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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.