Friday, December 02, 2011

A Proposed Four-Year Lectionary

As my last post indicated, each gospel has its own character, and the Revised Common Lectionary makes this fact less clear.
Well, I can’t just leave it like that—complain and not suggest a fix for said complaint.
So, here is my bare bones proposal for how to re-organize the lectionary:

Year 1: Matthew, The Law, Non-Pauline Letters
Matthew goes to certain lengths to connect Jesus with Moses and the Law, what better place to point this out than in the books of the Bible we read. Additionally, giving the non-Pauline letters some space to talk to the church on their own seems healthy.

Year 2: Mark, The Histories, Pauline Letters
Mark is a shorter Gospel, but that just means we can focus on smaller sections of Mark and larger sections of Paul and really get to know the history and story found in Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Ester.

Year 3: Luke, The Prophets, The Book of Acts
Reconnecting Luke and Acts, since they are by the same author and two halves of his same story, makes good sense. Luke’s focus on some of the social and economic aspects of Jesus’ ministry and world he lives in echoes in the Prophetic books of Hebrew Scripture.

Year 4: John, Wisdom Literature, The Book of Revelation
Sigh with me for a second, feel the extra space? The gospel of John finally gets to breath! As I indicated in the previous post one of the ways to describe Jesus as Word of God is “Incarnate Divine Proverb.” Well, what better place to look at Wisdom Literature than side by side with a gospel that proclaims Wisdom’s incarnation. As for Revelation, both authors are known as John, and both describe Jesus in ways that differ greatly from the other Gospels. Additionally, wrestling with Revelation for a whole year might force main-line churches to admit that this strain of apocalyptic literature is our property too.


What I learned in Seminary 2: Gospels

In New Testament 1 it was hammered home that each gospel has its own character.
Specifically, Dr. Mattison sharply focuses on the variety of values expressed in each gospel. She sharpened this reality by her “Creed assignments.” We wrote a creed focusing on the particular values of each gospel. Additionally, we looked at one particular piece of scripture which occurred in multiple gospels and compared and contrasted gospel to gospel.
Mark is a gospel with a jagged edge. Its grammar is rough and Mark’s two favorite words are “and” and “Immediately.” It feels like he is breathlessly telling the Jesus story, and once finishing running to the next village or campfire to tell it again. Mark, while affirming Jesus as Son of God, has not fully worked out the meaning of the statement as clearly as the other gospels. Or, alternatively, what he worked out is simply a much “lower” understanding of Son of God than the other authors. He is very aware that the gospel story is a Jewish story about a Rabbi from Galilee.
Matthew ensures that the Jewish story he is telling meshes with the Jewish scriptures he knows. He ties Jesus to King David and the Patriarch Abraham. Jesus acts as a second Moses who is leading people to repentance. He is salt and light in a bland and dark world, and those who repentant are in turn to be savory and illuminating as well.
Luke’s gospel is an apology for Christianity to a gentile audience. Jesus’ lineage goes all the way back to Adam, thus making him the son of not only the Jewish Patriarch, but the son of all of humanity. Additionally, the gentile worldview sneaks into this gospel in several ways. The spiritual universe the story is set in is much more peopled than the other gospels; in other words, there are more angels. Also, Jesus expresses himself less with action and more with words. Additionally, Luke very clearly does not know the geography of the holy land, and assumes his readers don’t either. Luke has a tendency to emphasize the crowds around Jesus and has a greater concern for economic issues than the other writers.
And then there is John. There is a lot more philosophical proclamation about Jesus in this last gospel. Jesus has become a sort of super-man, the kind of King Mel Gibson pointed to in his film about Jesus. John proclaims Jesus to be, “Incarnate Divine Proverb” the very Word of God and because of that He is shown to be very aware of everything that is happening to him. John uses a phrase that I have found fascinating for a long time. “I am.” This is derived from the Divine Name and is used to affirm Jesus’ nature throughout the Gospel of John.
I learned that it is no enough to talk about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead, we must speak of the Gospels—of different good news for people of different places and times. This is why gospel harmonies do a disservice to the unique content of each book.
For that same reason the three year lectionary cycle that most churches use, in which Matthew, Mark, or Luke are focused on and the gospel of John is focused on during “special” Sundays, muddles the very clear variety of Good News handed down to the Church.
Finally, Dr. Mattison, through her in-depth and unique assignments, insisted that part of being a pastor is creativity.