While Mark focused on the mostly Gentile Christian community in Rome and Matthew was more focused on the Hebrew-Christian community in Antioch, Luke stresses that Christianity is a way of life for Gentile as well as Hebrew-Christian believers.
Richard McBrien (1936 – 2015) Catholic priest and professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame wrote: “The Christian who will not live the Gospel cannot hope to understand it.” Luke teaches us how to live the Good News and understand it.
Luke is about a compassionate and loving God; and has a strong focus on healing and reconciliation: actions so greatly needed in our own contemporary society. Right now I am thinking about the Compassionate Samaritan who loved his enemy and had compassion on him.
Certainly, Luke’s stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost sons and the compassionate father, representing God — verses 15:1-32 – are a must read for a complete presentation of who God is. As a biblical-expert friend said recently, these verses represent “The Greatest Story Ever Told by Yeshua – who God really is.”
Luke’s author was a highly educated Gentile Christian who came from a thoroughly Greco-Roman environment. Unlike Matthew’s author he was not well-grounded in the Hebrew tradition. Scholars speculate on whether his “ordered account” was written for a Christian community in Antioch or some other location in Asia Minor, like Ephesus or Smyrna.
Luke and the Acts of Apostles make up a two-volume work often called simply Luke–Acts; and they are addressed to the “most excellent” Theophilus (Friend of God). For documentation, Luke’s author drew from the Gospel of Mark, the sayings collection called the “Q” source, and a collection of material called the “L” (for Luke) source. The author is not named in either volume, but a tradition dating from the 2nd century suggested that the author was the Luke who was a companion of Paul. While this view is still occasionally put forward, many biblical scholars today question that supposition. There are significant contradictions between Acts and the authentic Pauline letters. Textual analysis suggests that Luke-Acts was written not earlier than 80–90 CE; and most likely as late as 90–110 CE, because the text was still being revised well into the 2nd century.
Last week I stressed that Matthew saw Jesus as the fulfillment of Hebrew history. He began his infancy narrative with a genealogy of Jesus from Abraham down to Joseph and Mary. Luke, on the other hand, understands Jesus as the high point in all human history. His genealogy is presented at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and runs backwards fromJoseph to Adam.
Luke is also more Mary-oriented than Joseph-oriented. In Matthew’s infancy narrative the light is on Joseph. In Luke’s account, it is Mary who shines. She is the one who hears and keeps God’s word. (Next week we will take a closer look at the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke.)
What strikes you, as you re-read this gospel? Three themes caught my attention: women, building bridges, and religious hypocrisy.
WOMEN: Luke offers a unique focus and portrayal of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in her commitment to the will of God. In Luke 1:46-55, Mary’s Song of Praise – called in Latin the Magnificat — inspires us all. Perhaps we really can’t appreciate the boldness of Luke in centering the nativity story on a woman, let alone telling it from her point of view. It i certainly in contrast to the usual — and the norm for that time — male dominated Matthew account. Luke pairs most male stories with a female story. He outdoes the Gospel of John in portraying God as a woman in the search for the lost coins. (Luke 15:8-10)
In Luke we see Mary, an early disciple of Jesus. She sits before Jesus and listens to him. Her sister Martha complains to Jesus that Mary should be helping her with serving. Jesus replies: “Martha, Martha…it is Mary who has chosen the better part” (Luke 10:38-42). In the Resurrection accounts, women not men are most important: Women were among those who observed the crucifixion (Luke 23:27, 49). Women prepared spices to anoint Jesus’ body (verses 55-56). Women were the first to find Jesus’ tomb empty (Luke 24:1-3) and angels told them Jesus had been raised from the dead (verses 4-8). Women were the first to proclaim the Resurrection to Jesus’ other disciples (verses 9-11).
BUILDING BRIDGES NOT WALLS: Luke’s stress on peace-making implied a new relationship with the Roman Empire. Dialogue had to start, and destructive polarization had to end. In Luke’s infancy narrative, angelic messengers proclaim: “Good news of great joy for all people. To you is born this day . . . a Savior! . . . Peace on earth among those whom God favors!” (Luke 2:10-11,14] These words echo and go far beyond the Roman monument inscriptions that had praised Augustus Caesar as “god” and “savior.” Luke hereby stresses that Jesus had completed more fully and uniquely the work of Augustus. Later in this gospel, Luke offsets the fact that Jesus was executed by the Romans, by having the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate declare Jesus innocent three times (Luke 23:4,14,22). Only Luke, unlike Mark and Matthew, has the Roman centurion at the foot of the cross exclaim: “Surely, this man was innocent.” (Luke 23:47) Building bridges. In Luke’s narration, Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate become unlikely friends, after being in Jesus’ presence (Luke 23:12). And finally, only in Luke’s Gospel does Jesus pray for forgiveness for his crucifiers (Luke 23:34).
RELIGIOUS HYPOCRISY: Some observers accuse Luke of antisemitism, because he regularly shows Jesus criticizing Hebrew religious leaders (Pharisees, scribes, and Levites). I think these critics miss the point. Jesus was strongly critical of the arrogant hypocrisy of the religiously elite in his day. When invited to dine in the home of a Pharisee, for example, the religious leader accused Jesus of not washing ahead of time. Jesus replied: “Now then, you clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people!…give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you…you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God….Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.” (Luke 11:37-44) Luke speaks strongly to our own contemporary society, in which the religiously elite praise God and ignore the poor, the oppressed, the diseased, and the marginalized.
The Hebrew Scriptures contain countless exhortations about social justice for the poor, widows, orphans, and all the oppressed and downtrodden. Isaiah relates that God has grasped us by the hand and calls us for the victory of justice, to be light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to free the captives, and to bring those who live in darkness into the light. Luke quotes that as Jesus (Yeshua) begins his ministry and as a duty of each of us. In Luke’s beatitudes, Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor,” and not poor in spirit as in Matthew.
A closing contemporary thought: Perhaps today’s Roman Catholic Church leaders should read and reflect on Luke’s “building bridges not walls.” The Roman Catholic Church is deeply divided right now. No doubt more so than it’s ever been in the six decades since the end of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). As journalist Robert Mickens observed recently, the fractures are most obvious on social media where priests, bishops and cardinals polarize and preach all along their ideological spectrum. “More importantly,” Mickens wrote on 18 November in La Croix International, “on what side ofdivide, or where along the spectrum, do the cardinals who will be casting ballots for the next pope line up?”
And today I repeat my annual request for Another Voice donations, which help me cover blog, internet, and computer costs, and supplement my retirement income. I will repeat the announcement until early December. Your consideration is greatly appreciated. There are three ways readers can contribute:
(1) With US dollars check, from a US bank, sent to:
Dr. John A. Dick
3001 Heverlee — BELGIUM
(2) By ZELLE using: firstname.lastname@example.org
(3) By credit card or PayPal. Simply click on this link: