In a short time, the followers of Jesus began to spread to all barrios of Jerusalem and to the other cities of our land. The good news of the Kingdom of God started by Jesus reached the people who had not known Jesus… Well, as you know, the news gets tainted as it goes from one mouth to another….
Mark: Peter!… Peter!….
Peter: What’s it this time, Mark?
Mark: Hey, Peter, is it true that Jesus said: “Happy are those who are pa¬tient, even if they receive nothing?”
Mark: If it is true what Jesus said, that first and foremost is to have patience, and the second part too.
Peter: But how could you ever make that up, Mark?
Mark: I didn’t invent it, delinquent. Those from Barrio Ophel did. Accord¬ing to them, the Moreno repeated it constantly: “Peace and patience!…. Peace and patience!”
Peter: Are you crazy? Who ever said that silly thing?
Peter: I did?
Mark: They say you taught them that.
Peter: How could I, dope, when it’s been four months since they have seen my shadow?
Mark: That precisely could be the reason. No one teaches them… so these things happen! There’s still something else. They say that when Jesus was hanging on the cross, he winked at you and said: “Don’t worry…. I’ll be seeing you on Sunday!”
Peter: But what nonsense is this…? I’ll talk to them right now… Pff… I can’t take this anymore… My mouth is almost dry…. I’ve been running here and there… Blazes, I was living peacefully in Capernaum with my boat and my nets!
Such was our life during those beginning years. Peter and Philip and skinny An¬drew, and all those who were with Jesus from the time he was baptized in the Jor¬dan up to the day he was raised by God from the dead, would get together with the groups and shared all the things we had lived with him….
Peter: Hey, Mark, what are those bamboos and pieces of paper for?
Mark: I’m learning how to write, Peter.
Peter: And for what reason, may I know? At your age…?
Mark: Because at the rate we’re going…. Do you know the rumor going around the barrio of Zion? That as a baby, Jesus wouldn’t suck from his mother’s left breast… as a form of penitence!
Peter: I have never seen such insolence…!
Mark: But not to worry, Peter. I’ve made my decision. I shall put in writ¬ing everything that Jesus said and did. In writing, do you hear? This way, our grandchildren will have something sure in their hands. What do you think, huh, Pe¬ter?
Peter: I dunno, Mark. That’s quite difficult, you know. There are things that are not perceived by one’s eyes nor heard by one’s ears, yet, they have to be recounted…. As regard Jesus, his lice was something very great… it won’t hold in any book….
Mark: Much less in the mouths of a handful of men. Something must be done, Peter. Words are carried by the wind. What is written, remains written.
Peter: Fine. Begin writing then. I’ll tell you everything in the minutest de¬tail.
Mark: Hey, but don’t you exaggerate things, troublemaker… I know you very well, huh!
Peter: Really? Don’t you trust me?
Mark: Yeah, I do, just as I trust Philip, Nathanael and grandma, Rufa, who has a memory sharper than Solomon’s.
Peter: Better go to Capernaum and make your inquiries there. Be sure to write everything you want to. But not all…
Mark: Why not?
Peter: I mean, there are things that shouldn’t be said openly…. For exam¬ple… what will you say about me?
Mark: About you? Well… that you were one of the first converts and….
Peter: Don’t you ever mention that I denied the Moreno three times, do you hear?
Mark: I’ve got to put it, Peter.
Peter: And why do you have to, tell me?…
Mark: Because that was how it was. Wasn’t it?
Peter: Okay… okay…. Fine, write it if you want. But, listen to me, meddle¬some…. If you put that, you might as well say that… I loved Jesus as much as I love my wife, Rufina. That’s it!
Mark: Don’t worry, big nose, I’ll take care of that!
So Mark, Peter’s friend, began to write about the Good News of the Kingdom of God. The first pages went from one group to another and a number of brothers who did not know Jesus in person, began to know him, by hearing the accounts of his life, how he died and how God raised him from the dead.
Sometime later, Matthew, who had been a tax collector, and who could read and write, thought of a similar idea….
Philip: Hey, what’re you doing so locked up here, Mama…. Atchoo!… Matthew?
Matthew: I’m studying, Philip, studying and writing.
Philip: There’s a lot of dust around here, damn!… Atchoo!… You’ll get sick with all those old papers!…
Matthew: In these parchments, you idiot, are the words of the prophets and the wise men of Israel… Listen, Philip, listen to this: “I see him, but not for now; I discern him, but from afar: from Jacob comes a star, and shines over Israel.” Do you understand?
Philip: No, not a thing.
Matthew: The star, Philip! The star that the prophet Balaam saw a thousand years ago was the Messiah. And the Messiah was Jesus. Now, do you understand?
Philip: Not much, but….
Matthew: Here’s another one…. Listen: “The kings of all nations will come to you, a caravan of gold and incense”… What do you think of this?
Philip: I dunno what you’re up to…
Matthew: To the cave of Bethlehem. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a star shone in the sky and guided the kings of the orient who came to pay homage to the Messiah of Israel.
Philip: If I remember right, Mary said only the shepherds came and I don’t think they smelled of incense…
Matthew: You lack poetry, buddy.
Philip: And you’re full of fantasy.
Matthew: No, Philip. Our prophets had written about Jesus. All the early prophecies have been fulfilled in our midst.
Philip: No, no, you’re cheating, Matthew. No king of the orient nor anything that sort came, and you know that.
Matthew: No, I used to cheat before, as a tax collector in the customs of Ca¬pernaum, but now, no more.
Philip: You still do, because the story of the star is not true.
Matthew: The truth is like a flight of steps. You’re left on the first step.
Philip: And how many steps have you climbed, huh?
Matthew: I dunno, Philip, but I think the real truth is found behind the let¬ters… And that is what I want to write about. For all we know, with these accounts of mine, many will get to know Jesus and they might be encouraged to fight like him and feel that a star shines in the midst of the night… do you want more truth than that…?
And Matthew continued to lock himself in that small room with his writing tool of bamboo, his ink-stained fingers scribbling over parchments, as he wrote for our Jewish compatriots who cherished ancient prophecies, about the news of Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Shortly after our work in Jerusalem had started, the persecutions also ensued. The rulers, the great lords of Israel, the grand masters of the Law, was not pleased to know about our groups. There was one of them, a bald man of short in stature, who dealt with us brutally. My, what a heartless fellow!… He waged war on us, he dragged us before the tribunals and wished to get rid of all of us “Christians.” This was how we began to be called in Antioch, until that little word stuck, in all parts of the world. As I have said, that man made life miserable for us. Later on, when God toppled him down from his horse and opened his eyes, this Paul – as this man was called – put all his effort in the service of the gospel of Jesus…
Peter: But Paul, please understand, we’ve got to go easy on this….
Paul: No way! The Kingdom of God is in a hurry! Open your eyes, blazes!…You’re working here with some groups of stubborn Jews, while over there are thousands of Greeks who wish to see Jesus and know him… A lot of them are converted!… and baptized… but there’s no one to teach them the Way!… Don’t you agree?… Why then don’t you go to Ephesus, to Thessalonica, to Cyprus, to Philippi, to Corinth, to Athens…! The world is great, my brothers, but Christ is greater than the world!
John: Tell me something, Paul. These new Christians from your group, do they know the law of Moses?… Are they circumcised?
Paul: To hell with that stuff! No, they’re not circumcised, nor is there a need for it!
Peter: But Paul…
Paul: No! Now is the time to break the shell and get out of it! Jerusalem is not the center of the world!
John: Neither is Rome!
Paul: Of course not! The world is greater than all of these! And we have to sow the seed in all the furrows of the earth! The gospel is for everyone, do you understand? It is for those who are near and far, for the Jews and the Greeks!
Peter: Okay, Paul, okay, but cool down a little, please…!
Paul: No, Peter, I won’t. On the contrary, do you know what I’ll do? I’ll talk to a friend of mine who is well educated and ask him to write the teachings of Jesus in Greek, so that the Greeks can read them. I’ll ask him to write the gos¬pel for those who know nothing about Moses, but who love God and seek Him.
And so Luke, that young doctor friend of Paul, and a recent convert to our faith, after having talked to all of us and gathered many data from everywhere, wrote his book so that even the pagans could listen to and read the Good News of Jesus….
Luke: “Others before me have written these things, the way they were spo¬ken of by the first witnesses. I, too, after much research, have decided to write them for you, who love God and seek him…”
Some years had passed. I was then in the city of Ephesus. There, we had organ¬ized a group of Christians who were willing to fight. We met in order to share the bread, to share our pockets and to open the eyes of the people. They always asked me to tell stories about Jesus, how he was, how he spoke…. They also asked Mary, Jesus’ mother, who had been living with me for many years…. Mary was already very old…. She was about eighty….
Mary: What’s that noise outside, son?
John: No one is making any noise, Mary.
Mary: My ears are buzzing.
John: Just like the snails. Even if you take them from the sea, they still keep the sound of the waves inside their shells. You’re here, in Greece, Mary… but your heart wanders through the sea of Galilee, in Capernaum, in your little village in Nazareth….
Mary: Oh, John, my son!… what can I do? So many memories!
John: Well, speaking of memories, look…. Do you know what the communi¬ties are asking from me? That I should write too, or else, all the things that Jesus has done might end up in oblivion…, unknown.
Mary: Well, I remember everything, as if it happened only yesterday.
John: Oh yes, Mary, you do. And so do I. But they don’t. They did not know your son, and they ask, they want to know… Besides, when we go, who’ll tell them what happened and what did not?
Mary: You’re right, John, because now I have one foot in the grave… and this nagging pain in my back….
John: So, are you going to help me?
Mary: Help you how, John?
John: To write about Jesus.
Mary: Oh, my son, but my memory is already failing me. I don’t even re¬member what my name is…!
John: But Mary, I thought you said you remember everything?
Mary: Old people like us, say a lot of things…. Go ahead, John, begin writing and tell me later on….
I met with the members of the community and between praying and thinking among ourselves, we began to put in writing our experiences and faith in Jesus.
John: Hey Mary, open your ears and listen to this. Tell me what you think about it…! We just came up with the first page.
Mary: Let’s see, John…. I’m curious to know what you’ve written about Je¬sus.
John: Hear this…. Ehem…. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the One who is the Word was in the be¬ginning with God. All things were made by him and without him, nothing came to be.” Okay, what do you think, tell me?
Mary: Read it again, John…. I got lost….
John: Listen Mary…. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
Mary: What are you talking about, young man?
John: The Word is your son, Mary!… The Word, the Word made flesh, the fullness of Life!… Do you understand?
Mary: Oh, John, don’t you think that’s a little way up…?
John: How I wish I could go higher, Mary!… The Moreno’s life was so great, so important, so…! Know what, Mary? I can’t find the right words to de¬scribe him.
Mary: Then don’t describe him.
John: Oh, yeah?… So what’ll I write then?… That God is good and that we ought to love one another?… Is that what I shall write?
Mary: That’s it… what else? When you become as old as I am, John, you won’t be needing so many words, you’ll see….
John: No, no, no. I want to write everything that happened, from that first day in the Jordan, when skinny Andrew and I met the Moreno for the first time and spent the whole afternoon conversing and joking with him… I want to write every¬thing, Mary, so that all people in the world may know who your son was…
Mary: If you do, John, then, you’ll never hear the end of it…. When the well is deep, there’ll always be water to drink.
Yes, Mary was right. Mark and Matthew, Luke and I, wrote many things about Jesus. But if everything were written about him and what he did, all the books in the world could never hold it all!
While we have documents written by Paul about himself, and which have re¬mained intact up to the present, we have not a single line about Jesus written in his own handwriting. About thirty years had passed after his death when some of his disciples began to write about Jesus. During all this time, his words and deeds had been passing from one mouth to another. The members of the communities who had known him personally commented on them. Said commentaries were transmitted to other people who were interested in knowing something about the famous prophet. Beyond the frontiers of Israel, it was in¬dispensable to translate the words of Jesus into Greek, the most commonly known language all over the world then. Suffice it to say that the culture of a people is basically expressed in their language. From Aramaic to Greek, the words of Jesus naturally changed, somehow. There are Aramaic words that are not exactly translated into Greek or vice-versa. All this should tell us that an outright “to the letter” (literal) adoption of what is written in the four gospels as exactly uttered by Jesus’ lips is a historical error, which may be hazardous to the maturation or full growth of the faith.
During the first years, it was enough to depend on oral tradition. That is to say, the good news announced by Jesus was transmitted by words. Since the first Christians were not men “of letters,” they did not think of putting anything in writing. But when the communities began to spread through other countries or when the disciples and the men and women of the first Christian generation even¬tually passed away, they began to feel the need to preserve what they had seen and heard about Jesus. Thus, the birth of the gospels. Aside from the four gos¬pels in the Bible, a lot more were written, with some texts filled with “marvellous” and “strange” stories that try to magnify the figure of Jesus. The others were not faithful to the first tradition, as they distorted, exaggerated and changed what had really happened. That is why the first Christian communities decided that of all those writings, the only valid ones were the four gospels that we read in the Bible today.
“Gospel” is a Greek word which originally meant the gratuity (tip) given to the messenger bringing the good news to someone. Later on, it came to mean the good news itself. The gospels (the good news of Jesus) are not biographical, since they are not intended to simply give an account of the life of an important man, his deeds and his character. If these were so, then they would have been incomplete. Neither are they books “of memoirs” to keep alive the memory of an important character. Neither are they pamphlets that seek to excite the public with the doctrine of a master, a sage or a philosopher. They would have been lousy and repetitive readings. The gospels were written principally for the com¬munities to have faith in Jesus, so that through this faith, they would be commit¬ted to take the very same way (path) taught and lived by him. These are basically the framework of catechesis, of “evangelization,” based naturally on the words and deeds of Jesus, but with emphasis on what can be done to help the community better. They make no mention of what is not relevant to this objective. Some even “create” episodes on their own, some events, based not on the written word but more on the “spirit” of Jesus. This explains why the four gos¬pels are not the same, why there are stories appearing only in some of them, why some scenes are narrated with more details, while others are not, etc.
Neither should we think that it was only one person – Matthew, Mark, Luke or John – who had written the integral text of each gospel. That a gospel is attrib¬uted to each one of them tells us to what tradition this text belongs, which com¬munities it emerged from, what its “school” was, the teaching transmitted to the readers, etc. One must likewise bear in mind that not one of the first writings had reached us in the original handwriting of their authors. The very first copies of the gospels were written in papyrus, a kind of paper made from leaves of aquatic plants, which is preserved only in dry and warm climates. In the process of transmittal from hand to hand, from one country to another, these pieces of paper were damaged and some were lost permanently. Meanwhile, more and more copies had been obtained (with possibilities for committing errors), and which have reached us to date. Then, after four hundred years, this problem was considerably solved with the use of parchment (sheepskin), a type of paper made from animal skin. At present, more than seventy pieces or even pages from the primitive papyrus have been found and preserved. From the parchment (sheepskin) writings, a lot more of the original pages have been kept.
THE GOSPEL OF MARK. — This is the oldest of the evangelical texts, and has been attributed to Mark, Peter’s friend, since the Second Century. That is why it has been understood that Mark is writing in this text the catechesis provided him by Peter and which he “interpreted” later. The gospel was written in Greek, about 30 to 50 years after Jesus’ death. Mark utilizes a very primitive Greek language, less elegant and more simple than the Greek of others. His text is the most spontaneous of all, the least “thought out.” Mark’s gospel served as the basis for the gospels of Matthew and Luke, which were more carefully and elaborately written. It is centered on the account of the passion, death and res¬urrection of Jesus. From here centers the drama of the story that is being told. The beginning of the gospel is a preparation to get to this essential point. The life of Jesus does not appear as that of a man who has eve¬rything planned beforehand.
THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW. — This was estimated to have been written between seventy five to ninety years after the death of Jesus.