A Catholic reads the Bible, week 42: The Sermon on the Plain

Variations in the details of each Gospel are more than incidental, Laura Bernardini is finding.

This is Week 42 of a yearlong series: A Catholic Reads the Bible. Read Week 1, Week 2 and Week 3. Laura Bernardini is director of coverage in CNN's Washington Bureau. The views expressed in this column belong to Bernardini.

(CNN)Confession time.

Before this project, I thought the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke included the same stories and parables, with just slightly different details, and each week at Mass the readings rotated between the four versions.
I am slightly embarrassed to admit this, but that's what I thought before reading the Bible. While there is some truth to my assumption, I was missing much.
    When I got to Matthew, I couldn't wait to read the story of a young Jesus staying behind in the Temple to preach, much to the consternation of his parents, who thought they had lost him.
    When the story was read at Mass during childhood, my Mom would use it as an opportunity to tell us not to wander and stay close.
    I can hear her saying, "Can you imagine being Jesus' parents and not knowing where your son was?" I used to envision a harried Mary and Joseph searching everywhere for their son. Losing the savior -- now that has to be a heavy load of guilt for any parent.
    But when I got to Matthew, the story wasn't there. Ditto for Mark.
    Instead, it's in Luke.
    "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father's house?" Jesus responded when his parents found him.
    Of course, I now see the deeper meaning in it -- this was Jesus' chance at a young age to preach the new faith. I sort of missed that as a kid.
    This one example left me reflecting on the difference in the books. It's the language and the stories that even the casual observer of Catholicism has heard, but all told differently.
    So far, I like Luke best.
    Here is another example. I wrote about the Beatitudes in Matthew a few weeks ago. You know, the list of what to do and what not to do, with some parables thrown into it. You find it in the Gospel of Luke as well. But it is different.
    "The Sermon on the Mount" in Matthew is instead called a "Sermon on the Plain" in Luke -- but geography is just the beginning.
    As I read through Luke's version, the language felt much more direct and less lofty.
    And thanks to a project like this, I found myself flipping between Chapter 5 of Matthew and Chapter 6 of Luke to really understand the story.
    In my estimation, Luke comes out ahead. I particularly latched onto the lesson about how to deal with your enemies. It's applicable to everyday life today:
    "Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven."
    Why isn't that embroidered on a pillow? Why isn't that in management 101 seminars?
    It's that direct language that might just become my new mantra and get me through the challenging times.
    And it is one I won't forget when I'm done.