Without those first four precious books in the New Testament, our faith as we know it could hardly exist. In Paul’s letters many important points are made, for example: understanding Jesus’s death on the cross as a positive, not a negative, event – indeed, not just positive but central to the way we think about life. Also from Paul we have his account of the words of Jesus at the Last Supper – so we could make holy communion our mode of worship. In John’s first letter we have one of the most important statements of the whole Bible: ‘God is love’. There is wonderful thinking outside the Gospels.
So without them we could still have some sort of faith, but it would not be primarily based on what Jesus of Nazareth said, taught and did. We could not picture him going around Galilee and Jerusalem. Our mind’s eye would not see him interacting – with healing and with love – to a whole range of people.
Of the four, do you have a favourite? If you want the quickest read, try Mark – it is the shortest. If you want the Magi and a thematic ordering of Jesus’s teaching, turn to Matthew. If you want the shepherds and the angels over the Bethlehem hills, with that remarkable lad who impressed the Temple teachers (and forgot to join his parents on the way home) read Luke. If you want to be moved by an amazing sense of the specialness of Jesus, read John.
My choice varies between Matthew (the only one with the Sermon on the Mount) and John (especially chapter 1 and those middle chapters 13 – 17); but Luke has some key stories that the others do not have: the Good Samaritan, the father’s joy when his wayward son returns and a compelling sense of Jesus’s serenity during his final moments on the cross. You can argue that hospitals were founded because of the Good Samaritan and that we owe our sense of a compassionate, loving, God to the waythe Prodigal Son was welcomed on his return. Yes, most of the time, Luke’s Gospel is my favourite.
The Lectionary has taken us to Luke since Advent last year. Make the most of this wonderful Gospel while we have the opportunity.