The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John give us four distinct narrative portraits of Jesus. I like to call the first real step of discovering your personal mission simply “walking with Jesus.” Walking is just a metaphor for spending time getting to know how Jesus identifies with our humanity.
This walking with Jesus is an approach to knowing Jesus – even to those who are trying to understand Jesus as the risen Lord. This is the reading of the Gospels as literary narratives precisely for the ways in which they diverge in their interpretations of Jesus, as well as for the ways that their witness tends to converge in certain important ways. Such reading does not seek to know Jesus through a reconstruction of him, but seeks to learn of him through engaging four distinct narrative portraits.
As readers through the ages and in all cultures have discovered, a very definite person emerges from these narratives, an identity that cannot be mistaken for any other ancient figure. The Jesus found within the Gospel narratives is not a transcendently powerful Lord, but a deeply human figure, completely at home in the symbolic world of first century Palestine. The application of walking though the Gospels and in these narratives only enhances them by revealing how intricate and purposeful their interpretations are, thereby also rendering their points of convergence concerning Jesus’ character, portrayed in terms of obedience toward God and loving service to others, all the more impressive.
Jesus embodies the “Golden Rule” that can be found in almost any legitimate religious philosophy – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Reading the Gospels this way means giving up the attempt to reconstruct Jesus in a singular, simple, and religious fashion. What you gain is the literary and religious riches of writings whose power to communicate and ability to invite commitment is universally recognized. Such reading also gains access to a Jesus of history in two ways.
First, the Gospels show Jesus as he was actually perceived and received by his followers in the aftermath of his resurrection. They provide to later readers access to the very real Jesus, who so fundamentally shaped the course of history through his followers perception. It is the real response to the “living resurrected Jesus.”
Second, the Gospels fix Jesus in the unmistakable details of life in first-century Palestine. You literally walk the paths he walks and listen to the conversations he had. It remains the case that without the Gospels, our knowledge of Judaism in the first century would be greatly impoverished. Even the new discoveries of archeology informs our understanding and often confirms the details of the Gospel narratives. While the Gospels do not allow a complete historical reconstruction of Jesus’ life, they do provide deeply satisfying access to Jesus’ and his world.
The quest for the living Jesus isn’t just about history. It has been about our walk. In its attempt to find a Jesus behind the Gospels, we gain access to the human Jesus who worked among his people in the first century. As we walk with the texts and appreciate reading of the Gospels as narratives that witness and interpret that human Jesus, we begin to find out a great deal of history concerning the Jesus that is available from primary sources. In looking for our personal mission we begin with the truly human Jesus who in a sense discovers his mission and saves our life.
All this helps Christ followers to have a starting point for their journey toward their own personal mission. Jesus said, “The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing.” (John 14 MSG)