by Father Mike Stubbs
While I was away recently on vacation, some other priests came in to cover the parish for me, to celebrate Mass in my absence.
A few of the altar servers told me that the visiting priests did things completely different. They were shocked at how the visiting priests’ celebration of the Mass contrasted with my own way of doing things.
However, a thorough examination revealed no breach of liturgical rules, no cause for alarm. There were a few minor differences. For example, I usually have two servers carry candles in the entrance procession. The visiting priest did not. There was also a difference in the length of our homilies. But there was no difference in the fundamentals. It was all one and the same Mass.
We can find a similar situation with regard to the four Gospels. Each one has a personality of its own. To a certain degree, they behave differently. For example, the synoptic Gospels — Matthew, Mark and Luke — for the most part, focus upon Jesus as redeemer, who saves us by his death on the cross. That is where they put their emphasis.
On the other hand, the Gospel of John focuses upon Jesus as revealer, who gives us eternal life through his teachings. Of course, all four Gospels deal in the themes of salvation and redemption. It is a difference of emphasis.
That usual difference in emphasis makes Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mt 11:25-30, stand out all the more. In it, Jesus praises God for revealing the mysteries of heaven to the marginalized of society: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.”
This emphasis upon revelation smacks of John’s Gospel, rather than the Synoptics. Similarly, it would have been no surprise to find in John’s Gospel the language describing the close union between Jesus and God in the verse that follows: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” (These comments about the relationship between the Father and the Son are common in John’s Gospel. Examples can be found in Jn 3:35; 7:29; 10:14-15; 13:3; and 17:2.) It is as though these sentences were transplanted from John’s Gospel to Matthew’s, except it also finds a parallel in Lk 10:21-22.
At the same time, we should note that Jesus’statement — “All things have been handed overto me by my Father” — anticipatesthe conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel: “All power on heaven and earth has been given to me” (Mt 28:18).
This exception to the rule in Sunday’s Gospel reading reminds us that, despite the unique character of each Gospel, they all four originally derived from the same source, the oral tradition about Jesus Christ. In the hands of its respective evangelist, each Gospel acquired its own individual character, its own emphasis, its own style.
At the same time, a common foundation underlies them all. That common foundation bespeaks a common goal: to spread the good news about Jesus Christ.