Understanding the Question

by | Mar 25, 2022 | Formation, Reflections

Mom, Where Did I Come From?

Most mothers expect the question. But sometimes the words do not mean what she thinks they mean.

After carefully going through “the talk” with her son, he replies.  “Jimmy says he comes from Cleveland!”

Opps! She heard the words … but missed the real question he was concerned about.

I am beginning to realize I do that often with Sunday Gospels!

Missing the questions shaping the Gospels

We can sometimes hear the words of the Sunday Gospel and not understand the question the evangelist is addressing.

I never really gave much thought that each of the evangelists might be addressing a unique audience. And that these audiences might be concerned about different problems somewhat unique to their culture and life experience. These experiences raised different questions about what it meant to be a follower of Jesus.

Some examples…

  • Mark wrote for early Jewish Christians who found themselves no longer welcome in Jewish synagogues. How follow Christ without synagogue or temple.
  • Mathew wrote for Jewish Christians who, unwelcome, in the synagogues, now also faced persecution in Rome. They never bargained for persecution.
  • Luke, a highly educated Gentile, spoke to Gentile converts who could not understand why following Jesus meant following Jewish dietary rules.

The evangelists were primarily pastors, not historians, even if they used what they knew of Christ’s history to speak to the real questions of their readers.

The result… each evangelist tells the Good News with a twist. They function much like any good pastor or counselor. They tell stories the way they think will help listeners with their current struggles.

The parable of the fig tree

I often wondered why Luke uses the image so differently. Mark and Mathew have Jesus cursing the fig tree. Luke, as he does so often in his gospel, sees it as a parable of mercy rather than judgment.

I now am beginning to appreciate that Luke is addressing the issues of a different audience. He is writing to a predominately Gentile group of Christians who were considered second-class Christians because they were not synagogue worshipers. I wonder whether facing that discrimination, they were tempted to make harsh judgments about Jewish Christians.

In this parable, he addresses both these real issues from the perspective of mercy.

On the one hand, he asks Gentile Christians to be merciful in their judgments of Jewish Christians. In effect, he is saying God is not finished with them yet.

But the parable also challenges these Gentile Christians to realize that God is not finished with them either. They are expected to bear fruit and manifest mercy in the way they live their lives.

  • Be merciful and kind to Jewish Christians no matter how they treat you.
  • Be grateful for God’s mercy in being patient with you.

The liturgy today seems to understand this by underscoring the words of Psalm 8.

The Lord is kind and merciful.
He has made known his ways to Moses, and his deeds to the children of Israel.The Lord is kind and merciful.
Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.

The Lord is kind and merciful.

This is the heritage and challenge of every Christian

The challenge of being kind and merciful today

In our polarized world today we face the same two challenges just dressed in different clothes

  • We are challenged to realize that God is merciful to those who think and live differently than we do.
  • At the same time, we are challenged to give thanks for God’s mercy to ourselves as we struggle to show that mercy to others.

Originally posted on Vincentian Mindwalk