Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Contemplative Reading of the Gospel series of three books: Matthew: The Journey Toward Hope

Series also contains Mark: The Risk of Believing; Luke: The Song of God's Mercy, by Elena Bosetti, Pauline Books.

Sister Elena Bosetti has written three excellent, simple books that combine contemporary scholarship with an interactive, spiritual perspective. The chapter on parables in the book on Luke is particularly instructive. First, she neatly defines parables: “They dynamically involve their listeners, challenging them personally and arousing them to critical judgment on the situation being presented and, implicitly, on the reality to which the parable alludes.” She then discusses the Greek origins of this word, parabol√©, before drawing on the rich Hebrew use of parable in an exchange between Nathan the prophet and King David. Lastly, before beginning her study of the parable of the shepherd and the lost sheep in the Gospel of Luke, she offers a prayer for her readers: “We will dedicate this lectio to allowing ourselves to be evangelized by this delightful parable.”

Bosetti follows this general formula of information-Greek scholarship-spiritual direction throughout the three books, which makes the series interesting to all sorts of people. She avoids oversimplifying the academic side, and challenges the reader with some punchy personal questions that prevent the reading from becoming dry.

The author therefore occasionally adopts the role of prophet, as in her interesting discussion of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, where she proclaims, “There is no excuse instead for our laziness and injustice. If the Master calls the poor blessed, it is not so that the rich can rest easy.”

In this part of Matthew she enters into the entire Catholic tradition, first in explaining the Greek roots to the word 'cathedra', where Jesus sits down on the Mount not to rest but, professor-like, to teach. Second, she adds, “This image was the inspiration for the magnificent mosaic decorating the apse of St. Apollinaris Church in Rome. In the mosaic, the disciples are depicted as sheep that the Master feeds with his word.” Bossetti links the origins and biblical rendition to the artistic and intellectual heritage of the faith. She gives Catholics a sense of the biblical roots of spirituality.

Her scholarly lay-outs for the three gospels help to clarify their message and flow. Through simple diagrams, she simplifies even the long and somewhat complicated set-up of Matthew. She also lays out on the same page the gospel parallels, that is, the same stories or information told in two or more of the gospels. Both lay-out techniques help readers unfamiliar with the basic scholarly approach to the Gospels to understand quickly some of the issues.

Because of her “Dialoguing with the Word” approach throughout these works, where she has us, for instance, prayerfully situate ourselves at the Jordan River at the time of Jesus' baptism, she never swamps the reader with her academic tendencies.

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