Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Presentations Of Jesus (part 2 of 2)

Take, for instance, a story that makes its way into all four Gospel portraits of Jesus, which is the feeding of the five thousand.  All four of the Gospel accounts present the feeding in much the same form.  However, after the story of the feeding, Luke diverges completely from the story-line on offer in Matthew, Mark, and John.  John maintains the same story-line following the feeding, though it differs in a significant detail as it relates to the purposes of this study. 

In each case, it should be acknowledged that the author uses the story of the feeding, along with what follows, within the goals that they have set for the overall presentation of Jesus that they intend to set before the respective audiences for which they are composing their written account (which will be based on a hugely reliable oral tradition and likely other ironically and potentially less reliable written records---an oral tradition was subject to correction and maintenance by the community, whereas a written record could be used to propagate and disseminate information that stood outside of the oral tradition, with no means for immediate correction). 

As Mark’s narrative is generally considered to be the oldest, being foundational for both Matthew and Luke, it is worthwhile to take a look at what is to be found there.  Operating within a full realization that there is a purpose related to the structuring of the narrative, the sixth chapter of Mark records that Jesus feeds a multitude through the multiplication of bread and fish, doing so by the Sea of Galilee.  Then, drawing the feeding together with what comes after, and doing so for the purpose of the author’s narrative, Mark goes on to report that “Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He dispersed the crowd” (6:45). 

Having retired to the mountain to pray after sending off His disciples, it is said that from His vantage point Jesus could observe His disciples on the water.  “He saw them straining at the oars, because the wind was against them” (6:48a).  Mark then reports that Jesus came to His disciples, “walking on the sea” (6:48c), which caused great fear amongst those men.  Ultimately, “He went up with them into the boat, and the wind ceased” (6:51a).  Matthew reports nearly the same story, but adds Peter’s attempt to walk on the sea, which is not to be found in Mark.  That’s not to say that somehow one of the authors got it wrong, but that the authors had different purposes for their tellings of the Jesus story. 

Luke moves in a different direction, omitting the second part of the story that is found in the other Gospels, not because he did not believe it, but because it did not fit with his overall movement and aims.  John’s is fundamentally the same, reporting a rough sea and a strong wind (6:18), though there is no report of the ceasing of the wind once Jesus gets into the boat.  Instead, John reports that “immediately the boat came to the land where they had been heading” (6:21b).  Clearly however, John’s report, like that of Matthew and Mark, is meant to demonstrate the power of the Creator God at work in Jesus, which is to be expected if He is indeed the Messiah of Israel. 

So what’s the point?  It is at this point that one returns to the idea that the Scriptures were undoubtedly searched by both Jesus and those that would write the Gospel accounts, so as to make sense of the mission and of the reports of that mission.  Such thoughts, together with the stories of the feeding of the multitude, the walking on water, and the calming of the wind, lead to the Psalms.  In the seventy eighth Psalm, keeping in mind the purposely structured Gospel narrative of feeding and then the control of nature and the desire to show forth their understanding of Jesus as the manifestation of the Creator God in the flesh, while also acknowledging that this was a reflection on the exodus and wilderness experience of Israel, marked similarities with the Gospel accounts of these occurrences are to be found in the reading: “He rained down manna for them to eat; He gave them the grain of heaven.  Man ate the food of the mighty ones.  He sent them more than enough to eat.  He brought the east wind through the sky, and by His strength led forth the south wind” (78:24-26). 

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