My boy doesn’t like Mark or John primarily because he doesn’t like how they begin. There are no birth narratives! Luke may be doubly exciting since we hear about both John the Baptist and Jesus as babies—twice the fun! Think for a moment about this odd fact. 50% of the Gospels tell us nothing about Jesus’ birth. Imagine if 50% of the Gospels didn’t have anything to say about Jesus’ death and resurrection, how would this effect our view of Easter? As a religion and as a culture strongly associated with a particular religion, we Christians and Americans love Christmas, and our love for this most sentimental of holidays is predictable. A good friend of mine from my grad school days has a new book coming out just in time for Christmas: Revelation of the Magi: the Lost Tale of the Wise Men’s Journey to Bethlehem. Brent Landau has always had an ear for popular culture and I would be shocked if his book doesn’t fly off the shelves and into stockings across North America. We love Christmas, not just because of the lights, food, presents, food, vacation days, food, and did I mention the food!? Even if Christmas were only a sacred holiday, even if it were entirely purged of its secular accretions, we would still love it because at its heart lies a tender story of an infant.
This will not, however, be a tender post. I want something from the Gospels, something that they aren’t giving me. I want to see Jesus the toddler, Jesus the teenager, and Jesus the young adult. Mark and John aren’t actually all that different from Luke and Matthew when you think about the insight they give us into Jesus’ growth and maturity as a literary character. Matthew and Luke jump almost immediately from the manger to the mature man gathering followers and preaching the Kingdom of God with only brief stops in Egypt and Jerusalem for anecdotes. They don’t give us the full story either. It’s like someone took the biography of Jesus and ripped out the middle chapters. Where is the character development! Hamlet didn’t return to Denmark and immediately kill his uncle, why the rush to the climax and dénouement of the Jesus story?
I’m certain that there are many good theological reasons for the narrative intermission in the Gospels, but I’d like to take some time to re-imagine some of the missing chapters. Maybe we can learn something or at least reconsider the meaning of the Christmas stories in the process.
What follows are several fragments of lost chapters of the Gospels…