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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What I'm Reading Today: Matthew 27

When it comes to explaining the role an individual's sense of perspective plays in recording events, lots of folks use the example of how two witnesses to the same car accident might describe the same event in completely different terms. It's easy for us to understand that point when using an example like that. It's much more difficult for some to apply the same concept to the sacred writings of our faith. They want to believe the sacred writings of our tradition were told in a way that was completely objective.

And yet if you read the Scriptures closely, you get lots of examples of the Gospels telling the same story from different perspectives. Take the final moments of Jesus life on the cross, for example. Today's passage from Matthew tells us that while Jesus was hanging on the cross, there were two criminals that hung near Jesus.

"How did those two criminals respond to the scene unfolding before their eyes?"

Well, the answer depends on which gospel writer(s) you ask. The 27th chapter of Matthew, for instance, tells us that "even the two criminals crucified next to [Jesus] joined in the mockery."

If you flip over to the 23rd chapter of Luke, however, you'll get a different version of those final moments. The author(s) of Luke wrote: "One of the criminals hanging alongside cursed [Jesus]: 'Some Messiah you are! Save yourself! Save us!' But the other one made him shut up: 'Have you no fear of God? You're getting the same as him. We deserve this, but not him – he did nothing to deserve this."


"Why the difference between the two accounts of how the thief responded?"

There are lots of ways one could explain it. One way has to do with the theological agenda of each Gospel writer. The Gospel of Matthew, for instance, is most interested in portraying Jesus as the fulfillment of Scripture – as someone who stands in the stream of a larger religious tradition. That's why they wouldn't suggest that either of the criminals – the ultimate outsiders! – would affirm Jesus.

The Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, is more invested as portraying Jesus as a social reformer and advocate of the disenfranchised. It's no wonder, then, that the author(s) would be comfortable putting words affirming Jesus in the mouth of a criminal.

The point behind all of this is that the perspective from which we tell a story goes a long way in shaping how we tell that story.

Keeping that point in mind, I would invite you to sit back and examine your own past and your own social location today and get a feel for where you are coming from. Then ask yourself, "How does my story influence the way I tell Jesus' story?" Have fun exploring the various layers of that question.

Til next time …

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