I was attracted to this book because of Donald Senior’s reputation as a
biblical scholar. He was president of the Catholic Theological Union, has
authored numerous books and was an editor for The Bible Today and the
Catholic Study Bible. (Of course, his lectures are available on You Tube.) I
knew the book would include the latest material about the gospel narratives.
I am a preacher who appreciates a scholar’s ability to teach in a way that
helps me preach the Scriptures. This book certainly fulfilled my
expectations. As I was reading I also realized that it would not only be a
valuable resource for preachers, but for the general reader with little or
no biblical education who wants to learn more about the Jesus we worship and
strive to imitate. I highly recommend this book for preachers, catechists
and the general, non-professional reader.
Senior starts with a study of what a gospel is and how they came to be.
They are not, strictly speaking, biographies of Jesus. Rather, they were
written in three stages. First, they found their root in the life history of
Jesus. After his death the disciples spread the life and message of Jesus
through their preaching and good works. Then, drawing from existing material
and organizing it for their own churches, each evangelist wrote his gospel –
four evangelists, writing at different times, for their different
communities. Thus, Senior’s task: to gather from four unique narratives the
portrait of Jesus that emerges.
He first examines how each evangelist describes the world Jesus was born
and lived in: the land, politics, religious parties and the social and
political unrest around Jesus. At the end of each chapter Senior provides
questions for reflection, which make the book useful for classes and bible
study groups. He presents the long process, beginning with Jesus’ death,
that led up to the written gospels. (Mark was the first gospel written
around A.D.70.) The subsequent chapters cover Jesus’ choice of disciples,
his teachings, healings and the events that led up to his death. The final
chapter picks up where "Jesus left off," by considering how the church
developed its teachings about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Despite each Gospel’s own "take" on Jesus, Senior sums up their core
message: "Not everything he [Jesus] says can be reduced to a simple theme or
guiding idea. But Jesus’ insight into the indiscriminate love of God
provides the ultimate key to practically every word the Gospels record"
Senior first wrote the book in 1975 and revised it in 1992. In his
Forward to the revised edition he says writing the book was a labor of love
for him, giving him a "chance to put on paper what I had studied and thought
about for several years as a graduate student in Scriptures" (page 1). It
wasn’t only a labor of love for Senior, but so it will be for anyone who
turns to this book to discover, as Senior notes, "Some hint of the
compelling beauty and majestic power of the biblical Jesus." That is the
overall message the reader will draw from this book: the Gospels truly are
what the name signifies "good news." The clear message we get from Senior's
"portrait" is that Jesus is good news personified.