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The Church knows a bit about marketing…….

January 10, 2014

This week’s set of readings is unusual – we hear from all four of the evangelists, and the gospel readings are all highlights of Jesus’ ministry. The Church does this in preparation for the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord next Sunday. As part of the build up to the launch of the story of Christianity, starting next week, we get a splash of forthcoming highlights to whet our appetite:

Jesus preaching and healing;

the Feeding of the 5,000;

walking on water;

fulfilling Old Testament prophecies when he reads in the synagogue; and

curing a leper.

And these highlights are taken from each of the four fabulous writers who wrote down the earth-shattering story of Jesus. In showcasing her brilliant authors, the Church emphasizes the tremendous breadth of her membership – people from all the nations drawn to the Light of Christ…. a reminder that the Epiphany we celebrated last Sunday, which is all about the new Church of Jesus Christ welcoming all people from across the world. This rich diversity of Christians is highlighted when we realise that we have four gospels because each of them was aimed at a different audience.

MARK Mark’s gospel is the first, written about 25 years after the Resurrection. Mark had been with Saint Paul, so he would have known Christians who did not come from the Jewish tradition, the gentile converts. But we also know that Mark worked with the Jewish Christians in Rome: Mark was an interpreter for Saint Peter – and that’s probably why Mark’s gospel records a lot of the preaching of our first Pope.

MATTHEW 20 years after Mark’s gospel, 45 years after the Resurrection, Matthew wrote for Jews who had become Christians. The very first Christians were Jews had continued to go to their synagogues on a Saturday and they then meeting together on Sundays to witness to their belief that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. As time passed these distinct Christian groups within the synagogues caused increasing tensions with those Jews who did not recognise Jesus as the Messiah: it looks like Matthew wrote his gospel for those Christians who needed support and encouragement after being expelled from their synagogues. Yesterday’s gospel from Matthew said that Jesus ‘went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people. His fame spread to all of Syria.’

LUKE That leads me on to Luke. Luke was from Syrian Antioch. So Jesus’ fame certainly did spread to Syria. And Luke’s gospel was published about 5 years after Matthew’s, 50 years after the Resurrection. We need to remember that the brutal Roman Empire only allowed worship of Roman gods, with one single exception – Judaism. And the local synagogues were campaigning against the Church, stirring up trouble for the new Christians, by letting the Romans know that the Christians were not Jews…… That’s why Luke wrote his gospel.

JOHN Finally John. The first letter to John we’re hearing this week was written about 70 years after the Resurrection and it continues the style of theological thinking found in John’s gospel. It was written for Christians who were part of the community that was founded by Saint John. But by 100AD that Christian community was deeply divided, arguing about who Jesus was and how to be a good Christian. You can also see how John’s letter is aimed at Christians who were arguing among themselves from today’s extract: it talks of the importance of love between Christians, love being of God, revealed to us by His Son, Jesus Christ.

From this brief summary of the for gospel writers, can you see the sheer breadth of different kinds of Christians who were members of the early Church? It was, right from the start, truly universal, truly “catholic”. So accept the Church invitation to enjoy the rollercoaster of a ride with the readings all this week, pointing towards next Sunday’s Baptism of the Lord. Be inspired by the breathtaking events that changed the world forever, and be proud that you belong to a truly world-wide Church – 20 of us here this morning in Hall Green, but not alone: millions and millions and millions in communion with us around the world; and billions in communion with us, with Jesus, with the Communion of Saints in heaven, spanning the whole world and spanning the centuries. So let’s now become witnesses to that sacred communion as we come to receive our Lord in Holy Communion.

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