Author: Luke the Beloved Physician
Date Written: 60’s or 80’s AD
Date of Narrative: 3 BC – 30 AD
The Gospel of Luke is the first volume of Luke-Acts, which was composed by “Luke the beloved physician,” a traveling companion of St. Paul (Col 4:14). The Gentile St. Luke wrote his work for Theophilus, a Gentile Christian who may have been his benefactor. As a careful historian, Luke sets the scene of Jesus’ birth in its political context by mentioning various rulers and places at the time (2:1-4).
Luke’s gospel begins with dramatic appearances of the angel Gabriel to Zechariah and to Mary. Gabriel foretells two miraculous births: the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah’s post-menopausal wife and the virginal conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary. Next the Lucan gospel traces Jesus’ genealogy back to Adam in order to show the universality of the salvation which he brings. Luke is the only gospel writer who tells the parables of the prodigal son (15:11-32) and the good Samaritan (10:25-37). He alone tells us the stories of Mary and Martha (10:38-42) and of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (24:13-35). He also is the only one who gives us songs that are still used in the Church’s liturgy: the Benedictus (1:68-79), the Magnificat (1:46-55) and the Nunc Dimittis (2:29-32). Luke also provides the first half of the Hail Mary prayer in Gabriel’s and Elizabeth’s greetings to Mary (1:28, 42). Luke gives a different version of the Beatitudes than Matthew (6:20-23). In Luke, we also get the “woes” of Jesus (6:24-26; 11:42-52). Luke concludes with the scene of Jesus’ ascension which is recapitulated in the beginning of Acts (1:6-11).
Each of the characters in Luke plays a particular role that helps illumine the life of Jesus and his message. John the Baptist represents the last of the Old Covenant prophets. Mary exemplifies the obedient servant of the Lord. The Pharisees are a consistent foil to Jesus’ message. The scribes (Scripture copyists), lawyers (experts in the law of God), elders (members of the Sanhedrin), chief priests (men in charge of the Temple and Sanhedrin), Sadducees (anti-resurrection sect of Jews) and rulers of the people (same as elders) function as Jesus’ opponents who misunderstand his message. The Holy Spirit enables people to prophesy (1:41, 67; 2:27), comes upon Jesus at his baptism (3:22) and he constitutes the gift of the Father (11:13). Jesus himself is the ultimate character who fulfills God’s promises from the Old Testament, when he comes as Messiah (19:38), and Suffering Servant (Isa 53-55) to cleanse Israel and the whole world of sin by his death and resurrection.
Resurrection is a key theme throughout Luke-Acts. Luke subtly inserts the verb “to rise” in many instances where the reader would not expect it. When Jesus heals the paralytic, he rises (5:25). Likewise Jairus’ daughter rises, Peter rises, the disciples on the road to Emmaus rise, Paul rises and indeed Jesus himself rises from the dead (5:54-55; 24:12; 24:33; Acts 9:18; Luke 24:6). Luke conveys the power of Jesus’ resurrection by showing how the Christian not only is “buried therefore with him by baptism into death” but also is “raised from the dead by the glory of the Father” so that he too “might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). The Christian life is not only about taking up one’s cross (Luke 9:23), but about living in the power and victory of the resurrection (CCC 1002). Other important themes Luke emphasizes are the jubilee year, prayer, compassion, meals and the role of women.
Comprising over one quarter of the New Testament, Luke-Acts presents an expansive understanding of the life of Jesus and the first Christians.
By Mark Giszczak
Author: Luke the Beloved Physician