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The Gospel According to Luke

Luke, a Syrian from Antioch, was the inspired author of the third Gospel. A physician by profession, a man of culture with perfect Greek, he was a disciple of Paul and was an early Gentile convert, from about the year 40. He accompanied Paul on his second journey (49-53) from Troas to Philippi (Acts 16:10-37), remaining there for some years, until he again joined Paul toward the end of his third journey (53-58). He stayed with the apostle when he was imprisoned in Caesarea; he was with him on his adventurous trip from Caesarea to Rome and during his first Roman captivity (Col. 4:14, Phil. 1:24).

We can be sure that Luke wrote his Gospel after the Aramaic original of Matthew and definitely after Mark, but it is not so easy to establish the precise date.

According to the Pontifical Biblical Commission (June 26, 1912) it must have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. Since it was written before Acts, and since Acts finishes with a description of Paul’s ministry toward the end of his first captivity in Rome (the year 63), this Gospel can be dated at the latest at the end of 62 or the beginning of 63. The same Commission confirmed the inspiration and canonicity of the third Gospel and its authenticity. As regards some particular points: It also said that it was not “lawful to doubt the inspiration and authenticity of Luke’s narrative of Christ’s infancy (Luke 1 and 2) or of the appearance of the angel to comfort him, or the fact that he sweated blood (Luke 22:43-44), nor are there solid reasons to indicate—as some early heresies, supported by certain modern critics, try to make out—that these narratives do not belong to the authentic Gospel of Luke.”

Luke was not an eyewitness of our Lord‘s life. Therefore, when he refers in his introduction to the sources he has used, he includes those “who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” (1:2), among the most outstanding of whom was the Blessed Virgin Mary. It must have been she who provided most of the information Luke gives in the first chapters of his Gospel. Luke liked to get order and chronology right—not just to satisfy his own or anyone else’s curiosity, but to pass on to others precisely what the Lord wanted him to write, that is, “the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed”(1:4), the true history of our salvation. That is what his Gospel contains—and the same is true of Acts; although these two books are independent they do form a perfect doctrinal and literary unity.

With reference to his literary style we can notice (Jerome, for example, points it out) that Luke has a much better grammatical grasp of the Greek language than any of the other Evangelists. Conscious that he is addressing people with a Gentile background, he usually avoids expressions which they might find jarring, and whenever possible he uses Greek equivalents for Aramaic terms. This is one reason why he is silent on some subjects which might have sounded indelicate to his readers.

Luke stresses certain specific.aspects of doctrine. He begins by emphasizing the continuity of the work of salvation begun by God in the Old Testament and brought to fulfilment in the New. He does this by recording a series of very revealing facts: (1) the announcement by the archangel Gabriel, about the birth of John the Baptist (1:5ff), to Zechariah, a priest officiating in the Temple at the time of sacrifice prescribed by the Old Law. The names of the protagonists in this scene are particularly significant: Zechariah (= Yahweh has remembered), Elizabeth (= God has sworn), John (= Yahweh is merciful); (2) John’s future role as precursor of the Lord, a mission foretold by the prophet Malachi (Mal. 3:1) and now presented as an accomplished fact (1:16-17); (3) the announcement by the same angel, Gabriel, of the virginal conception by Mary, who is full of grace. She will conceive the Savior himself, by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is directly linked to the conception of the Baptist, his precursor (1:36).

All these events speak of continuity; they link past with present, promise with fulfillment. The promised Messiah, who for centuries had filled the hopes of the patriarchs and prophets and of all the Jewish people, is he who is now entering human history to bring salvation.

It is not surprising that the Virgin Mary should rejoice in God her Savior (1:47) after being greeted by her cousin Elizabeth, or that the angels should tell the shepherds “of a great joy which is to come to all the people, for to you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (2:11), or that Simeon in his old age should bless God when, seeing Jesus coming into the Temple, he recognized him as the Messiah. There was no need for him to live any longer “for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou has prepared in the presence of all the people” (2:30). Jesus came to save all men, Gentiles and Jews, rich and poor, healthy and sick.

It had been prophesied (Is. 61:12) that the Messiah would redeem his people from every kind of affliction. Jesus actually said that this prophecy found its fulfillment in him (Luke 4:21). He came to redeem man from sin, to free him from slavery to the devil and from eternal death. Although he did rid many people of their physical illnesses and on occasion relieved the hunger of huge crowds, he did not seek to suppress pain or illness. God’s plan is that these should have a clearly redemptive purpose; this is why the poor and the sick are his favorites, and we should see them as a reflection of Jesus himself.

Luke stresses the universal character of salvation. Salvation starts in Jerusalem, the center of all Jesus’ activity. Luke starts his Gospel there, and there he concludes it. The infancy narrative finishes with the scene in the Temple in which our Lord, still an adolescent, talks to the teachers of the Law and leaves them amazed at the wisdom of his answers (Luke 2:46-47). For Luke Jesus’ public life is a continuous progress toward Jerusalem. It is significant that the Last Supper takes place in the Holy City. This is a particularly important point in Jesus’ life; he performs the miracle of transubstantiation, turning bread and wine into his body and blood so that he is really, truly, and substantially present in the Eucharist. He does this as a form of sacrifice to God and then of nourishment for men.

The institution of the Eucharist anticipates, through the consecration of the bread and wine, what Jesus was going to carry out a little later in his sacrifice on Calvary—just as the Mass is a sacramental renewal of the sacrifice of the cross. In both cases the victim sacrificed and the priest offering the sacrifice are one and the same, Jesus Christ. It is in Jerusalem also that Jesus completes the mission which brought him among us, by obediently surrendering himself to the cross, through which we have been freed from our sins. After the Ascension, the disciples themselves “returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (24:52).

Luke leaves over to his second book—the Acts of the Apostles—the account of the spread of the Church. There he stresses how the Church expanded outward from Jerusalem, spreading throughout the known world and reaching Rome, where the blood of Peter and Paul and many other Christian martyrs constitutes the seed of the Church. In this way is fulfilled what Isaiah prophesied in the seventh century before Christ: “Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Is. 2:3).

Luke sees this prophecy of salvation as fulfilled in Christ. The long period of waiting for the Messiah has come to an end. Now that Christ has brought salvation, the Christian must imitate him and follow in his footsteps. Jesus insists that no one can be his disciple unless he denies himself and takes up his cross daily (9:23). This is not easy, for good will is not enough; a person needs the help of grace and must cooperate with grace. Because we can easily grow tired, Luke speaks of the endurance and perseverance involved (21:19) or, what amounts to the same thing, the need for fortitude so as to be detached from anything which could separate us from God (18:29).

In making this effort to imitate the Master, Christians need virtues such as justice, temperance, chastity, charity. These, Luke tells us, are obtained firstly by prayer and then by sacrifice and mercy (6:27-38), by doing the work of each day in the presence of God. Every Christian, therefore, must strive (unless his vocation takes him away from the world) to combine action and contemplation and not to make the mistake of counterposing these two.aspects of life (cf. the dialogue between Jesus and Martha, Luke 10:41-42). Every kind of honest work helps us maintain continuous conversation with God. As Msgr. Escriva noted, we can serve him “in and from the ordinary, material, and secular activities of human life. He waits for us every day, in the laboratory, in the operating theater, in the army barracks, in the university chair, in the factory, in the workshop, in the fields, in the home, and in the immense panorama of work.’

Luke introduces us to our best ally in this effort to imitate Christ—Mary, the Mother of God. She is the holiest of all creatures, “full of grace” (1:28), sensitive, tender, resolute, strong. Her love for us is so strong that we find it easy to go to her with the love and abandonment of a child. Her faith and self-surrender are so complete that everything our Lady asks for in prayer, as on that day at Cana, Jesus grants her.

This is how Pope John Paul II put it: “Mary is always at the very center of our prayer. She is the first to pray. And she is omnipotentia supplex all powerful in her prayer. This was the case in Nazareth, when she conversed with Gabriel. We find her there, deep in prayer. In the depth of her prayer she speaks to God the Father. In the depth of her prayer the eternal Word becomes her Son. In the depth of her prayer the Holy Spirit comes down upon her, and she brings this same deep spirit of prayer from Nazareth to the Cenacle at Pentecost, where all the apostles join her in united, devout and constant prayer.”

Although the New Testament does not give us information about the birth and childhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Christian tradition has passed on some details which tells us more about her—for example, that she was the daughter of Joachim and Anne and that from childhood had been dedicated to the service of the Lord in his Temple until the time of her betrothal to Joseph. Starting at the Annunciation, Matthew and Luke give us the revealed teaching about Jesus’ virginal conception and miraculous birth which were an object of the faith of the early Christian community. It is in Mary that the Immanuel prophecy was fulfilled: “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is. 7:14).

The Second Vatican Council begins its exposition of doctrine on Mary by saying that “the Virgin Mary, who at the message of the angel received the Word of God in her heart and in her body and gave Life to the world, is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the Redeemer. . . . She is endowed with the high office and dignity of the Mother of the Son of God, and therefore she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit” (Lumen Gentium 53).

The privileged place which Mary holds in Christian devotion and its liturgical expression led to her having a very special place in sacred art. Representations of her are to be found in the Roman catacombs, but it is not until the period between 400 and 900 that she comes into full view in Byzantine art. Devotion to her was further expressed in this way in the Gothic period—first as the Virgin of Sorrows, then as our Lady of Mercy. At the beginning of the seventeenth century the image of the Immaculate Conception, drawn from the book of Revelation, comes into its own. These are but a few of the many advocations of our Lady which arise at different times and in different places as expressions of the love and veneration Christians have for her.

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