Nehemiah 8.2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Corinthians 12.12-30; Luke 1.1-4; 4.14-21
As was pointed out last week, continuous readings from one of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are the core of the Liturgy of the Word for Ordinary Time in each of the three yearly Cycles, A, B, and C of the Lectionary or book of Mass readings. This weekend we begin the continuous readings for Cycle C, the Gospel of Luke.
Luke's Gospel is the one that is the best written of the Gospels in terms of Greek style. The community for which it was written is clearly a Gentile one. Many of the Semitic words that are familiar from their use in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark are not present in Luke, for example, abba (Father). Luke’s Gospel is also the first of two volumes. This would be obvious if the positions in our New Testaments of the Gospels of John and Luke were reversed. In that case we would go right from the gospel into the second volume of Luke's work, the Acts of the Apostles. In it Luke traces the spirit-inspired work of the apostles Peter and, above all, Paul in continuing Jesus' mission.
Since the congregation will be living with this gospel until next Advent, it might be worthwhile to highlight a few of its characteristics at the outset. Luke's Gospel puts a great emphasis on prayer. Jesus is shown in prayer at every important point in his public ministry. In his Gospel, as well as in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke puts a strong emphasis on the Holy Spirit as the energizing power.
Two genealogies of Jesus are given in the New Testament. The one in Matthew's Gospel traces the descent of Jesus from Abraham. Luke's genealogy traces Jesus' origins backwards, beyond Abraham all the way back to Adam, "son of God." Jesus' salvation is for all humanity. Writing for a Gentile congregation, Luke would certainly want to emphasize that God's salvation through Jesus is offered to Gentiles as well as Jews. This sense of "universal salvation" is found in the sweep of the narrative of beginning with the Gospel and continuing through the book of Acts. The Gospel begins in Jerusalem with people waiting expectantly for the coming of the Messiah. The book of Acts ends with Paul teaching about Jesus in Rome, the center of the known world at the time. God’s message is indeed spreading to the ends of the earth.
Luke's Gospel is also in a very special way of Gospel of forgiveness. Only in Luke does the parable of the prodigal son, or as it should really be titled the merciful father, appear. Only in Luke does Jesus invite the repentant thief to be with him in paradise that very day.
Luke's Gospel also puts a great emphasis on the lowly and the poor this is most clear in the first beatitude where it is "the poor" who are blessed, without the qualification of "in the spirit" which we find in Matthew's Gospel. Luke alone recounts the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, in which the poor man is taken to heaven after his death and the rich man finds himself in torment.
Consider reading the Gospel of Luke at home during this coming year as it is read in church at Mass.
Next Sunday’s readings: Jeremiah 1.4-5, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 12.31-13.13; Luke 4.21-30