Weekly Bible Reflection
Journeying with the Gospel Writers
Welcome to New Way's Small Christian Community study resource for Year A, B and C of the Common Lectionary. It is offered primarily as a basis for group discussion though it can also act as a stimulus for sermon preparation.
We invite you to join us in journeying through the gospels in a way that is somewhat different from the norm.
Vital aspects of Christian faith and life seem to be lost to us because of our over-emphasis on the individual at the expense of the communal. In Jesus' culture, identity was very much oriented towards others. People relied on the group to which they belonged to give them a sense of who they were, be it their family or clan or particular group in society. Given that the gospels were written in cultures with that orientation, we intend to engage with each gospel with the Christian community at the forefront of our minds.
We think and act differently when we look to our Christian community as the source of our identity.
Marked as belonging to Christ in baptism, we are part of a new household, a new community, the Body of Christ. We're not called to do the work of the gospel alone but as a community of disciples. This requires that we acknowledge our interdependence and sit loose to individualism. Transformed by our relationship with Jesus Christ and with one another we are to be a sign of God's future; of what Mark's and Luke's Jesus calls the reign of God and Matthew's the 'reign of heaven'.
So, in these studies, we will be focussing on our response to the gospel as a community of faith and then, within that framework, on personal response.
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Reading the Gospels - two windows
We need to be mindful that reading a gospel today is like standing in one culture while peering into other cultures through two windows that are set one behind the other.
Through the outer window we glimpse the early Christian household communities wrestling with the life, person and teaching of Jesus in their context and time, in Matthew's case in Antioch and Mark in Rome, though the exact location remains uncertain. Mark was written some 40 years after Christ just before or after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE and Matthew some 10 years later, two generations after the apostles walked with Jesus.
Through the inner window, which is a little darker and not so well defined, we catch sight of Jesus himself and his community of followers engaging in God's mission as they move through the towns and villages of Palestine during the third decade of the first century.
In other words, the story of Jesus was re-told by the author of each gospel for a different time, place and audience. We read the story twenty centuries later praying that the Holy Spirit will enable it to speak anew in our very different culture.
We will explore how the communities for whom the gospels were written were encouraged to respond to them in their time and context in order to take the further step of addressing the challenges of living the Jesus Way in our own time and context. As indicated earlier, we making the question: 'what is the passage saying to us here and now and what should we do?' before asking how it applies to each of us personally.
We are convinced that the gospels need to be read in context taking into account the social, economic and political dimensions of life as well as spiritual and personal. It means, for example, that we should be as much concerned about structural evil and sin as personal evil and sin. All dimensions are wrapped up together, they nest in each other, and can never be separated into compartments without distorting the message. This means that all dimensions of life are spiritual and in these studies, we seek to read and apply the text with this in mind.
Jesus and the early Christian households lived in the shadow of the Roman Empire. Richard Horseley says:
'The expansion and consolidation of worldwide empire constitute the historical context for the ministry of Jesus, the movement he founded, the mission of Paul, and the literature that communities of Jesus-believers produced.' The team of writers who have prepared this study series holds the view that the early Christian household movement was counter-imperial, a renewal movement over against Roman rule and the Jerusalem priestly aristocracy.
(see reference below)
We are grateful to Peter Price whose reflections on the synoptic gospels (see below) provided the inspiration and foundation for this new series.
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Helpful General References
David Bosch ,1998, Transforming Mission, Orbis, New York - especially Chapter 2, page 56ff
Raymond Brown, 1984, The Churches the apostles left behind, Paulist Press, New York -especially chapter 8, p. 124ff.
Richard Horsley, "The New World Order: The Historical Context of New Testament History and Literature," in Wes Howard-Brook and Sharon H. Ringe (eds)
Richard Horsley, 2002, The New Testament: Introducing the Way of Discipleship, (Orbis Books, Maryknoll), page 1.
Peter Price, 1998 & 2001, Living Faith in the World - Reflections on Matthew's Gospel for Small Christian Communities, New Way, Suffolk
Peter Price, 2000 & 2002, Mark Today - Reflections on Mark's Gospel for Small Christian Communities New Way, Suffolk.
Peter Price, 1998 & 2000, The Jesus Manifesto(1) and (2): Reflections on St. Luke's Gospel for Small Christian Communities, New Way, Suffolk
Keith A Russell ,1994, In Search of the Church: New Testament Images for Tomorrow's Congregations, Alban, New York - especially chapters 2 and 3.
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