written around 60 or 70 AD. It’s fun to read it thinking, “This is what the first writer wanted us to know before most people knew anything at all about Jesus.” Pretend you have never heard of him, that you’re hearing these stories for the first time. That’s why it was written.
Mark is the basis for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, both of which were written later. Mark
emphasizes “The Way” (The way of the Lord) and the coming of the Kingdom of God. About the same time that Mark was written, Romans destroyed both the Temple and the whole city of Jerusalem. This was a calamity beyone belief, and Mark’s Gospel also emphasizes the coming of the “end times.” Everything in Mark is immediate. Its like he is breathless to tell you what happened next.
The Gospel of Luke is also fun. Most scholars believed that Luke and Acts (same author) were written around the end of 80 or 90AD. Now there is some evidence that it was written later-more like around 110AD. The reasons for this are the writer seems to quote Josephus (a Jewish historian), who wrote later, and also that both Luke and Acts emphasize the parting of the ways of the new Christians from the Jews, and this happened in the early years of the new century.
Both Luke and Matthew used the stories from Mark, but they also share about 200 verses of teachings (including the Lord’s Prayer which is missing from Mark) from another unknown source. The word “source” in German is “quelle” so this unknown source is called the “Q Gospel.”
Luke emphasizes the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ conception, baptism and his first and last public words (“The spirit of the Lord is upon me” and “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”). He also emphasizes Jesus’ inclusion of marginated people more than any other Gospel. Emphasizing women and the inclusion of non-Jews, known as Gentiles, in Jesus’ life.
Luke also includes stories that don’t appear in any other Gospel. The Prodigal Son, The Woman and The Lost Coin and also The Widow and the Unjust Judge. It’s an uplifting Gospel full of healing and joy.
Try something new for your summer reading. Pick up your Bible, turn to Mark or Luke and imagine you are reading it for the first time!