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AN OVERVIEW OF ST. LUKE’S GOSPEL FOR "YEAR C"

Most of the Sunday Gospels during the liturgical year beginning in Advent will be from Luke. We will want to pay careful attention to each passage as they come up Sunday after Sunday. But, as with any work of literature, an overall knowledge of the author’s language, style, themes, genres, favorite symbols, etc. will help our interpretation of individual passages. This brief essay will be an overview of Luke’s gospel with the hope of helping the preacher and reader penetrate and appreciate its richness and depth.

Luke’s gospel (followed by its sequel The Acts of the Apostles) is a sophisticated literary work suggesting the author was educated (he wrote in Greek) and aware of the literature of his day – including the Jewish Scriptures. At the beginning of his gospel he suggests he was not an eyewitness, but is handing on the witnesses’ accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry (1:1 – 4). While he draws from his predecessors Mark and Matthew, Luke’s account is distinctively his own: as he says in his opening lines, he is writing an "orderly account" – it’s Luke’s unique "ordering." Luke’s Gospel and Acts are intertwined: the Gospel prepares us for Acts; while much in Acts harkens back to the gospel. For example, prayer, the Holy Spirit, Mary, the journey to Jerusalem, and the Temple are prominent in both narratives. What Jesus prefigured and promised in the gospel is fulfilled in the infant Church.

AN "ORDERLY ACCOUNT"

Luke opens his gospel with a salutation to Theophilus , a name which means "Beloved of God," or "God’s Friend." Thus, the gospel is addressed to people who already know the story and are "Friends of God." We are like those original readers whom Luke wants to guide and deepen in "the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed" (1:4). As we read the gospel we sense that the original audience consisted mostly of Gentile Christians. Thus, unlike Matthew, whose opening genealogy traces Jesus’ roots back to Abraham (1:1-16), Luke’s genealogy goes back to Adam (3:23-38). There are also references to the church’s outreach to the Gentiles in both the Gospel and Acts. Nevertheless, Luke makes frequent reference to God’s promises in the Hebrew texts, showing the roots of the Christian faith in Judaism.

While Luke’s message seems primarily geared to Gentile converts, the preacher should feel free to show in Christianity the continuity of God’s promises originally revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures. What God did for Israel, Luke shows God now does for us: continues to free us from slavery; sends us prophets; inspires us by the Holy Spirit and raises us to new life. With that convincing awareness of God’s past and abiding presence, we Christians, oppressed by worldly powers and cares, can raise our heads and look with hope to the promise of future victory.

THE PLAN

Luke follows the basic structure of Mark’s gospel, but with his own additions and modifications. Unlike Mark, he has an extended infancy narrative of the births of both John the Baptist and Jesus (1:5 – 2:52). Mark portrays Jesus as "rough and ready." Luke softens the picture making Jesus especially attractive to the fragile, elderly, infirmed, sinners and women. In his inaugural preaching (4:17-19) he announces "liberty to captives" – which the gospel reveals to be not only a freeing of people imprisoned by sin, but also those under society’s restrictions, religion’s exclusion, physical and mental afflictions and the power of death itself.

LUKE’S THEMES

The recurrent themes in Luke are familiar to Gospel readers, but just to review....

In this gospel Jesus calls his followers to a strict discipleship which involves embracing poverty and the cross. Luke wrote for second-generation Christians so, rather than emphasize Jesus’ imminent return, he places more emphasis on the present manifestations of the kingdom of God (17:20). Still, Jesus will return and the disciples are warned to be vigilant.

Throughout the gospel Luke makes explicit mention of the Holy Spirit and at decisive moments of his life Jesus, filled with the Spirit, is at prayer. His followers are to welcome the sinner and outsider, imitating their master, who crossed borders to reach out to the marginalized and religious outcasts. So, for example, we frequently find Jesus among the tax collectors, a whole class of despised people. But Jesus also eats and talks with the Pharisees. He crosses all sorts of boundaries to invite people to listen to the Good News.

Discipleship in Luke’s gospel has many forms, so the preacher needs to be cautious not to expound one form over others. Jesus wanted to form a community where all were cared for and accepted, especially the vulnerable and the poor. While Jesus continually reaches out to the poor and warns his hearers about the dangers of wealth, still people of means followed him and supported his ministry.

WOMEN

There are many stories which include women throughout this gospel and so it has been used to stress women’s equality with men among Jesus’ followers. But a closer look, aided by recent biblical commentators, shows that Luke’s portrait of women is limited. Women are not given voice in the narratives, frequently remaining silent and docile. Even when Mary Magdalene brings the news of Jesus’ resurrection to the huddled, fearful disciples, her message is called "nonsense" (24:11). Women, the witnesses to the same events as the men, are not commissioned and sent forth to proclaim the gospel. So the preacher needs to be careful not to translate the culture of Luke’s time to the present by extolling the passive, docile roles of women in his gospel.

THE JOURNEY WITH CHRIST

A significant part of this gospel, (9:5 1-19:44 – starting with the 13th Sunday) is taken up with the journey narrative, as Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem. Those who preach regularly in the same setting can use the episodes in the journey narrative as opportunities to highlight the various aspects of discipleship, for the disciples traveling with Jesus hear his teachings and observe his ways. And so do we. On the journey with Jesus and his disciples we too learn what it means to respond to Jesus’ invitation, "Come follow me.

LUKE’S WORLD AND OURS

Luke is a very "worldly" gospel, with its allusions to contemporary political and religious events. We learn, for example, that Jesus was born during Herod’s reign (1:5) and that he began his ministry during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas (3:1-2). God took flesh in a particular time and place, during a specific cultural, political and religious period. The preacher will re–learn from Luke what we were taught in our first preaching class, "Keep the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other."

Jude Siciliano, OP

Promoter of Preaching

Southern Dominican Province, USA

judeop@Juno.com

 


Preaching Essay Archive

Just click on an Essay title below to read it.
(The latest submissions are listed first.)

• The Journey Through Lent •
• A New Year - A Time To Choose •
• Called To Continue Our Journey As Peacemakers •
• CALLED TO NAME •
• CHOOSING HOPE IN TIMES OF DARKNESS AND CHALLENGE •
• Easter: A Call To Renew Our Faith •
• Fan Into Flame •
• Grieving Our Losses •
• IMAGINING A RE-EVANGELIZED CHURCH •
• The Importance of Inter-Religious Sharing •
• THE PROMISE OF EASTER –“ THAT ALL MAY HAVE LIFE AND HAVE IT IN ABUNDANCE.” •
• Are We Living In Pentecost Times? •
• Living With Gratitude and Hope •
• “Lumen Fidei” – the Call and the Challenge •
• What is the "New Evangelization"? •
• Pentecost •
• PRAYER OF PREACHERS •
• Inculturated Liturgy Challenges Preaching to Flower •
• Preaching Lent - Year C •
• Preaching Luke •
• Preaching Mark •
• Reflection - Psalm 127 •
• Reaching Youth Today •
• The Need To Reclaim And Live With Moral Courage •
• The Sacred Triduum •
• STRENGTHEN OUR HOPE TO REPAIR A BROKEN WORLD •
• Welcoming the Stranger •
• Working for Peace •


Blessings on your preaching.


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