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JULY 23, 2006: SIXTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Ephesians 2:13-18
Mark 6:30-34

Often people don't understand why Scripture scholars talk about "Mark's Jesus" or "John's Jesus." Such terms are relatively new; they only came into existence after World War II when "redaction criticism" became part of our biblical regimen. Redaction critics discovered that our four evangelists weren't simple collectors of "Jesus stories:" as the great Rudolf Bultmann had taught after World War I. Though they collected such stories and used them in their gospels, each evangelist edited the narratives which were passed on to them by the Christian preachers, from other gospel writers, or those they copied from a now lost early scroll containing Jesus sayings, consistently changing these three sources to make them agree with the person of the risen Jesus which they and their communities had experienced. They then arranged these passages into unique patters to convey the special theology for which each writer has become known over the last 60 years.

What prompted these four Christian authors to employ such a literary process? Why didn't they just pass on their sources exactly as they received them? The answer is simple. They were more concerned with surfacing the risen Jesus active in their Christian communities between 70 and 95 CE, than they were impelled to pass on the exact actions and words of the historical Jesus who lived between 6 BCE and 30 CE. The only Jesus with whom they had come into contact was the risen Jesus, and each had encountered that "new creation" in a different way.

That's the key which unlocks our Christian Scriptures and makes them relevant for today. The authors of the various writing aren't trying to give their readers a collection of historical reminiscences, teaching and dogmas. On the contrary, they're driven by a passion to reveal a person - the person of Jesus - alive and working in their midst.

For instance, when Mark, in today's gospel pericope, refers to Jesus teaching the crowd "many things," it's possible his Jesus will teach something different from Matthew's Jesus. Mark might change some of the teachings, or at least arrange them in a unique way.

More than 600 years before our Christian Scriptures were written; Jeremiah understood the force and power that came into being when special people enter the lives of others. That's why he assures his audience that Yahweh is about to give them a "new shepherd," a new leader who will convey Yahweh's care and concern for Yahweh's people. Knowing that nothing can destroy the spirit of a community of believers more than the wrong leader, Jeremiah proclaims, "Behold the days are coming, says Yahweh, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land." The king's personality will help change the community's personality.

Paul believes in the same concept. But for him, as for the four evangelists, the risen Jesus is the leader who gives the Ephesian community its personality. In this case, it's a personality which differs from other Christian communities, a personality which is the unifying force among them, uniting people who come from completely different backgrounds: Gentiles and Jews. The Ephesians aren't made one by doctrine, but by a person. "He (Jesus) is our peace who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two . . . ."

Perhaps we later Christian communities aren't as unique as the biblical Christian communities because many of us have replaced an experience of the risen Jesus with an experience of doctrine.