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The pictures on a box of Gospels

Recently I have begun to see similarities between understanding the gospels and a way of doing jigsaw puzzles.

In working a puzzle, I need to get all the pieces face up on the table. I then look for pieces that have something in common such as a similar color or being a border piece. Gradually, the puzzle begins to take the appearance of the picture on the cover of the box.

For me, the most important piece is the image on the puzzle box! That picture helps me to see how the pieces fit together.

Yet, when I read the Sunday Gospels I only look at the individual pieces without seeing where they fit in the picture on the box. Why and how did the evangelist use them to fill out a bigger picture.

The “Big Picture” of the  Acts of the Apostles

This past Easter season I finally realized that the stories in Acts paint a picture of two very different cultures, Jew and Gentile, struggling to put on the mind of Christ. Was there a Jewish way of being Christian? Was there a Gentile or Greek way of being Christian?  Then there was the conflict between the two of them rooted in their culturally different interpretations.

The “back story” of the Acts reveals that Jews could not envision life without circumcision, dietary laws and life built around the temple and many forms of ritual and sacrifice. The Gentiles, for their part, were bewildered by the Jewish claim that Jewish customs were part of Jesus’ message.

I had never appreciated the depth of the clash of culture between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. Luke picks and chooses stories and their sequence with this clash in mind. Now I read each individual story against this backdrop and see things in each that I never saw before.

The “Big Picture” of the Gospel of Mark

For the next six months, Sunday gospels walk us through the whole of Mark’s Gospel. What picture is he trying to compose with all the individual pieces?

I knew his gospel was heavy the passion. Some have said it amounts to an extended passion narrative with an introduction and brief epilogue. Why? I admit I never realized that Mark was addressing a deeper issue.

Mark was writing at a time when Jews in Judea were under persecution from the Romans. They experienced not only the destruction of their towns but the even greater horror to the destruction of the temple. Their world collapsed! Why?  What had gone wrong?  Why was Jerusalem destroyed?  Jesus was a miracle worker. How could he let this happen? How could they make sense of their suffering?

Mark tells the story in such a way to make sense out of their suffering in the light of the death of Jesus.  “He’s not just a miracle worker; he’s more.” Jesus’ world collapsed… and yet he triumphed!

His disciples misunderstood every time he talked about suffering to come. Yet, the whole point of Jesus’ Messianic identity in Mark’s gospel is that he had to die. The “messianic secret” of Jesus is that he is the son of man who has come to suffer… but would ultimately triumph. (In a surprising twist it is the marginal characters in the gospel who understood better than the disciples. More about that in a later Mindwalk.)

Food for thought

  • As you listen to the gospels ask how this passage challenges a people whose world was collapsing?
  • Do you understand that following Christ means experiencing suffering just as he did?

Clock below for an audio version of hei Vincentian Mindwalk

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