As Holy Week and Easter approach, it is helpful to read about the crucifixion, death and Resurrection of Jesus, as described in the four Gospels. As outlined in a bulletin article from January, the four Gospels present the life of Jesus from different perspectives in order to bring out the full richness of this mystery.
Next Sunday, this article will discuss their different ways of presenting the death of Christ. And on Easter Sunday, the focus will be on their presentations of the Risen Christ, then and now. As a preparation, it is helpful to consider the general style and themes of the four Gospels. Matthew presents Jesus as the teacher of Divine Wisdom, who fulfills the promises made to Israel and brings salvation to the whole world. Thus, Matthew contains the full three-chapter Sermon on the Mount, which outlines the general principles of the Christian life, and contains more parables than the other Gospels.
It begins with a genealogy that traces the history leading up to Jesus and describes over and again how the prophets spoke of Him; and also, through the Magi and the final great commissioning, the Gospel presents the faith as encompassing all nations. Mark is the most dramatic of the Gospels, focusing on how Jesus battles the forces of evil and presents vivid accounts of the miracles and conflicts between Jesus and the demons. This Gospel barrels right out of the gate at the beginning with John the Baptist as the voice of one crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” It then presents in quick order Jesus’ time in the desert, the calling of the Apostles and a series of miracles and exorcisms in the first chapter alone, with a fast pace that continues to the end. Luke presents more of the beauty and compassion of God.
For example, in the infancy narratives, he describes the great canticles of Zechariah, Mary and Simeon. And this Gospel is the one that contains such material as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the conversion of the thief on the cross, and the final scene of joy and blessings in the Temple. John is more the mystic, who presents fewer events, but calls for deep reflection on them.
Thus, he begins with a poetic description of the Incarnation and then proceeds onto a seven day structure that provides the theme of Jesus bringing out a new creation. John focuses on seven miracles and the lessons to be drawn from them, and describes at length the Last Supper discourse, which contains many paradoxes, leading to the triumph of the Cross and Resurrection. The four Gospels thus helps us understand in different ways the mystery of our faith and the pathway to everlasting life.