The purpose of this book is to provide readers with an overview of the Gospel (the Good News) of Luke, which is proclaimed during Year C of the liturgical cycle.
After introducing Lukes main themes, a series of insightful reflections on the gospel readings is presented for each Sunday and major feast during the year. The reflections focus on the relevance of Luke’s Gospel for everyday life and will be helpful to priests and laity wishing to engage more fully with the Word of God.
John Littleton, a priest of the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly, is Director of The Priory Institute, Tallaght, Dublin. He has a particular interest in relating the principles of organisational culture and development to changing Church structures. He is a weekly columnist with The Catholic Times.
The increasing encouragement of Massgoers to engage with the Gospel, or rather with the Gospel readings, is much encouraged these days by a wide range of publications.
John Littleton, an experienced teacher and pastor, provides in this book reflections for each Sunday in Year C, concentrating on the main themes.
Such a book is useful, for experience suggests that the homilies at the parish level sometimes leave a lot to be desired. That they often lack the rhetorical skills to carry over the inherent message. Such a task is easier in a book, which can also be approached in an undistracted way.
But those using these books should always bear in mind that the readings are not in themselves a substitute for the Gospels. After all, it is those complete texts that reveal in full, from their different perspectives, the intentions of Jesus and the aspirations of the Apostles. The readings are a teaching device of ancient origin, but they are by no means the whole story.
- The Irish Catholic, 11 February 2010
- I: INTRODUCING THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE
GODS PROMISE TO SEND THE MESSIAH IS FULFILLED IN JESUS OF NAZARETH
GOSPEL AND GOOD NEWS
The English word gospel is derived from an older expression meaning glad tidings which, in turn, translates the Greek term for good news. Christians believe that the Gospel is the Good News of salvation, which acknowledges and proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God and the Saviour of the world.
This news is indeed good because it assures Christians that, through his suffering, death and resurrection, Jesus conquered the power of sin and restored integrity to the relationship between God and the human race that had been damaged by sin. The Good News continues to be announced to the farthest ends of the earth by Jesus disciples in his Church, so that every generation may experience the saving power of the risen Lord.
The canon (that is, the rule) of scripture, which lists the authoritative books in the Bible, recognises four gospels: those of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Each of the four evangelists (that is, in this technical instance, those who are attributed with having written the gospels) presents a particular understanding of the life and ministry of Jesus the Messiah. That understanding is influenced by several factors, including the evangelists knowledge and personal experience of Jesus, the precise context in which he writes, and the spiritual concerns and needs of the audience for which he is writing.
ONE GOSPEL, FOUR GOSPELS
Fundamentally, then, there are four presentations of the same Good News, albeit with different purposes and emphases. That is why, for example, it is more accurate to describe the Gospel of Luke as the Gospel according to Luke, in the sense that it is essentially the Good News of salvation being communicated from Lukes perspective. This is evident from the prescribed introduction to the gospel reading during the celebration of the Eucharist, when the priest or deacon announces: A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke.
The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke , as distinct from that of John , have many similarities in style, structure and content, which are obvious from the various incidents and teachings of Jesus that are common to all three. In contrast, John presents Jesus and his ministry quite differently. Nevertheless, it as been the Churchs consistent teaching that, regardless of individual differences and distinctive features, the gospels , like all the other books in the Bible , are divinely inspired. They are the word of God.
LUKE THE EVANGELIST
Luke, who is not identified by name in his gospel, was probably a Gentile Christian. He was a citizen of Antioch, the capital of Syria, and a physician. It is generally agreed that Luke did not witness Jesus ministry directly, but that he was a disciple and companion of the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul (see Colossians 4:4, 2 Timothy 4:11 and Philemon 24). Luke incorporated some of Pauls teachings with the other sources (see Luke 1:1-3), including the Gospel of Mark, that he used when writing his gospel. On reading Luke, it quickly becomes clear that he was a good narrator and, from the many parables recorded, an excellent storyteller.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE
The Gospel according to Luke, written in Greek, is the longest of the four gospels and it records the life and ministry of Jesus from his miraculous conception and birth to his ascension into heaven. Jesus ministry was characterised by preaching , especially in parables , and healing miracles. He was gentle, in the sense of being compassionate to those in need, but demanded total commitment from his disciples, in the sense of taking up their cross every day and renouncing their possessions (see Luke 14:25-33).
While Lukes Gospel is fundamentally concerned with Jesus message of salvation, this is manifested especially by Jesus concern for the poor, the sick and afflicted, and outcasts. Women were significant in Jesus ministry. The gospel emphasises the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, the prayer of Jesus, and the joy of being in a life-giving relationship with God.
The contents of Lukes Gospel may be divided into six sections:
1.The preface (see Luke 1:1-4).
2.The birth and infancy narratives (see Luke 1:5, 2:52).
3.The Galilean ministry (see Luke 3:1, 9:50).
4.The journey to Jerusalem through Samaria (see Luke 9:51, 19:48).
5.The Jerusalem ministry (see Luke 20, 21).
6.The passion and resurrection narrative (see Luke 22, 24).
The fulfilment of Gods promise to send the Messiah, in Jesus of Nazareth, is Lukes central theme (see Luke 4:21 and 24:44-53). Although Jesus ministry ended in apparent failure, when he died on the cross, he was vindicated by the Father when he rose from the dead.
In Jesus, God brought salvation to his people.
GOOD NEWS FOR THE GENTILES
Unlike Matthew, who wrote his gospel mainly for a Jewish-Christian community, Luke wrote from a predominantly Gentile perspective and, like Mark, primarily for a Gentile-Christian community. Lukes essential message is that Gods salvation is universal and inclusive. It is not confined exclusively to the Jews, but is available to all people. The majority of biblical scholars now agree that Luke wrote his gospel some years after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70,6 probably as late as AD 80, 85.
Luke wrote his gospel so that his readers would know how well founded the teaching [was] that [they had] received (Luke 1:4). The implication is that Luke knew that his readers were already familiar with the person and teaching of Jesus. So Lukes desire was to confirm his readers in their existing faith and to develop further their understanding of the Good News of salvation and their commitment to Jesus.
Using contemporary terminology, we could say that Luke was engaging in catechesis, not evangelisation. This has relevance for contemporary Christians who are celebrating the Year of Luke because, like Lukes
intended audience, we already know Jesus and his message. Thus our purpose in journeying through the Year of Luke is to develop further our Christian faith by deepening our commitment to Jesus and appreciating the salvation he won for us.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF JERUSALEM
Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Lukes Gospel and Acts could be described a two-part work. His gospel deals with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus whereas Acts begins with the ascension and describes the spread of the early Church. Significantly, the Gospel begins and ends in Jerusalem. Acts also begins in Jerusalem, with the early Church subsequently spreading from there. Journeys to and from that city are central to both writings.
The focus of Jesus entire ministry was directed towards Jerusalem as is stated several times by Luke: now as the time drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up to heaven, he resolutely took the road for Jerusalem (Luke 9:51), and through towns and villages [Jesus] went teaching, making his way to Jerusalem (Luke 13:22), and now on the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee (Luke 17:11). Jerusalem was the city of destiny for him because it was there that salvation would be achieved (see Luke 13:31-35).
Both the Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are addressed to Theophilus (meaning, in Greek, a friend of God) who was an important person in the society of the day. We know this because Luke addresses him as Your Excellency (Luke 1:4). He was obviously a supporter of Luke and, perhaps, a benefactor. It is possible that Theophilus requested Luke to write an account of Jesus life and ministry.
UNIQUE TO LUKE
There are several passages in Lukes Gospel that are not found in the other gospels. They include:
- The accounts of the annunciation (see Luke 1:26-38), the visitation of Elizabeth (see Luke 1:39-56), Marys Magnificat (see Luke 1:46-55), the presentation of Jesus in the Temple (see Luke 2:22-38) and the finding of Jesus in the Temple (see Luke 2:41-50).
- The restoration to life of the son of the widow of Nain (see Luke 7:11-17).
- Jesus encounter with the woman who washed and anointed his feet (see Luke 7:36-50).
- The mission of the seventy-two disciples (see Luke 10:1-20).
- The parable of the good Samaritan (see Luke 10:29-37).
- Jesus visit to the home of Martha and Mary (see Luke 10:38-42).
- The parable of the importunate (that is, persistent) friend (see Luke 11:5-8).
- The parable of the rich fool (see Luke 12:13-21).
- The parables of the lost drachma, the lost sheep and the prodigal son (see Luke 15:1-32).
- The parables of the unjust steward (see Luke 16:1-13) and the rich man and Lazarus (see Luke 16:19-31).
- The healing of the ten lepers (see Luke 17:11-19).
- The parables of the unscrupulous judge (see Luke 18:1- 8) and the Pharisee and the publican (see Luke 18:9-14).
- Jesus visit to the house of Zacchaeus (see Luke 19:1-10).
- The encounter between Jesus and the repentant thief on Calvary (see Luke 23:35-43).
THE ACTIVITY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
The influence of the Holy Spirit is evident throughout Lukes Gospel. For example, John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15) in the presence of Jesus. Jesus himself was conceived by the power of the Spirit (see Luke 1:35) and the Holy Spirit descended on him (Luke 3:22) after his baptism before leading him into the wilderness (see Luke 4:1) where he was tempted by the Devil. As he began his public ministry in Galilee, Jesus stated that the Spirit had been given to him (see Luke 4:18) to accompany him in his ministry. Then, at the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus promised his apostles that he would send them the Holy Spirit to help them to be witnesses to Gods salvation (see Luke 24:49).
SALVATION IS FOR EVERYONE WHO REPENTS, NOT ONLY THE JEWS
The context in which Luke wrote his gospel was that of the Jews rejecting Jesus as the Messiah. Early in his ministry, Jesus had prophesied that the religious leaders would persuade the Jews not to accept him and his message of salvation when he said that the Son of Man would be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes (Luke 9:22).
Therefore, Gods salvation is universal. It is a gift from God, freely offered to all people who repent for their sins and accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. In other words, it is offered to Jews and Gentiles alike. An indication of this is found in Lukes genealogy of Jesus, which traces Jesus ancestry back to Adam, the father of all human beings (see Luke 3:23-38), thereby relating Jesus to every human being , unlike Matthew who traces Jesus ancestry back to Abraham thus linking him only with Abrahams descendants. Likewise, the new children of Abraham are those who accept the salvation offered by Jesus (see Luke 19:9) rather than those who are simply descended from Abraham.
Lukes message is unambiguous: everyone is important to Jesus. He is even a light to enlighten the pagans (Luke 2:32). This is obvious in the parable about the man hosting a great banquet who said to his servant: Go to the open roads and the hedgerows and force people to come in to make sure my house is full (Luke 14:23). It is also evident from Jesus final instruction to his apostles: in [Christs] name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:47).
CONCERN FOR ALL THOSE WHO ARE VULNERABLE
In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus constantly demonstrates his concern for women, children, the sick, the poor, outsiders, foreigners and especially sinners. Through his many parables and various healing miracles, he proves that he is a friend to everyone in need: for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost (Luke 19:10).
Jesus compassion is clearly demonstrated in his respectful dealing with the repentant woman (see Luke 7:36-50), his parable about patience with the barren fig tree (see Luke 13:6-9) and especially his response to the good thief (see Luke 23:39-43). His attention to those who were classified as outcasts is evident in his treatment of the ten lepers (see Luke 17:11-19) and in his respect for the Samaritans.
Examples of Jesus attitude towards the poor and his challenge to help those who are poor are found in the parable of the rich fool (see Luke 12:13-21), his instruction to invite the poor to banquets (see Luke 14:12-14) and the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (see Luke 16:19-31). Jesus addressed the beatitudes to the poor while addressing the curses towards the rich (see Luke 6:20-26). The poor always had a special place in Jesus heart.
Jesus ability to respond to the needs of those around him and to focus his attention on those who were considered unimportant was undoubtedly based on his close relationship with his heavenly Father. This was expressed and deepened through the time he spent in prayer. From reading Lukes Gospel, we know that prayer was the central activity in Jesus life and that he always prayed at crucial times during his ministry, including:
- Prior to choosing the twelve apostles (see Luke 6:12).
- Before being transfigured in the presence of Peter, John and James (see Luke 9:28).
- Prior to being arrested and sentenced to death (see Luke 22:41).
- Shortly before dying on the cross (see Luke 23:34, 46).
In Jesus preaching, he emphasised the necessity of prayer for his disciples, especially in the parable of the importunate friend (see Luke 11:5-13), the parable of the unscrupulous judge (see Luke 18:1-8) and the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (see Luke 18:9-14). Jesus challenged his disciples to become praying people when he taught them how to pray (see Luke 11:1-13).
SIGNIFICANCE OF WOMEN
In Lukes Gospel, great prominence is given to women and their role in Jesus ministry. There are more women in Lukes Gospel than in the others. In Jewish society, women did not have the same social and legal status as men. Lukes Gospel challenges that practice. Among the women are:
- Mary, the mother of Jesus, the first disciple, who pondered the word of God (see Luke 2:19).
- Elizabeth, the cousin of Mary and the mother of John the Baptist (see Luke 1:39-58).
- Anna, the prophetess (see Luke 2:36-38).
- The widow of Nain (see Luke 7:11-17).
- The woman who was a sinner (see Luke 7:36-50).
- Certain women from Galilee who accompanied Jesus during his public ministry: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and several others (see Luke 8:2-3).
- The sisters Martha and Mary (see Luke 10:38-42).
- The woman in the crowd who praised the mother of Jesus (see Luke 11:27).
- The woman in the parable of the lost drachma (see Luke 15:8-10).
- The woman in the parable of the unscrupulous judge (see Luke 18:1-8).
- The women of Jerusalem who mourned and lamented for Jesus on the way to Calvary (see Luke 23:27-31).
- The women from Galilee who came to Jesus tomb with spices and ointment to care for his dead body
(see Luke 23:55).
- The women who are the first witnesses of the resurrection (see Luke 24:8-11).
The Gospel according to Luke is characterised by a spirit of joy which, in turn, is the joy of the Holy Spirit. The arrival of Gods salvation brings joy. Several examples of rejoicing are to be found throughout the gospel:
- The baby in Elizabeths womb leapt for joy in the presence of the Messiah (see Luke 1:44).
- Mary, the mother of Jesus, praises God in joy (see Luke 1:46-55).
- The angel has news of great joy (Luke 2:10) for the shepherds, that is to be shared by the whole people.
- During his public ministry, Jesus urges his disciples to rejoice that your names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20).
- Jesus was filled with joy by the Holy Spirit (Luke 10:21).
- The parables of the lost sheep (see Luke 15:4-7), the lost drachma (see Luke 15:8-10) and the prodigal son (see Luke 15:11-32) all end with a great sense of rejoicing.
- Zacchaeus welcomed [Jesus] joyfully (Luke 19:6) to his house.
- After Jesus ascended to heaven, the apostles went back to Jerusalem full of joy (Luke 24:52).
LUKE IN RELIGIOUS ART AND IN POPULAR DEVOTION
In religious art, Luke is traditionally represented by a bull. This is based on a text from Revelation: In the centre, grouped round the throne itself, were four animals with many eyes, in front and behind. The first animal was like a lion, the second like a bull, the third animal had a human face, and the fourth animal was like a flying eagle (Revelation 4:6-7).
Each of the four evangelists is often represented by one of the four animals. Mark is usually represented by a lion. Matthew is frequently depicted by a human face. John is normally portrayed as a flying eagle. And Luke is regularly symbolised by a bull. However, there are also other representations of Luke in religious iconography. For example, one of the earliest images of Luke is of him sitting at a desk painting a picture of Mary the mother of Jesus.
In terms of popular devotion, physicians and surgeons espouse Luke as their patron saint. Butchers have adopted Luke as their patron saint because of the image of the bull that is used to depict him. Not surprisingly, artists have also adopted Luke as their patron saint because of the tradition that he painted an icon of Mary and because of the many inspiring word pictures that are part of his narrative style. Lukes feast is celebrated on 18 October each year.