Special Features of Luke's Gospel


More About Luke
The gospel of Luke is full of the stories that people often nominate as their favourites from the Bible. The parables of the Good Samaritan and the prodigal son, the stories of the annunciation, the visit of the shepherds to the infant Jesus and the disciples on the road to Emmaus are all well-known accounts that are found only in Luke.
Food figures prominently in the third gospel, 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. At Emmaus the disciples recognise Jesus when he accepts their invitation to a meal and makes himself known "in the breaking of the bread".
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 (unlike Matthew who focuses on Joseph); Luke pairs the men in his stories with women (Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna). In Luke's story about Martha and Mary, Mary does what would have been unacceptable in Jesus' time - she sits at his feet as a disciple.
Something that is particularly evident in Luke's gospel is the emphasis on Jesus' ministry to those on the fringes of society, to the oppressed, excluded and disadvantaged. This focus appears right from the start with Mary's song, The Magnificat, and 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 wayward son) are only to be found in Luke.
Luke also gives an emphasis to the activity of the Holy Spirit that is not found in the other gospels. From the opening lines he describes people as being filled with or inspired by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is conceived by and anointed with the Holy Spirit.
Apart from being the gospel readings for year C, Luke's writings appear regularly in another form of the church's liturgy. The three hymns which he includes in the stories of Jesus' nativity are used as canticles in the Liturgy of the Hours. The songs of Zechariah, Mary and Simeon are recited or sung at morning prayer, evening prayer and night prayer respectively. To many people these are better known by their titles that come from the first word of their Latin versions - "Benedictus", "Magnificat" and "Nunc Dimittus".
Interestingly, the only time that any of these three passages appears in the Sunday lectionary is on the feast of the Holy Family in year B when the gospel reading includes the song of Simeon, so the Liturgy of the Hours is the only liturgical setting in which Luke's gospel canticles are normally heard.
The canticles all reflect Luke's emphasis on salvation and on what God accomplishes through the lives of ordinary people. We too, with Mary, praise God who regards our humble state, who raises up the lowly, whose mercy embraces the faithful from one generation to the next.

Elizabeth Harrington