Spoiler alert: It gets a bit Catholic-y ahead.
Today I finished the reading of the Gospels, Margaret Feinberg’s Lenten Challenge. (I finished a couple of days early because I did not always take Sundays off.) It has not been what I expected. In short, I got really weirded out by Jesus.
The Gospels are not new to me. I’ve been reading the Bible daily for more than 30 years. Nothing here should have been a surprise except. But then there was that Jesus fellow.
I mean, really? Who does he think he is? Why can’t anyone get a straight answer out of him? Or when he gives one, why doesn’t anyone pay attention? Why does he keep healing people on the sabbath when all it does is cause trouble? Why does he treat his mother that way? Why did he pick these blokes for disciples? He seems rather arbitrary in his dispensation of miracles. I don’t understand his parables, and his speeches are even more obscure. If I lived in Nazareth, I’d be clucking my tongue at this upstart.
I was describing how I felt about this Gospel thing to my best friend, a woman who, like me, loves the Bible and hates women’s Bible studies. I told her, “It seems like over and over, I read a verse, and then all I can do is roll my eyes to heaven and say, ‘Really, Lord?’”
“Oh, I get it,” my friend said.
C.S. Lewis famously gave us three choices for who Jesus is: liar, lunatic or lord. At times I thought there should be a fourth possibility, the one raised at his trial — dangerous revolutionary. I really thought I knew this Jesus. Doing these readings? Not so sure.
However, there were some parts of the Gospels I had no problem with. To go all Catholic on you , the stories that made the most sense to me, the ones I realized that I buy completely, are the beginnings and endings of the Gospels — the Joyful Mysteries (surrounding the birth of Christ), the Sorrowful Mysteries (surrounding the passion and death of Christ), and the Glorious Mysteries (the Resurrection plus some other things that occur post-Gospel). I’m totally on board with that stuff.
I can’t explain why. God born man to a virgin doesn’t bother me. God sacrificing himself for love for the world, tragic and beautiful. Resurrection — so mysterious and so fragmented a story that it has to be true. These are supposed to be the big ones, the ones in the creeds, the ones that people of faith sometimes find hard to believe.
It’s the stuff in between the Joyful and the Sorrowful Mysteries — the Luminous Mysteries — that trouble me. And guess what? It’s no wonder. They’ve only been a thing since 2002, since Pope John Paul II. The other three? They go back to the 1200s and good ol’ Saint Dominic.
The Luminous Mysteries include the following: the baptism in the Jordan, the wedding at Cana, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, the Transfiguration, and the institution of the Eucharist (Last Supper). The parts of the Gospels that caused me to roll my eyes toward heaven and say, “Really, Lord?” are not in this list. I must be really, really Catholic.
Don’t get me wrong — there are moments in these in between parts that I love. The centurion. The woman caught in adultery. The woman at the well. All Jesus’ I Am statements. The woman who bled for 12 years. Talitha koum. The storm. The guy on the pallet they let down through the roof. The parable about the house built on rock and the one built on sand. Lazarus. The woman with the two coins. Palm Sunday. Turning tables. To whom shall we go? Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.
Some of the rest of it, setting a man against his father and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law? Not peace but a sword? Who is my mother and who are my brothers? Really, Lord?
Along with the Gospel reading track, I spent Lent going through the Sorrowful Mysteries, one decade each day. I thought I’d get depressed, sitting in these stories, being imersed in them, but I found them immensely comforting. I get being up all night, praying in agony while other people sleep soundly. I get betrayal. I get injustice. I get people who support you one moment and condemn you the next. I get innocent people being dragged in because they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. I haven’t been flogged, but I get what it means to no have no relief, just Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! I get mockery. I get unexpected surprises, like the belief from the other cross. I get the women who follow to the bitter end.
And I love the pre-Easter parts the rosary leaves out — the faith of the soldier, and in Matthew, when the graves open up and people see their loved ones walking around. I love the temple curtain, torn in two. I love Joseph of Arimathea going to Pilate to ask for the body.
These are stories my best friend (who is Presbyterian) loves, too. In that conversation I mentioned earlier, we were talking about a new women’s Bible study in town. I asked her if she’d gone, and she said no and added, “I think I’m too much of a sinner for those women.”
“I get it,” I told her.