Sunday 3 September 2023

The Gospel of Luke

The Gospel of Luke is generally regarded as the third of the four canonical Gospels. Almost all scholars agree that the author of Luke is also the author of the Acts of the Apostles.

The Gospel is known by many names. Some see it along with Acts as narrating the history of salvation, which is divided into three parts. This first is the time before Jesus where everything is old. This is possibly why Luke has changed Mark 8,28 which has “one of the prophets” as one of the answers of the people regarding Jesus’ identity to “one of the old prophets” (9,19). The second is the time of Jesus who inaugurates the kingdom (4,16-30) and the third is the time of the Church (The Acts of the Apostles), which continues the work of Jesus.

Others see it as a Gospel of Prayer because when compared with Matthew and Mark, the Lucan Jesus prays oftener. There are seven accounts of Jesus praying that are exclusive to Luke. (3,21; 5,16; 6,12; 9,18; 9,29; 11,1; 22,32).

Still others see it as a Gospel of Women since Luke gives special importance to women in his Gospel. In Luke’s Infancy narrative, Mary rather than Joseph is an important figure. Only in Luke do we find the miracles of the raising of the widow’s son (7,11-15) and the healing of the woman with a spirit of infirmity (13,10-17). Luke alone tells us that Jesus had women disciples who provided for him out of their means (8,1-3).

Some also see Luke as the Gospel of Great Mercy or Pardon. This is because the Parables of the Good Samaritan (10,30-35) and the Prodigal Son (15,11-32) are found only in Luke. While hanging on the Cross, it is in Luke’s Gospel alone that Jesus forgives those who crucified him (23,34).

The Gospel of Luke begins with the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah followed by the announcement of the birth of Jesus to Mary. Immediately after this announcement Mary goes to meet Elizabeth who will be the mother of John the Baptist in order to share the good news with her. Luke alone of all the Evangelists narrates an incident in the early life of Jesus after his birth where he is found in the Temple. Jesus begins his public ministry immediately after his Baptism and in the Synagogue at Nazareth where he reads from Isaiah what may term as his own manifesto and plan of action. He chooses disciples to help in his mission, which he continues in Galilee.

A large part of the Gospel (9,51-19,27) has been termed as the Journey to Jerusalem during which Jesus both preaches and heals. After his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, he cleanses the Temple but continues to teach in it even after this incident. During this time he is questioned about his authority and other matters of the law and most of the questions are with a view to trap Jesus. It is one of the Twelve, Judas who betrays Jesus to the Jewish leaders. He is tried, and condemned to death on a cross where he dies forgiving those responsible for crucifying him.

The last part of the Gospel begins with an episode of the empty tomb in which the women who go to the tomb are asked why they look for the living among the dead. Jesus then appears to two disciples when they are on their way to Emmaus and chides them for their lack of faith. Finally Jesus appears to the eleven, gives them a commission and then is then taken up to heaven. The disciples return to the Temple in Jerusalem with great joy.

Some of the characteristics unique to Luke’s Gospel are as under:

1.  The Gospel of Luke is the only Gospel, which narrates the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist, and his birth. The birth of Jesus is announced to Mary (not Joseph as in Matthew). Luke alone narrates the ascension of Jesus into heaven.

2.  Only Luke narrates the incident of Jesus being found in the temple (2,41-52). This is the only incident from Jesus’ childhood that any evangelist narrates.

3.  Luke’s genealogy of Jesus goes back to Adam the first human being (3,38) unlike Matthew’s, which begins with Abraham. Luke alone gives us the age of Jesus when he began his ministry (3,23).

4.  In Luke alone we find the parables of the Good Samaritan, the Publican and the Pharisee who went to the Temple to pray, the rich man and Lazarus, the lost coin, the prodigal son, the unjust steward, the rich fool who would tear down his barns and build greater barns in order that he might store his goods, and the story of Zacchaeus, who climbed a tree in order that he might see Jesus. Each of these parables and stories illustrates what Luke regards as an essential characteristic of Jesus’ work.

5.  Compared to the other canonical gospels, Luke devotes significantly more attention to women. The Gospel of Luke features more female characters, features a female prophet (2,36), and details the experience of pregnancy (1,41-42). Prominent discussion is given to the lives of Elizabeth and of Mary, the mother of Jesus (Ch. 2).

6.  Luke portrays Jesus as extremely concerned about the poor and those who were considered social outcasts. Already in the Sermon on the Plain, the Lucan Jesus pronounces a blessing on “the poor" (6,20) unlike the Matthean Jesus whose blessing is pronounced on the “poor in spirit” (Mt 5,3). Three parables in Chapter 15 (the Lost sheep, the Lost coin and the Lost Son) are told one after another because the Pharisees and scribes complained about Jesus’ table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners.

7.  Luke mentions the Holy Spirit more than the other two synoptic gospels, Matthew and Mark. John the Baptist is filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born (1,15); next, John's mother Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit (1:41); before long, John's dumbstruck father Zechariah is also filled with the Holy Spirit (1,67). Jesus is conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit (1,35). The Holy Spirit reveals to the aged Simeon that he will see the Messiah (Christ) before he dies (2,26-27). John the Baptist announces that the powerful one coming after him will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (3,16). When Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit descends on Him in bodily form as a dove (3,22), as God the Father confirms from heaven that Jesus is "My Son, whom I love". At this point Jesus is "full of the Holy Spirit" (4,1), and is "led out by the Spirit into the wilderness" (4:1), where the Devil tempted Him for forty days. Having successfully resisted the Devil as a man (4,4.8.12), Jesus returns to Galilee "in the power of the Spirit" (4,14). Luke uses all these references as a build-up to Jesus reading the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me" (4,18-19). 'The Anointed One' is 'the Messiah' in Hebrew, 'the Christ' in Greek. The total involvement of the Holy anointing Spirit at every step of the way (conception, babyhood, childhood, extended family, baptism, temptation and inauguration to ministry) proves that He, Jesus, is the Anointed One, the Messiah, and the Christ.

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