Reading the Gospels Together
Bring your own thoughts and questions to coffee hour,
or to Friday Lenten Soup Suppers.
Day 1: Matthew 1:1-25
Do you find the genealogy boring? The list of Jesus’s ancestors places him in a particular place, time, and family. He’s not “once upon a time”, like a fairy tale; he has a real life in a real family.
Did you notice the five women in the list? All of them are, in some way, different, not what we might expect. Tamar seduced her own father-in-law to maintain the family line; Rahab was a foreign prostitute who aided Israelite spies; Ruth was a foreign-born widow who became the grandmother of King David; Bathsheba was the wife of a foreign-born soldier in David’s army, whom David took and impregnated; Mary, our Lord’s Mother, was pregnant out-of-wedlock.
What attitude might we expect this Gospel to exhibit toward foreigners, gentiles, and others who are different?
What do you find interesting about your own family’s history? What does your family’s story have to say about God’s care and love?
Day 2: Matthew 2:1-23
This is a very familiar story: wise men journey to Bethlehem and bring gifts to the toddler Jesus. They understand him to be a newborn king of the Jews. But it gets complicated. Are you shocked to read that Herod, king of Judea, orders the slaughter of all the infant and toddler boys in Bethlehem?
What do his actions tell us about power, and the things a person might do to get and keep it? Do things like this still happen in our own time?
Joseph has to take Mary and Jesus and run away to Egypt. Does knowing this affect our attitude toward refugees in our time?
Day 3: Matthew 3:1-17
John the Baptist was accepted as a prophet by the ordinary people of his time and place. His outlandish dress and diet weren’t that unusual then. How would he be received now, do you think?
John calls people to repent because God’s kingdom is coming. What does it mean to repent? What sort of repentance do we need?
Day 4: Matthew 4:1-25
The devil tempts Jesus to use his divine power for his own comfort, for spectacle and popularity, and to trade the ministry God has given him for power on the devil’s terms. Are these temptations still at work in the world? Are the temptations we face like his? How so? How not?
Jesus begins his public ministry with the same message with which John left off. He did more than John could; he taught, and he healed. How can we continue the ministry of Jesus?
When Jesus calls his first four disciples, they drop everything to follow him. How can we make following Jesus our first priority? What gets in the way?
Day 5: Matthew 5:1-20
Jesus delivers a great body of teaching in these next three chapters. It’s a lot to take in at one time! The first parts are familiar: the Beatitudes, as they came to be called, and the call to be light and salt in the world.
How is the blessedness (some translations say happiness) Jesus offers in the Beatitudes different from the wisdom of the world? Where do you see yourself in this teaching? Do you fit into one of Jesus’s categories of the blessed? Which one would you most want for yourself?
Where do you see the light of Christ in the people around you, or of whom you have heard? How do you carry the light in your life?
What can you do to regain your saltiness if it seems to be slipping away?
Day 6: Matthew 5:21-48
What connection do you see between Jesus’s teaching that we must be reconciled with those who have wronged us or whom we have wronged before we make our offering to God, and our own practice of the Sign of Peace at the Eucharist?
Much of Jesus’s teaching in this section takes the commandments of God and expands them, making them matters of mind, of words, of heart, as much as of deeds. Does this make them harder to keep? Why might Jesus have said these things?
What does our culture say about turning the other cheek? What does it say about loving one’s enemies? These are difficult. Are they worth the effort? Why or why not? What help is there for us when we fail?
Day 7: Matthew 6:1-18
Jesus is quite clear about using our religious practices to impress others. He does not tell us to avoid prayer, fasting, or almsgiving, but to do them quietly, almost secretly. These are the traditional practices of Lent. What value do you see in them? How do they shape your life as a Christian? Are they important at other times?
The Lord’s Prayer is probably the best known prayer of all. Is it too familiar? When you say it, do you have trouble focusing on what it’s actually asking? What part of it do you find comforting? Hopeful? Challenging?
Day 8: Matthew 6:19-34
Jesus has a lot to say about how we relate to our stuff: our money, our food and clothing, our time, even our life. He speaks of treasures in heaven. What do you think he means?
Jesus tells his followers not to worry, not even about necessities. What does he want us to do instead? How do we learn to trust God for the things we need?
Prudence is regarded as a virtue. What is the difference between prudence and preoccupation? How do we keep our priorities straight?
Day 9: Matthew 7:1-29
It’s easy to say, do not judge, but it’s difficult to put into practice. Does it help, when you see someone else doing wrong, if you remember your own failings? Is there a difference between refusing to judge, and pretending that right and wrong don’t matter?
What is your experience of petitionary prayer – of asking God for the things you need? What good things have you received from God? When you have not received what you asked for, what good, if any, has come, perhaps later, from the refusal?
“Do unto others as you would have them do to you” is a teaching known in many religions. Is it easy to follow? Why or why not?
Jesus knows the way he offers is hard: he calls it the narrow way. How can we keep to that path?
He ends with a warning: against false prophets, against building our lives on a false foundation. What sort of false teachings or foundations are presented to us? How do we resist?
Day 10: Matthew 8:1-17
Jesus spends a lot of his public time healing those who ask. He heals a leper; he heals the centurion’s servant, from a distance; he heals Peter’s mother-in-law; then he heals a number of people who were sick or possessed by demons.
What part do faith and trust play in the healing of the leper and of the servant?
How does Peter’s mother-in-law respond to being healed? How do you respond to a gift from God?
Day 11: Matthew 8:18-24
Jesus again reminds us that those who wish to follow him must make that their first priority. What things get in the way for you?
Have there been times in your life when it seemed that the Lord was sleeping when you needed him? How did you get through? When others help you, can you see Jesus working through them? Have there been times when Jesus worked through you for the sake of someone else?
So many times in the Gospels, the message is, “Do not be afraid.” Why is this so difficult?
Have you ever had the experience of finding the power of God overwhelming, even frightening? How have you responded?
Day 12: Matthew 9:1-26
The scribes are taken aback by Jesus’s declaring that the paralyzed man’s sins are forgiven. Only God can forgive sins. Where does the authority of Jesus come from? By what authority does the Church forgive sins?
What connection do you see between forgiveness and healing? Illness is not a punishment for sin, but if our bodies, minds, and spirits are all connected, how might having our spirit out-of-kilter affect our minds or our bodies?
Day 13: Matthew 9:27-10:15
Jesus continues his ministry of healing and of setting people free from evil forces. What evidence of evil do you see in the world around you that might entrap people? How might they be set free? From what evil influences do you need freedom?
Jesus begins to involve his disciples in his ministry. He gives them authority to do his work of healing and release.
He sends them out with no extras; they are to depend on the charity of others.
As they go, they are to proclaim God’s kingdom. How are healing and release from evil signs that God reigns?
In what ways do we continue the work of Jesus?
Day 14: Matthew 10:16-42
Jesus’s final words to his disciples as he sends them out are words of warning: the message of the kingdom of God will meet with opposition. Some of it will even come from their own families. How do you respond when you meet with resistance from others?
Does the possibility of opposition deter you from continuing the work of Jesus? Does it surprise you when some people are against helping the poor or the sick?
Jesus doesn’t promise his followers that they will be safe, but rather, that no matter what happens, even death, God still holds them. What does that promise mean for you?
Day 15: Matthew 11:1-30
John the Baptist, in prison, asks whether Jesus really is the Messiah. How does Jesus answer? What are the signs of the Kingdom of God that you have seen?
John is the last of the Old Testament prophets. Jesus places him in the role of Elijah, who is to prepare the way for the Messiah. We hear some of Jesus’s frustrations with the towns that have refused his message. What frustrations have you experienced in your efforts follow Jesus?
Sometimes it is easier for children and for unsophisticated people to see and accept the presence of God in life than it is for those of us better versed in the wisdom of the world. This is not to say that education is bad, by no means! But the rest that Jesus offers us, exchanging our burdens for his, and resting in him, is something we may especially need.
How do you know when you need the rest Jesus offers? How do you go about finding it?