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08 April 2019

Synoptic gospels: The three gospels which sync up.

In other words, all the gospels but John.

SYNOPTICS sə'nɑp.tɪks plural noun. The synoptic gospels.
SYNOPTIC GOSPELS sə'nɑp.tɪk 'ɡɑs.pəls plural noun. The gospels which show a great deal of similarity in stories, wording, structure, order, viewpoint, and purpose. Namely Mark, Matthew, and Luke.

You’ll notice in my articles on Jesus’s teachings I often line up the different gospels in columns. ’Cause they’re telling the same story, but in slightly different ways. But even so, they sync up rather well. The phenomenon is pretty well described by the Greek word σύνοψις/synopsis, “see with [one another],” so three of the gospels get called synoptic.

John is an obvious exception. I can sync it up from time to time, but nowhere near as well. Its author was clearly telling his own stories.

There’s a rather obvious explanation for why the synoptics line up: Mark was written first. The authors of Matthew and Luke simply quoted Mark as they put together their own gospels. Sometimes they quoted Mark word-for-word; sometimes not. The author of Luke admitted other such sources existed—

Luke 1.1-4 KWL
1 Since many people have decided to arrange a narrative about the acts we accomplished,
2 just as they were given to us by the first eyewitnesses who served the Word,
3 it occurred to me to help write out everything accurately from the beginning to you, honorable Theófilus,
4 so you might know with certainty about the word you were taught.

—and it turns out he availed himself of those sources. Mark included.

But—no surprise—there are Christians who have a big problem with the idea the gospels’ authors quoted one another. Including some scholars.

Some are bugged by the idea of anybody quoting anybody. What they’d much rather believe is that each of the gospels’ authors wrote independently of one another… and all their stories happen to match. Miraculously. Which would definitely convince them the gospels are reliable… but nobody else. Y’see, talk to any police detective and they’ll tell you: When every witness’s story lines up too perfectly, they colluded. No question.

A more reasonable problem, which bugs a lot of Christians, is the idea of Matthew quoting Mark. Because the apostle Matthew was one of the Twelve, who personally followed Jesus and learned from him directly. Whereas the apostle Mark was a student of Paul, and later Peter… and therefore didn’t learn about Jesus firsthand like Matthew; he learned about Jesus secondhand from Peter, and thirdhand from Barnabas and Paul. All this stuff was confirmed by the Holy Spirit, but still: Why on earth would Matthew quote Mark? What could Mark possibly know that Matthew didn’t?

So these Christians’ theory goes like yea: ’Twasn’t Mark, but Matthew, who wrote his gospel first. (Maybe even in Aramaic, the language of Jesus and Matthew’s homeland, instead of Greek.) Then Mark later published an abridged Greek version of Matthew. And Luke later quoted Mark… or Matthew; whichever.

Meh; it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility. But we’ve no proof there’s an Aramaic original of Matthew, and we don’t know why Mark would want to write a shorter gospel instead of including every Matthew story.

But the more important thing to remember is the names we attached to the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John—were attached there by tradition. We don‘t actually know who wrote ’em. They’re anonymous. The apostles and prophets put their names on their books and letters, but the authors of the gospels felt Jesus is way more important than them, so they left their names off. Deliberately; the author of John called himself “the student Jesus loved,” and the only John in his gospel is John the baptist.

We think we know who wrote the gospels, and it’s entirely possible we got the right guys. There’s some hints in Luke/Acts that Luke’s the author, and many more hints in John that John bar Zebedee wrote it. But Mark actually has no such hints. Nor Matthew. Matthew might not have written Matthew. Or it was some other guy named Matthew who wrote it, who’s not the same Matthew in the Twelve.

05 April 2019

Jesus prays at Gethsemane.

Jesus’s passion begins with the place he prayed for this cup to pass.

Mark 14.32-41 • Matthew 26.36-45 • Luke 22.39-46 • John 18.1.

The first of St. Francis’s stations of the cross was when Jesus was given his cross. (Duh.) But Jesus’s suffering began earlier that day, so St. John Paul’s list also began earlier—with Gethsemane, the olive garden on Mt. Olivet, where Jesus prayed he might not go through the crucifixion.

In fact he was so agitated at the idea, he sweat blood. Something The Passion of the Christ left out—but to be fair it is a textual variant, possibly added to Luke in the second century. But let’s get to how the gospels depicted it. First the synoptic gospels—

Mark 14.32-41 KWL
32 They went to a place named Gat Semaním/“oil press,”
and Jesus told his students, “Sit here while I pray.”
33 Jesus took Simon Peter, James, and John with him—and began to panic and freak out.
34 Jesus told them, “My soul is deathly sad. Stay here. Stay awake.”
35 He went a little ahead, fell to the ground, and was praying this:
“If it’s possible, have this hour pass by!”
36 Jesus said, Abbá! Father, you can do anything: Take this cup from me.
But not what I want. What you want.”
37 Jesus came back, found the students asleep, and told Peter, “Simon? You’re sleeping?
You can’t stay awake one hour? 38 Stay awake. Pray, lest you come to temptation.
Though you’ve a willing spirit, your flesh is weak.”
39 Jesus went away again, praying the same words.
40 Coming back again, Jesus found the students asleep.
Their eyes were heavy. They didn’t know how to answer him.
41 When Jesus came back a third time, he told the students, Oh, sleep the rest of the time; stop it.
Stay back, for look: The Son of Man is arrested by sinful hands.”
Matthew 26.36-45 KWL
36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gat Semaním/“oil press.”
He told his students, “Sit there while I’ve gone over there, so I can pray.”
37 Taking Simon Peter and the two sons of Zavdi, Jesus began to mourn and freak out,
38 and told them, “My soul is deathly sad. Stay here. Stay awake with me.”
39 Jesus went a little ahead, falling on his face, praying and saying,
“My Father, if it’s possible, make this cup pass over me—
still, not as I want. As you want.”
40 Jesus came back to the students and found them asleep, and told Peter,
“So none of you can stay awake one hour with me?
41 Stay awake. Pray, lest you enter into temptation.
Though you have a willing spirit, your flesh is weak.”
42 Jesus went away again a second time praying, saying, “My Father,
if this can’t pass over unless I drink it, your will be done.”
43 Coming back again, Jesus found the students asleep. Their eyes had been heavy.
44 Forgiving them, going away again, Jesus prayed, saying the same words again a third time.
45 Then coming back to the students, Jesus told them, Oh, sleep the rest of the time; stop it.
Look, the hour comes near for the Son of Man to be given up to sinful hands!”
Luke 22.39-46 KWL
39 Coming out, they went through Mt. Olivet as usual. The students followed Jesus.
40 On reaching the place, Jesus told them, “Pray. Don’t enter into temptation.”
41 Jesus stepped away from them—and taking to his knees,
he was praying, 42 saying, “Father, if you please, take this cup from me—
still, not my will. Your will be done.”
43 [Jesus saw a heavenly angel, which strengthened him.
44 Becoming stressed, Jesus was praying in agony,
and his sweat became like drops of blood, falling down to the ground.]
45 Rising up from his prayer and coming to his students, Jesus found them sleeping in their grief.
46 Jesus told them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray, so you don’t enter temptation!”

—and then, just because John’s gotta do things his own way—

John 18.1 KWL
When he said this, Jesus with his students went over the Kidron ravine,
where there was a garden. He and his students entered it.

04 April 2019

Stations of the cross: Remembering Christ’s suffering.

One of the ways we remember, and appreciate, Jesus’s death.

In Jerusalem, Israel, Christians remember Jesus’s death by actually going down the route he traveled the day he died. It’s called the Way of Jesus, the Way of Sorrows (Latin, Via Dolorosa), or the Way of the Cross (Via Cručis). When I visited Jerusalem, it’s part of the tour package: Loads of us Christians go this route every single day, observing all the places Jesus is said to have suffered. Really solemn, moving stuff.

But most of us Christians don’t live in or near Jerusalem, and some of us can’t possibly go there. For this reason St. Francis of Assisi invented “the stations of the cross.” In his church building, he set up seven different dioramas. Each represented an event which happened as Jesus was led to his death. The people of his church would go to each diorama—each station—and meditate on what Jesus did for us all.

Yeah, this is a Catholic thing, ’cause Francis was Roman Catholic. But it’s not exclusively Catholic: Many Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodists use stations of the cross too. Be fair: If a Protestant invented it, you’d find Protestants doing it everywhere. ’Cause it’s a really useful idea.

It’s why I bring it up here. The stations of the cross are a clever, more tangible way to think about Jesus’s death, what he went through, and what that means. It’s why lots of Catholic churches—and a growing number of Protestant churches—keep the stations up year-round. Could take the form of paintings, sculptures, or stained-glass windows. Christians can “travel the Way of Jesus” any time we wanna contemplate his death, and what he did for us.

If you’ve ever seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, he made sure to include all the traditional stations in his movie. As do Catholic passion plays, reenactments of Jesus’s death. Protestant passion plays too, though we tend to skip most of the events we don’t find in the gospels. ’Cause as you’ll notice, some of Francis’s stations came from the popular culture of early 1200s Italy. Not the bible.

03 April 2019

The Fear.

Seems appropriate for the day before Halloween to talk about the Fear.

The main reason why Christians don’t act in faith?

Why we won’t share Jesus with our neighbors and coworkers? Why we don’t pray for people to be cured of illnesses, freed from addictions, rescued from troubles? Why we never even think to ask God for miracles? Why we don’t prophesy, even though we’re sure God is talking to us right this instant? Why we don’t start ministries, don’t offer help, don’t encourage, don’t anything?

The Fear.

You’ve likely met Christians who’re the most friendly, outgoing, outspoken, extroverted people you’ve ever seen. Got no trouble with public speaking. No trouble sharing their opinions—even when you’d rather they didn’t. No trouble talking about their favorite movies, teams, products, politics. Maybe a little initial stage fright, but they shake it off quickly. But when it comes to talking about Jesus or acting in faith, these very same Christians seize up and never snap out of it. It’s like someone flipped a switch. Someone cut the power. Someone crimped the hose. The meds wore off. Pick your favorite simile.

Their minds immediately go to the darkest scenario. “If I act, they’ll…” followed by the most awful thing we can picture.

In real life? Rarely happens that way. In the United States, four out of five of us consider ourselves Christian, and even if those wannabe Christians don’t believe in miracles, they’re not gonna say no to prayer. Not gonna dismiss Jesus outright. Might hesitantly respond, “Um… okay.” And hardcore atheists will just smile and say “No thank you.” We’ve gotta find someone with serious anger issues before we’d ever encounter a worst-case scenario… and that’s who these Christians immediately picture.

Usually it sounds like this. Say we ask a man whether we can share Jesus with him. He immediately reacts with a demoniac’s strength—with the rage of a thousand angry nerds who were just told Jar Jar Binks will be a major character in the next Star Wars movie—and shouts, “How dare you tell me about Jesus. How dare you talk religion. I hate Christians. You’ve made an enemy for life!” Out of nowhere he procures a medieval mace, and proceeds to beat us like that one devil-possessed guy beat the sons of Skeva. Ac 19.11-20 Out of nowhere a lynch mob appears, shouting for our blood, and once they’re done with us, they run amok, burning down all the churches, hanging Christians from every lamppost.

Okay, maybe you didn’t articulate the worst-case scenario that way. Or at all. But in your deepest, darkest parts, you kinda worry something like that could happen. At the very least no one will like you anymore. They’ll think you’re the office bible-thumper, or the holier-than-thou legalist, or the hipster Christian who tries to redirect every conversation into a religious one. The Jesus freak. Whatever threatens to make us friendless and alone.

That’s the Fear. It’s the assumption that if we step out in faith, things’ll be awful. So we don’t.

02 April 2019

Power through prayer.

Power’s a byproduct, not the goal—contrary to some Christians’ wishes.

Humans covet power. So I fully expect by titling this article “Power through prayer,” I’m gonna get a few readers who think, “I’d like some power, and this fella claims I can get it through prayer; let’s see whether there’s anything I can use.” (More accurately, “Let’s see whether he tells me something I care to do.” If it takes too much effort, or takes us too far out of our comfort zones, people prefer alternative routes. True of medicine, politics, Christianity, and of course our prayers.)

Generally there are three types of Christians who wanna know about gaining power through prayer.

  1. “PRAYER WARRIORS.” These’d be the folks who think prayer is how we do spiritual warfare. Not resisting temptation, like the scriptures describe; they believe spiritual warfare consists of praying against all the evil in the world. They want everything they pray against to be vanquished.
  2. SIGN-SEEKERS. These Christians wanna see miracles. They wanna do miracles. They want the Holy Spirit to empower them to do every mighty act they can think of: Sick people get instantly cured, axheads float, sundials go backwards, fillings turn to gold, fire falls from the sky. Anything which demonstrates God’s really among us and endorses them.
  3. POWER SEEKERS. These people want temporal power. They wanna be in charge of a church, ministry, or nonprofit. Or they want to be financially successful—have a nice house, own a nice car, pay off their mortgage, take all the vacations missions trips they always wanted to…. Or they want political power. Whatever gives them the ability to direct their lives the way they wish.

So all these folks wanna be “strong in the Lord, and the power of his might,” Ep 6.10 KJV whether they’re thinking of God’s armor or not. They want their prayers regularly answered with yes. Their wishes are… well, not God’s commands, for they’d never put it that way. But essentially yeah: They want God to do as they ask.

The problem? These people covet power. Not God. God’s a means to an end, not the Beginning and the End. Learning how to have power through prayer, basically means learning to manipulate God, and have our way with the Almighty. It’s the exact opposite of how our relationship with God is meant to work.

And those who seek powerful prayers, have to watch out lest we share this motivation. Because it’s absolutely the wrong motivation. We follow him. Never the other way round.