Finding the Gospel (1)


Key "source" stories for the Gospel. Stories that are key to the "good news"


If so, then we will find it in those aspects of his teaching which are common to all the Gospels. Of all the stories that could be told, certain stories mattered more than others. Particular stories, themes and patterns were so important that they are repeated over and over again. It is fair to suppose that these are the ones which recount what it was about Jesus that his disciples and their successors found to be life-giving, how it was that Jesus generated, renewed and refreshed life in his followers. They, in their turn, retold these stories as they used his methods to generate life in others. And from them, we can learn how to do the same.


When we begin to examine the material that is common to all four Gospels, we find that it consists of three great cycles of stories, together with sayings, teaching and reflections on similar or associated themes. The first is the Passion Narrative[1] - from the Last Supper through to the Resurrection appearances. The second is the Baptism cycle, which is built around the testimony of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. And the third is the Bread of Life cycle, which is based on the Feeding narratives and the Last Supper, but which is linked to a wide swathe of secondary material, including other stories of meals and feasts, and other forms of miraculous provision.

The Feeding of the 5,000 is one of the few stories that is included in all four Gospels.[2]

[1] entry into Jerusalem, inclusion of anointing

[2] Matthew 14.15-21; Mark 6.35-44; Luke 9.12-17; John 6.1-14.

Few stories that are in all four gospels:

a) Stories relating to John the Baptist - his purpose, ministry, teaching and his baptism of Jesus.

Matthew and Mark are quite close on John, though Matthew adds quite a lot of material about John’s teaching. Luke adds still more, and has a birth narrative for John as well. He also records encounters with John’s disciples in Acts. All three Synoptics have John speaking of one to come after him who is mightier than he, that where he baptises with water, this One will baptise with the Spirit (and, in Matthew, with fire). Matthew is more pointed in having John acknowledge his need to be baptised by Jesus. John’s Gospel has the Baptist pointing out Jesus to his own disciples and saying that he must decrease in relation to Jesus. Clearly the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus was of great importance to the early church.


b) Call of the first apostles - members of the Twelve

All three Synoptics have Jesus calling the first members of the Twelve beside the lake. Luke has a special story about this, a draught of fish. In John’s Gospel, the first disciples come from the circle of John the Baptist, and are called beside the river Jordan. John does use the draught of fishes story, but in his appendix, after the resurrection, when the call of Peter is confirmed following his denial.

Lists of the Twelve appear in all the Synoptics, but no such list appears in John. (Question: does John refer to the Twelve?)


c) Stories told in parallel by the Synoptic Gospels, but just referred to in John

- Jesus visiting his own country (see John 4.43-45; 6.42)

- The death of John the Baptist (see John 3.24)

- Peter’s confession of faith & sequel (see John 6.66-71)

- The Transfiguration (see John 12.28)


d) Themes and teaching that appear in all four Gospels

- Parable of the sower (see John 12.24)

- Use of parables (see John 12.39-40)

Teaching on humility (see Matthew 10.40; 18.1-5; 23.11; Mark 9.33-37; Luke 9.46-48; 10.16; 22.24; John 12.44-45; 13.20; 14.24; 15.23)

- The request of James and John (see John 10.15; 15.13)


The Passion Narrative

The entry into Jerusalem

The prediction of Peter’s denial

The betrayal

The trial before Caiaphas

Peter’s denial

The trial before Pilate

The crucifixion

The burial

The resurrection


Three stories seem to have been part of the “Passion Cycle” but not as firmly so as the main ones given above:  

The Cleansing of the Temple & the fig tree (Matthew 6.14-16; 7.28; 17.20; 21.12-22; 22.33; Mark 11.12-25; Luke 13.6-9; 17.5-6; 19.45-48; 21.37; John 2.13-16; 14.13; 15.7, 16; 16.23)

The anointing at Bethany (Matthew 26.6-13; Mark 14.3-9; Luke 7.36-50; John 12.1-8)

The Last Supper ( Matthew 26.17-30; Mark 14.12-26; Luke 22.7-23, 39; 1 Corinthians 11.23-25).


John 13 uses a supper as the setting for Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet, but the main focus of the teaching is betrayal and denial. The context is the cleansing of the company, not its feeding and resourcing as such. It is as though here, in this context (the Eucharistic context) the light and dark are most closely engaged. Night is expelled by day; hostility is expelled by love; dirt is expelled by cleansing; pride is expelled by humility; danger is expelled by unity. This is the radiant community, holding together in mutual service, bound together as Christ’s friends, living together as a seed of hope in an environment ruled by the “prince of this world.”


Although John 13 does not describe the Last Supper in the way that the other Gospels, and Paul, describe it, it is clear that this is the occasion that John has in mind - the last time that Jesus met and ate with his disciples. It may be that we are to put our own eucharistic experience into this “space”. And it can be that John is taking the Eucharist for granted, as it were, and pointing to what it is for. What is the resourcing of God intended to achieve?  


Feeding of the 5,000 (Matthew 14.13-21; 9.36; Mark 6.30-44; Luke 9.10-17; John 6.1-14)

Feeding of the 4,000 (Matthew 15.32-39; Mark 8.1-10)


Certainly, if we set aside his baptism, this is the only story from his ministry that appears in all four Gospels. Moreover, both Mark and Matthew also tell another, very similar, story of the Feeding of the Four Thousand, while Luke depicts Jesus as the one who meets his disciples in the breaking of the bread.


It is often assumed that any similarity between the Feeding narratives and stories of the Last Supper are due to the fact that the former was influenced by the latter. In other words, that the fellowship meals of the early Christians gradually evolved into the Eucharist, and that as this happened, so the Feeding stories were shaped so that Jesus’ actions came to match those of a priest celebrating the sacrament.


However, it is possible that the influence worked the other way round: that the Feeding narratives were important to the Evangelists because they were a perfect marriage of image and message.

; that his approach makes sense in the context of his teaching and his time; and that both his vision and strategy are immediately and directly applicable to us in our very different situation today.


Each Evangelist tells us the story of Jesus in his own way, and it is not always helpful to muddle them.


Good news…. That touches our wounds …. Directly, but lightly, to heal, give strength, revive, redirect, renew.

Good news, that comes out of the wilderness. That finds us in the wilderness. That shows that God knows the wild. That shows us how to travel well in the wilderness.

Good news, of abundant life. A vision of fullness, fruition, peace. An oasis, rest, refreshment, shelter, feast, celebration. That fills us up, ready to get back on the road. From oasis to oasis, we travel. Until we reach the promised land.





Print Email


Sign up for our newsletter and be informed of updates and more by email.

Follow Us

Follow us on social media and let us have your own thoughts in response to this site.