The Methodist Church Tower Hamlets
THE BITESIZE BIBLE - THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW (Feb 2023)
located as the first book of the New Testament, it is generally
accepted that Matthew was not the first Gospel written - Mark is awarded
that distinction. However, it is Matthew who welcomes the transition
from Old Testament to New Testament. Certainly, when analysing its
literary composition, Matthew shines as a literary offspring of the
thirty-nine books of the Old Testament. What points to this is how
Matthew is constructed. Matthew’s whole narrative is reflective of five
teaching blocks, just like the Hebrew Torah (teaching) or Greek
Pentateuch (five books), meaning the first five Old Testament books of
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. As further
indication of this Old Testament link, Matthew portrays Jesus as the
ultimate hero in the form of the Messianic son from the royal household
of David. Also, identifying Jesus as the prophet who surpasses Moses,
and as the seed of Abraham who reaches every nation. These are the
themes introduced in Matthew’s prologue and explored in the large middle
section. They are then resolved in the climax.
Having said this, perhaps Matthew has just one verse that might be the abstract of the whole book.
That verse is Matthew 21:2
“Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a Donkey tied and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me”.
Compare this with Zechariah 9:9 in the Old Testament:
“Lo, your King comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”.
Whilst the gospels of Mark, Luke, and John certainly refer to at least one animal, Matthew links directly with the Zechariah prophecy and poses a specific Palm Sunday question: Why two animals, Matthew?
As suggested, Matthew bears the hallmarks of being the literary child of much of the Old Testament with over 160 direct references. But the prophetic voice of Zechariah prepares us for the fact that Jesus, riding on a donkey and/or a colt - the foal of a donkey, would be welcomed into Jerusalem by two other voices. One shouting, 'Hosanna', the other, a contradiction of the first, shouting, 'Crucify him'. Looking at this, and imagining the Donkey and Colt as having names, then Jesus, rode into Jerusalem on majesty crowned with humility.
The cry of Hosanna met him. A plea for liberation from Roman oppression perhaps? Or did the people need to be ‘set free’ from themselves? Jesus rode on through the triumphant welcome and into the hatred and bloody violence of the Cross. 'What', we might ask, 'was the consequence of this persecution of God in person?'
Something yet unridden by all humanity? Something about to be untethered and then separated from the law and the prophets? Yes, a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ – son of God. The people of Israel had not really seen a great light, as Christmas so often sugar coats. Yes, they had a sense of God as parent through an old way of obedience and fear. But they still had to grasp Jesus as the salvation hope, the real meaning of why we would shout, 'Hosanna'.
Going back to the two animals and the previously suggested names, perhaps Majesty and Humility do fit. However, we could ask: Might the parent donkey be named ‘Burdened’, and the colt ‘Truth’? Meaning that the overall meaning and understanding of the Gospel of Matthew is found within the triumphant entry into Jerusalem as it reveals the burden of the people, and then how Jesus’ death on the cross begins to unravel the truth that is fully revealed in the resurrection. Through that, all humanity, as the children of God, can be set free. As Matthew reminds us in 14:18, then, as now, Jesus requests: 'Bring them to me'.
THE BITESIZE BIBLE - THE GOSPEL OF MARK (March 2023)
being the shortest of the four canonized Gospels, Mark invokes more
biographical detail about its author than any of the other names to
which Gospels are attributed. For example, information about Mark
appears on more than one occasion in Luke’s account of Paul’s
ministry in the volume we know as the Book of Acts. By way of
explanation, there is a particular reference about an early church
that met in a house that is said to be Mark’s mother's. Also, the
same Mark is accredited with starting the first missionary journey
with Paul and Barnabas – despite leaving the adventure early.
Furthermore, the status and significance of Mark is really enhanced
by being one of the last people that Paul mentions in what is
believed to be his final letter - referring here to chapter four of
the second letter to Timothy.
However, what might be Mark’s most significant personal connection with the rest of scripture is the one he had with Peter - who was more than likely to have been Mark’s primary source of material for the gospel. What makes this possible is that the previously mentioned Mark’s mother’s house, was a regular enough stop for Peter and that the servants recognized him by voice alone. It also appears that Mark was present at Gethsemane, a young man watching the proceedings from a safe distance. Reference for this is to found in Mark 15. Some even argue that the meal known today as the Last Supper took place in Mark’s home.
this backdrop, we can place the writing of Mark historically. It is
reasonable to say that any time between 50 and 70 AD is most likely; mainly because Mark offers no further commentary on Jesus’s
prophecy regarding the destruction of the Temple. Accepting - as
many scholars do - that this happened in around 70 AD - we can be
fairly certain that the gospel according to Mark was composed before
the Temple destruction. Furthermore, the gospel is sometimes
described as having a Roman flavour to its writing. The suggestion
here is that the author was writing from Peter's recollections
sometime before Peter's death, which is said to have occured around 64
- 68 AD.
of history - or even any status as a New Testament figure - Mark has a
unique gift for signposting. In this Gospel, Jesus is portrayed as
being constantly on the move, with a writing style that has its own
forward momentum, helping us to always be looking ahead to the cross
and the resurrection. In other words, Mark deals with the immediacy
of Jesus' ministry in a way that raises an awareness of there being
much to do in such a short time. In fact, the word immediately
appears on 39 occasions.
Mark deals with the hard reality of the immediate nature of Jesus'
ministry as its landscape, Mark reveals the portrait of Jesus as
God's agent of change. And whilst the Gospel of Mark is awash with
the miracles of Jesus, the need and opportunity for spiritual renewal
Finally, the forward motion of Mark's Gospel captures the forward motion of Jesus, as the saviour who constantly points to the way in which humanity will be served by Jesus' life, death and resurrection. Moreover, Mark brings home the ideal that Jesus becomes our model for how we should live our own lives: Serving others as Jesus did.
THE BITESIZE BIBLE - THE GOSPEL OF LUKE (April 2023)
The Gospel according to Luke is, as with the other three canonised gospels of Mark, Matthew and John, a particular and nuanced account of the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And although Luke’s account links synoptically to Mark and Matthew – all relying on similarities, there are unique features of Luke that allow it to stand alone as a gospel of Christ. Before we identify such nuances, let us consider the gospel’s backdrop.
By accepting a Gentile (Non-Jewish) physician/doctor type character as the author - or at least the inspiration behind Luke’s gospel, we can consider one or two signposts from history as to why we might do that. Early prologues of the more ancient commentaries have introduced Luke as a Syrian from Antioch. Literary reference such as this helps us to realize that Luke was not Jewish. This is certainly in line with biblical based references. For example, Paul included Luke in a list of Gentiles in his greetings to the Colossians (4:14). However, the difference between biblical and non-biblical reference is the need for the non-biblical to be the more determined biographer. Meaning that the ancient prologues of early Christian writers like to declare that Luke eventually settled in the Greek city of Thebes, where he died at age 84. There is no tangible evidence for this, but it does provide a full profile of Luke for those who require it. Fine you might say, but for bitesize purposes we must consume only that which is sufficient for engaging with what the gospel of Luke seeks to convey.
As a starter then, Luke’s own introduction to the gospel indicates an active intention of providing a careful account of Christ’s life in chronological order. As a Physician, Luke would have been a person of detail and observation - resulting in what was the first part of a two-volume work (Along with the Book of Acts), with both being addressed to “Theophilus”, a name which usually translates as “Love of God”. When it comes to timeframe, Luke’s Gospel depends, in part, on the dating of Acts. This second volume ends with Paul in some form of incarceration in Rome sometime before AD 68 - accepted as the year of Paul’s death. If this is the case, then volume one – Luke’s Gospel, dates well before that. What is more important than timing though is Luke’s primary reason for volume one.
The answer lies in material unique to Luke’s gospel. In other words, Jesus’s interactions with individuals – particularly those labelled undesirable by the society of the time. Meaning that the so-called sinners of the day – those beyond the
borders of social acceptability, where not outside the realms of God’s Grace poured out into the world through Jesus Christ. To be synoptic for a moment, Luke, along with Matthew and Mark, records the incident of a woman coming to pour perfume on Jesus’s feet. But, to stand alone, Luke is the only one to point out that her actual character, as revealed in Luke 7:37. In a comparable way, we find that Luke is also alone in seeing the need to reveal the conversation between the robbers crucified alongside Jesus. Mark does reference the robbers crucified but offers no insight to any conversation. Luke feels it is imperative to hear one of them speaking negatively about Jesus, with the other defending Jesus and receiving the promise of paradise. Luke stands further alone as the gospel which centres upon Jesus as showing compassion to all people, regardless of their station in life. Luke’s other main unique perspective is of Jesus as the Son of Man – a phrase that is the Theophany (Jesus’s preferred revelation of self) Luke wants us to focus upon.
story of Zacchaeus is Luke’s main vehicle for this: Zacchaeus, the
short man who had to climb a tree to see over the crowds as Jesus
approached his town, shares a meal with Jesus after inviting Jesus to
his home - not a popular move with the local religious leaders. Why?
Because Zacchaeus was a tax collector – yet another undesirable. Through
conversation with Jesus, Zacchaeus was able to regret his way of life
and repent. Jesus responds with: “For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save that which was lost” as in Luke 19:10. This brings us to
Luke’s chief aim: to view Jesus as God’s perfect essence in human form –
a sacrificial Lamb who offers salvation to all humanity—Jew and Gentile
Look at the image at the top.. Ask yourself: What do I see? It may be that when we do not accommodate those whom we might find hard to love, we are not seeing eye to eye with Luke – or with Jesus.