The Christian church follows a pattern of seasons throughout the year, forming what is known as the “liturgical year”. Each Sunday, in worship, a set of scripture passages are designated, to provide a rich diet of readings for reflection. The readings follow a pattern for each year, in which designated parts of scripture are provided.
You can see the pattern of readings in the coming months in this schedule:
This year is known as Year C, and during this year it is the longest version of the story of Jesus, an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, which is provided for our weekly Gospel passages.
This orderly account, offered to a person named lover of God (in Greek, Theophilus), we are told, was written so that this Theophilus might know the certainty concerning the things about which you have been instructed (Luke 1:1–4).
Of course, we know this as the Gospel according to Luke. And we know that the author of this work (unnamed in the actual text; by tradition, known as Luke) also wrote a companion volume, in which we hear accounts of how the followers of Jesus bore witness to him in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
In introducing his,work, the author of this orderly account notes that he received accounts from eyewitnesses and servants of the word which he investigated carefully over an extended period of time, before constructing the orderly account designed to make known the certainty of the story that he tells (Luke 1:1–4).
(In making this claim, I am translating the Greek often rendered as “from the beginning” in 1:3 as “over an extended period of time”; and the word rendered as “the truth” in 1:4 as, more accurately, “the certainty”.)
As we read and ponder stories from Luke’s orderly account, we do well to remember that Mark’s beginning story was one of the sources used by Luke. Comparisons with the earlier Markan version will identify differences which may well be significant. Has Luke intentionally modified a turn of phrase, or reshaped a story outline, or even relocated a particular incident to a different point in the overall story? Or are the differences just minor, insignificant, of no major importance? Those questions stand, week by week, as we work through the stories offered in the lectionary.
In like manner, we will need to recognise that this Gospel is but “the first book” addressed to Theophilus (Acts 1:1), and so the way that the story unfolds in later chapters, after the time of Jesus, through the actions and words of key followers, as told in the second volume, which we know as the Acts of the Apostles, will inform the way we approach and understand the orderly account of the years of Jesus, told in the Gospel.
So as we read, we would do well to have one eye, as it were, looking back, to the sources used by the author—the Gospel of Mark, and the hypothetical Q source of sayings of Jesus, and perhaps others—looking to see how the author of the orderly account has tweaked and massaged and ordered his material. (This is doing what scholars call redaction criticism; paying attention to the redactional work of the person editing all the material into a cohesive whole.)
And as we read, we would also do well to have the other eye metaphorically looking forward to the second volume by the same author. We do this in order to pay attention to the way that what has happened in later decades, as reported in this second volume, and on up to the time when the author was writing, has shaped and influenced the way the earlier story of Jesus is told. (This is paying attention to the social context of the author and the way that earlier material is reported in ways influenced by that context.)
So reading this orderly account requires attention to a number of elements, with one looking back to sources, to see how they are used in telling the story of Jesus, as the other eye looks forward to subsequent events, to see how they influence the story of Jesus. And as we read, and reflect, we may well note a number of key features that characterise this orderly account and which take us to the heart of matters which, to the author, are of vital importance.
I am currently working as Editor to a resource that is published four times a year, With Love to the World, which contains short commentaries for the biblical passages offered each week, as well as a short prayer, a song for singing, and a question to spark discussion about the passage if used in a group setting. It’s a helpful, user-friendly resource that is used by thousands of people each day.
With Love to the World can be ordered as a printed resource for just $24 for a year’s subscription (see http://www.withlovetotheworld.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Ordering-and-paying-for-Website-7.vii_.2020.pdf) or it can be accessed on phones and iPads via an App, for a subscription of $24.49 per year (go to the App Store or Google Play).