3 Pentecost • June 21, 2020
Genesis 21:8-21 • Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 • Romans 6:1b-11 • Matthew 10:24-39
In the Name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
My friends, we should talk a little about how the Gospels were written, what methods were used—especially by the first three, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Synoptic Gospels. In knowing how they were written, we can discover a marvelous access to the meaning that Jesus intended in his stories and parables.
The first Gospel to be written was by Mark. I was written after Jesus death and resurrection—40 years after Jesus, but perhaps earlier. Mark was not one of the Twelve, but was probably the person named Mark in Acts of the Apostles as an associate of Paul and Peter. Some scholars think there is evidence that Mark’s Gospel was strongly influenced by Peter, himself, perhaps even dictated in parts by him.
When Matthew and Luke sat down to write their Gospels, the certainly had Mark’s Gospel on the table in front of them. 90% of Mark appears in Matthew, and 50% appears in Luke—almost direct copies of Mark’s words. So Mark is the foundational gospel, simple, direct, and wonderfully straightforward.
But Matthew and Luke had another source sitting in front of them as they write their accounts of Jesus time. It was called “Q” by the German scholars in the 19th Century—the German word for “source” is “Quelle” and so this primary source became Q.
Q is lost now, but it is thought to have been a list of the sayings of Jesus. A fifth gospel was found in 1945 in Egypt. The Gospel of Thomas is also just a list of sayings, with a few short stories. Thomas is useful because it shows us what Q looked like—a list of sayings of Jesus.
So Matthew and Luke compiled their three sources: Mark held the basic story, Q contributed the sayings (the parables and stories), and then Matthew and Luke had their own spoken traditions, or perhaps written ones, that they included in their Gospels. They look like this:
You may well ask, “So what? How does this help us understand what Jesus was trying to say?” Today’s Gospel Lesson gives us a beautiful example of how this can help us better understand Jesus.
Matthew is telling the story of Jesus sending his twelve apostles out on the road for on-the-job training—the story we heard last week. Into this story he packed a whole series of separate saying that sounded similar to him. In this particular passage, I can find 10 separate sayings—mostly one-liners, the memorable part of a teaching, the “punch line,” if you will.
If you separate each of the sayings from the adjoining ones, there will be an aphorism, or a parable for you to ponder. Jesus says, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master.” Sometimes, particularly younger disciples, will want to exceed their teacher’s accomplishments. No, Jesus is saying, put your energy into learning what your teacher has to say; you don’t need to be in competition with him.
Another saying: “If they have called the master of the house the Devil, how much more will they malign those of his household.” A warning to expect trouble if we follow the Master.
Again, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” This does not sound like “Jesus meek and mild!” No, not at all. So ask yourself who’s he talking about? It is pretty clear who can kill the body—robbers and murderers, government authorities like the police and the armed forces, your neighbors or family members if you enrage them. But Jesus seems to be speaking about people who take offense to the good news. Okay. But then who has the power to destroy body and soul in hell? Ah! That would be God! Now, what does he mean by “fear?” I think he means something like “respect.” Just as you should fear a pot of boiling water and treat it with respect. Just as you should fear the power of a cop, and treat her with respect. So also, we should treat our Father in heaven with respect and choose him over any other authority.
Another parable: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Most of us think from time to time that we are insignificant, unimportant, somewhat worthless. This is very human, a common thought. Jesus is saying that there are no insignificant parts of creation—the Father values us all.
I leave it to you to detach the sayings that Matthew and the other Evangelists have grouped together in their narratives. The word of life is to be found in each of these sayings if only we are willing to spend a little time with each of them, pondering them in our hearts so that they can reveal their message, directly from the mouth of Jesus.