Gospels writers were not interested in what happened during Jesus’ lifetime, they were interested in what it means. Modern thinkers have difficulty getting their heads around the fact that the bible is not history or biography of Jesus. It is written accounts of who Jesus is for the believer.
Around the second, third and fourth generations of the Common Era as the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life began to die off, the Gospels began as a way to commit to the page the rich oral histories of his life. [What if no one had troubled to begin that effort? Would his extraordinary life be lost forever?]
Catholics tend to conflate the Gospels. We focused last night on the infancy gospels. Since we don’t read them often enough, we tend to blur them together. Did Luke write about the magi or was it Matthew? Did Mary and Joseph travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem or were they living there? Were there three magi or only three gifts? Was Jesus born at home or in a stable?
Compounding the problem is that the peculiarity of each Gospel is lost in the translation process, which mushes it all out to the point where it all sounds the same. But it's not the same. The writers of each of the four gospels are each writing a separate account. They don't presume you've read the other guy.
And about those miracles…
No miracle is told to impress us about the miraculous act. They are signs of what all humans need. We need to see ourselves in the stories in order for them to having meaning to us. But we've missed the meaning and the reason for the stories.
The fundamental method of Jesus’ teaching is parabolic. But he didn’t tell them to comfort. He told them to turn our world upside down, to confront. Our reaction to these stories should be, “I don’t know what you mean by that but I don’t like it.”
But we don't realize this because preaching has let us down. It focuses on the moral/ethical comfort available in a parable. A shepherd leaves 99 sheep to get his one lost sheep. Aw, isn’t that a sweet story about compassion? No! It’s weird and doesn’t make any sense. Why would you risk losing 99 sheep for one?!
The point is that God’s actions are extravagant. We human beings are stingy. Jesus’ teaching helps us to rearrange our thinking but as a result we’re left scratching our heads wondering what to do. Hmm...
Let's take one parable. The story of the prodigal son is not about the prodigal son. It’s about the older son who is jealous of the father’s mercy toward his younger brother. [Whenever we read, “A father had two sons” in the Bible, we should know that the younger son – the underdog – will prevail.]
The prodigal son story shows how we are jealous of God’s mercy. It’s not fair that people who break the rules and run away get a party upon their return. It’s akin to arriving in heaven and saying, “What’s she doing here?”
We realize, then, that we are not God. We don’t get to say who gets in and who doesn’t; who gets punished and who doesn’t. “God’s mercy is so huge that we can’t take it in unless we accept we need it, too,” says Father Bob.