If you ask three people to tell you about a conversation or event that they shared, you’ll probably get four different accounts of what happened. Each observer or participant has their own point of view, their own history; each one focuses on something different. It doesn’t mean one is right and the others are wrong, it just means that we each have our own version of the story.
It’s the same with the Bible. In our Christian Testament we have the four Gospels; each telling their version of the story of Jesus. We acknowledge that each story is different by giving them titles based on the name of an attributed author: “the Gospel (the good news) according to… Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.”
“Mark,” widely believed by scholars to be the first Gospel written just prior to a widespread Jewish revolt in 66 CE, tells the story of a humble messiah who appears on the scene as an adult, healing maladies and curing ills while telling everyone to keep his secret. Of course, no one can keep this quiet, and his works and his message cause conflict with the government and religious authorities who eventually hunt him down and kill him.
Matthew’s gospel tells a story rooted in the Jewishness of Jesus; a story that includes a tyrant king who is so fearful of losing power that he calls for the murder of innocent young children, forcing a young Jesus and his family to flee to Egypt, seeking asylum and safety.
“John,” the last canonical Gospel written in 80-90, focuses the tale on a divine Word that takes on flesh, a god who chose incarnate humanity to truly understand what it means to be just like us.
And then there’s Luke.
Scholars believe that the writers of Luke and Matthew both composed their texts based on Mark’s gospel and at least one other common source. There are core stories that they have in common but other pieces, such as birth narrative are uniquely their own.
Luke begins by letting us know that there are other versions but that this one is carefully researched and you can rely on it. One might read Luke’s works and hear “sure there are others who’ve tried to tell this story but let me tell it to you the right way.”
And Luke knew how to tell a story. Luke’s style of storytelling changes throughout the Gospel to fit the shifting locations and characters in the narrative. Some parts are highly formal and refined while others become more relaxed and secular. The author writes about Jesus in a way that invites a wide audience to find their own place in the story.
Luke’s remembrance of Jesus focuses on “the manifestation of divine compassion as Jesus reaches out to live and work among the marginal members of his society. Women, the less-than-pious, tax collectors, the poor, the sick, the oppressed, and even noble Pharisees are present and interact with Jesus more prominently in this account than in any other.”
Luke knew how to tell a story – and Luke knew that there were other sources and versions of the tale.
These four gospels are only the start. These are the four that made it into the Bible. There are many other versions of the story that were deemed heretical or not good enough for whatever reason.
There are also stories wondering about each of the writers of the Gospels – was Luke really a physician travelling with Paul, as claimed in Acts? Was Mark the same John Mark who travelled with Peter? The background and composition of each Gospel is a story of its own.
And then there are the translations – version upon version, a simple word or phrase changed here or there that sometimes seems to change the entire meaning of the story.
For some, the variety of these stories may be a reason to avoid them or discount them. For some, the inconsistencies may be seen as evidence against their truthfulness. How can we possibly believe the stories when they are presented so differently?
For me, the depth and diversity actually strengthens my faith. God’s story is too big and too complex to be contained in a single narrative. Now, I confess that I, like others, often pick and choose which parts of the story I focus on. But I try not to stay there. When I have the courage, I look in other places, for the parts of the story that seem too challenging or that push me too far. The diversity of God’s story reminds me that I should never stay in one place. The differences remind me that God can’t fit into a neat little box, no matter how hard I try to jam God in.
Luke’s Gospel is a story about One who has been anointed by the spirit God’s spirit to do this work. But this anointing is “neither unprecedented nor singular – the sprit [is] clearly present and active in the Gospel account prior to the conception and birth of Jesus, and later present and active in the account in Acts of the Church at work among all the people of the known world.”
When I hear stories of Jesus, I hear the story of someone who does amazing works in the name of God and I hear the call to follow… and the assurance that we can do the works too.
When I hear the stories of Jesus, I hear the story of a Spirit that inhabits us today in our works – the work we do as individuals and as a community.
Tell me the stories of Jesus healing the sick, and serving neighbors and strangers,
Words full of kindness,
Deeds full of grace,
Tell me the stories of Jesus changing his community, challenging evil and oppression and hate.
Tell me the stories of Jesus facing panic with prayer, facing discrimination with acceptance, giving his life to show us how us our out-of-control fear causes us to strike out even against perfect love
Luke’s Gospel is also a story of community. “For Luke, one is not a disciple alone, but one finds profound personal significance in becoming one of the people of God who live as citizens of God’s kingdom in a manner consistent with God’s intentions for the life of all humanity as brought and taught, shown and known in Jesus Christ.”
Tell me stories of the Cutlers, who were part of founding this community of believers centuries ago and who continue to do the work by serving neighbors in food pantries and with rides and in so many other ways
Tell me the stories of Bob Smith, a member since 1956 who reminds us of the ways that God has been present here through the stories of MCC for generations.
Tell me the stories of the Larsons and the Davidsons and the Marshalls who are continuing the story, introducing their children to the ways that God is at work in this place and in their lives.
If you ask three people to report on a shared conversation or event, you’ll probably get four different accounts of what happened. The four canonical Gospels tells different stories of Jesus but that doesn’t take anything away from their truthfulness. We each have a version of God’s story – we each are a version of God’s story. Tell your tale, share your story, live your life so that the story of God’s kingdom becomes reality.
May our story be rooted in God’s love. May we follow Jesus wherever our story leads. May we always be aware of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Amen.