… feel the width”
Those of us of a certain age (or maybe that should be of uncertain age) might remember this late 60s ITV sitcom about two tailors. Their names were Cohen and Kelly which probably tells you all you need to know about the likely plot lines and would explain why no mainstream channel is every likely to show it again!
The title would also serve very well to describe what was (in my very lowly opinion) one of the worst decisions to emerge from the Second Vatican Council at just about the same time — the decision to dilute the gospel message by spreading the readings over three years.
Jesus’ life and work was recounted in three separate ways by three of the evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke, each placing his emphasis in a different way to give us a rounded picture of events. John complements this with a much more intense and intensive reporting of our Saviour’s message, notably in ch 6 where he gives the, to the crowd, shocking message that v53, … unless you eat of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you … and in the Last Supper discourse in chs 13-17.
Many of the events are recorded in different ways by different writers. Some are recorded only once. John himself says at the end of his gospel (ch20 v25) … there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written”. (Obviously a man who had never heard of the internet!) So each evangelist has made an editorial decision as to what he includes and what he leaves out. Matthew and Luke begin their narrative before Jesus’ birth; Mark and John pick up the story as He opens His public ministry.
To come close to a full understanding of Jesus we need to read the gospels in their entirety and in their context with each other. We need to immerse ourselves in Jesus’ life and work and message. The morsel extracted for Sunday reading cannot fill the bill here. So why then am I decrying the idea of building the year’s gospel readings round all three synoptics with additional material from John where relevant?
The answer is because we have sacrificed depth (quality) for quantity (width) and that brings us back to the question of catechesis and for the purposes of this post to today, the fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, year A when the gospel reading deals with the Beatitudes.
On the subject of catechesis I would ask any passing reader who is interested to go and look at the Catholic News Agency‘s article on the subject. Their page and links are better than mine! On the subject of the Beatitudes, these are a part of one of Jesus’ most important teachings, now normally referred to as The Sermon on the Mount. Far too important, I would argue, only to be heard in depth one year in three.
The Beatitudes are not the only gospel story which ought to be taken to heart and expounded on by pastors year in, year out. The marriage feast at Cana, the parable of the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the rest of the sermon on the mount, in Matthew’s version which gives more detail of Jesus’ words on anger, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation, love for enemies, almsgiving, prayer, fasting, and more!
Many of these are stories we all know but therein lies another danger. A story is told of a lawnmower salesman in Canada who, as soon as the winter snows abated would set off into the hinterland and visit all his retailers selling his wares. He was well-known, had worked this territory for 20 years and was always made welcome. Until one year when he found that orders were down and many of his contacts seemed unable to look him in the eye. At last he challenged one of them directly, as long-standing friends, please tell him what the problem was.
“Well,” said his friend, “a lot of us are buying from XXX this year. They have a new range out with …” and he proceeded to list two or three innovations that improved performance without basically changing the look or feel of the machine.
The salesman was horrified. “But we introduced all those things three years ago,” he said.
“Dammit, Henry,” said the dealer, “you never mentioned any of them!”
Object lesson in becoming over-familiar!
It would perhaps be an exaggeration to say that it is a pastor’s job to go out and “sell” the Faith but why? These stories that we all know, or in some cases think we know, are of little use if we don’t know what they mean. The gospels, indeed the whole of the New Testament, is there for our edification, not solely for our entertainment. Better, surely, if our pastors really concentrated on the vital parts of the message, expounded in depth on the meaning of the important things, and instructed us in depth in Jesus’ message.
Otherwise we end up like the lawn mower retailer, buying a different product because our regular salesman doesn’t concentrate on the important information and on making sure that we properly get the message.