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Introduction to the Gospel of Luke
THE GOSPEL OF LUKE
In the 3 year cycle of Sunday Lectionary readings, 2001 is Year C, the year of Luke.
According to a tradition dating from the second century, Luke is the doctor to whom Paul refers to in his letter to the Colossians as his fellow worker and companion. Most scripture scholars conclude 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 (for 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 first reading for the entire Easter season in Year C is from the book of Acts, giving us the opportunity to experience the two accounts as a unified narrative of the ministry of Jesus and its continuation in the ministry of the early church.
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. The gospel of Luke appears to be addressed to people of Greek background, perhaps both Gentiles and Jews who had been evangelised by Paul.
Luke's gospel tells of Jesus' journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, a journey which is completed in the Acts of the Apostles by the journey of the church from Jerusalem "to the ends of the earth". The Lectionary readings represent faithfully Luke's "Travel Narrative" (chapters 9 to 19), the journey of Jesus to death, resurrection and return to the Father.
Luke's journey story is not just a geographical or historical record however. Rather it is depicted as a journey for the whole church and for the individual Christian - a journey towards suffering and glory. The disciples suffer in Luke's story, but always joyfully, and despite the conflicts and persecutions portrayed in Acts, the picture of the life of the early church is a very positive one.
Luke's goal is to inspire in Christ's followers a faithfulness to their commitment based on God's fidelity to them. He does this by reminding the hearer/reader of God's past faithfulness and drawing attention to parallels in the present. This instills hope and trust in the promises yet to be fulfilled, including the return of Jesus and the redemption of Israel.
Luke's is the only gospel to call Jesus "Saviour" and salvation is a prominent theme but unlike Mark and Matthew who link salvation to Jesus' death on the cross, Luke shows Jesus saving people throughout his ministry. And today salvation is happening in their midst: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled", "Today salvation has come to this house", "Today you will be with me in paradise".
Traditionally the four evangelists are symbolised by a man (Matthew), a lion (Mark), an ox (Luke), and an eagle (John) on the basis of Rev 4: 6-7. The winged ox is associated with Luke because of his emphasis on the sacrificial aspect of Christ's life and because his gospel begins with the story of Zechariah in the temple where sacrifices were offered.
There are a number of other interesting and unique characteristics of Luke's writing that I will look at in next week's column.