The Gospel of Luke


The Gospel at Mass today, the third Sunday of Advent, is from Luke’s account, as it was for the last two Sundays and will be (with very few exceptions) for most of 2010.
During 2009 passages from Mark’s gospel were read at Sunday Mass - except for a five week period from the end of July when the readings were from John because Mark, the shortest of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), does not fill up an entire year of Sundays.
The change-over has occurred because the first Sunday of Advent marks the start of a new year in the Church’s liturgical calendar. In the 3 year cycle of Sunday Lectionary readings, 2010 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 wrote his story in two volumes - the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. These two books occupy almost one quarter of the New Testament. Based on Luke's use of Mark and his description of local church structures and issues, Luke’s writing is usually dated at around the year 80. The gospel of Luke appears to be addressed to people of Greek background because it was written in idiomatic Greek and all Hebrew and Aramaic terms were translated into Greek.
Some details of Luke’s life can be gleaned from Paul’s epistles and from his own accounts in the book of Acts. He accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey from Troas to Philippi and on the third from Philippi to Jerusalem. He also travelled with Paul to Rome where he remained during the latter’s period of imprisonment there.
Luke’s interest in and detailed information about the early Antiochene Christians suggests that he was one of the first members of the Christian community in Antioch.
Luke is traditionally symbolised by a winged ox because of his emphasis on the sacrificial aspect of Christ's life. (Oxen were used in temple sacrifices.)
Luke depicts salvation quite differently to Mark and Matthew however. Whereas they link salvation to Jesus' death on the cross, Luke presents the life, death and teaching of Christ as a message of universal salvation for all people, not only the Jews.
Luke describes Jesus saving people throughout his ministry and shows it happening here and now, in their midst: "Today salvation has come to this house", "Today you will be with me in paradise".
There are a number of other interesting and unique characteristics of Luke's writing that I will look at in a future column.


Elizabeth Harrington