I was privileged again to teach a graduate course on the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. I sincerely hope my students got as much out of the course as I did. Teachers learn as they teach--if they ponder what they are teaching as they teach.
And ponder I did. Teaching becomes then the occasion for an intellectual adventure in which you are "forced" by the necessity of regular lectures "to go deep" in regards to your subject matter. For me, Spanish expresses it better: profundizar, to make something profound, to deepen one's thought on a matter.
The lens I use for the Synoptic Gospels (academese for Matthew, Mark, and Luke) is the New Exodus. For both the gospel writers and for Paul, the book of Isaiah, especially its second section, gives the theme of the New Exodus, namely, that, as in the original Exodus of Moses and Aaron, so Adonai is making a New Exodus in a new time to rescue his people from their current slavery and exile.
As in the time of Second Isaiah (academese, again, for the second big section of the book of Isaiah), so in the time of the gospels: Adonai is once again doing something new, a new Exodus to--this time--definitively and conclusively rescue all his people in all nations from slavery and exile. And so Jesus becomes the New Moses (of course, he is more than just a New Moses). In Mark, Jesus is the new Moses as prophet. In Matthew, he is the new Moses as Teacher and Lawgiver. In Luke, he is the new Moses as liberator.
When you read the gospels with this New Exodus template, you get a sense of their flow and intimate connection with the Hebrew Bible and with each other--and with the letters of Paul. You get what I think every teacher should strive for: to propose (never impose) on students, especially graduate students, a synthesis, a schema, and a framework to organize the inexhaustible material and context of the Scriptures.
Just as the Teacher (Qoheleth) in Ecclesiastes tells us that of the "making [of] many books there is no end; and [that] much study is a weariness of the flesh," so we often confuse learning with the mere accumulation of facts and data: author, date, place of composition, geography, book outline, the location of a particular story in the text, etc. What rescues the flesh from weariness in study is to find a way to put it all together--to elegantly tie together all that you study. In that elegant creativity lies the thrill of intellectual discovery and beauty.
In my privileged semester, I again contemplated the reality that biblical theology is a theology of liberation. Of course, I do not mean an ideological theology of mere politics or social activism, but rather what is truly a theology of liberation, which includes liberation from all forms of slavery, whether very personal or quite social, cultural, economic, and political. Aren't all these realities, in any event, on a continuum? In this way, the Scriptures are books of liberation from all that enslaves on all levels of existence.
This insight takes what is best in what is, in a very particular way, known as "liberation theology" and saves it from the Babylonian captivity of secular ideology, neo-Marxism, and crude class warfare. In the end, all Christian and biblical theology is a liberation theology, as our current Pope reminds us--with a special and urgent preference to care for those most marginalized in our societies, for the sick, the poor, the lepers, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the Samaritans all around us and in us.
(Image under GNU Free Documentation License)