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THE GOSPEL OF LUKE
The Gospel reading for Mass today is from Luke, as it will be for every Sunday in Ordinary Time for the rest of 2004, which is Year C of the 3-year cycle of Sunday readings.
Scripture scholars agree that Luke was a highly educated writer and gifted storyteller who knew the Greek translation of the Old Testament and had perhaps been a convert to Judaism before becoming a Christian. Luke admits that he was not an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus. For his narrative he draws on Mark's gospel, on a collection of Jesus' sayings known as Q (from the German word Quelle meaning ‘source’) and on a number of other written and oral sources.
Luke wrote his story in two volumes - the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. The date of Luke - Acts is usually given at around 80, based on Luke's use of Mark and his description of local church structures and issues.
Luke's gospel tells of Jesus' journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, a journey that is completed in the Acts of the Apostles by the journey of the church from Jerusalem "to the ends of the earth". Luke's journey story is not just a geographical or historical record however. Rather it is a model of the path which the entire church and every individual Christian must follow – one that leads towards suffering and glory. Luke inspires Christ's followers by reminding them of God's past faithfulness in order to instil hope and trust in the promises yet to be fulfilled.
Salvation is a prominent theme in Luke’s gospel. It shows Jesus saving people throughout his ministry, and that salvation is happening in their very midst: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled", "Today you will be with me in paradise". A winged ox is the traditional symbol for Luke the evangelist because of this emphasis on the sacrificial aspect of Christ’s life. Oxen were commonly offered up as a sacrifice.
Food figures prominently in Luke, with nineteen different meals mentioned. Several of the parables have a banquet as their setting and Jesus comes under fire for eating with the wrong people.
More than any of the other gospel writers, Luke gives importance to the role of women. He places Mary at the centre of his infancy narrative and pairs the men in his stories with women (Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna). In the story about Martha and Mary, Mary does what would have been unacceptable at the time - she sits at the feet of Jesus as a disciple.
Luke's emphasis on Jesus' ministry to those on the fringes of society is evident right from the start with Mary's song, The Magnificat. Jesus makes it the central message of his first act of preaching: "He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free" (Lk 4: 18). The wonderful "lost and found" stories (the stray sheep, the missing coin, the prodigal son), which are some of the most popular in the Bible, are to be found only in the Luke’s gospel.