The Gospel of Luke, Jesus Christ the Savior of All Humanity
The Church may well rejoice in the fact that such a man as St. Luke was the author of one of the four Gospels. He was no ordinary writer, but a person of a fine education, a sharp intelligence, sound medical knowledge, a broad mind, and a most exacting historical sense. The Gospel he has left us is recognized by scholars to be exceptionally rich in vocabulary and rhythm, as well as being a highly polished work of literature. A highly renowned legal authority once remarked that this Gospel, having every mark of being a careful investigation into a contemporary event, conducted by a man of science, intelligence, and education, on a subject to which the entire public bore witness, would be the most genuine form of evidence admissible in a court of law.1 His accuracy has been put to the severest test, especially in the Acts, where he frequently alludes to secular rulers and events, and so subjects himself to "testability" by comparison to secular histories; and he has been demonstrated to be, on the whole, a reporter of the utmost precision and reliability.
In his preface St. Luke specifically states that "many" had attempted to compose an "orderly" narrative of the gospel events but, for one reason or another, had failed. St. Luke states that he, in contrast, had received a "perfect understanding of all things from the very first" (we would say, "I knew the whole story the time it happened") from the eye-witnesses and ministers of the word (Luke 1:1-2). His opportunities were indeed the very best. From the Acts, we know that he visited the principal apostolic church from Jerusalem to Rome, which would furnish him with invaluable interviews with their founders and leaders. He came into personal contact with Sts. Peter, Mark, Barnabas, James the Just, and Philip; and besides these, he enjoyed the knowledge and testimony of his ultimate teacher, St. Paul.
As St. Mark is inseparably associated with St. Peter, so is St. Luke with St. Paul. St. Luke was the constant companion (and physician) of the great Apostle during the long missionary journeys around the world, a fact we know by St. Luke's modest concealment under the word "we".2 He is affectionately mentioned three times by St. Paul in his imprisonment, as the beloved physician (Colossians 4:14), as one of his fellow-laborers (Philemon 24), and as the most faithful friend who endured with him until the end (2 Timothy 4:11).3 This association, along with the fact that St. Luke was a Gentile,4 naturally led St. Luke to compose a Gospel that is "Pauline" in character, and Gentile in spirit.
Thus St. Luke's is a Gospel for Gentiles, just as St. Matthew's Gospel was designed for Jews. He dedicates the composition to a certain Theophilus (Luke 1:3), a person viewed to be a Gentile convert of rank in Greece. He briefly mentions the geography of Palestine which would be unknown to a Gentile reader, such as the location of Nazareth, Capernaum, Arimathea, and the distance of Emmaus from Jerusalem.5 He alone mentions Simeon's words, that the Messiah would be "a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles" (Luke 2:32). He traces the lineage of Jesus upwards (Luke 3), after the manner of the Gentiles, all the way back to Adam, the progenitor of the human race, to display Christ as Redeemer of all humanity—in contrast to St. Matthew, who traces it backwards to Abraham, per the Jewish system, to prove Him the Messiah of the Jews (Matthew 1). Of course, while this is a defining feature of St. Luke's Gospel, a recognition of the acceptance of non-Jews is also touched upon in the other Gospels, as in the visit of the Magi (Matthew 2), the Lord's commission to preach the gospel "to every creature" (Mark 16), and the discourse with the Samaritan Woman (John 4).
St. Luke is also the Gospel for the Outcast and the Sinner, exemplified by one of the most touching verses in the Holy Bible, Luke 15:1. He alone mentions the great parables of the Good Samaritan6—which exalted the righteousness of a race, detested by the Jews as unclean, over the smug self-satisfaction of Jewish religionists—and the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and Lost Son—parables of repentance par excellence.7 In the miracle of healing the ten lepers,8 the appreciation of the "foreigner" is contrasted with the ungratefulness of the nine other Jews. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the plight of the weak beggar is turned to an advantage over the satiated rich fool after death.9 The Great Supper parable includes an invitation made to "the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind."10 Towards the end of the Gospel, Christ invites Zaccheus, a man held up in public contempt as a publican and sinner, to repentance;11 and He forgives the dying thief and promises him paradise, thus showing that salvation is open to the sinner, even to the last breath.12
It is also the Gospel for Womanhood in that it includes the noblest of women in its story and their indispensable contribution to Christ's work. We have Elizabeth, who saluted the Savior before His birth; the Virgin, whom for her unparalleled humility all generations would call blessed; Anna, the aged prophetess of the Temple who proclaimed Him to all those who sought redemption in Jerusalem;13 Martha, the active, hospitable house-keeper, with her quiet, contemplative sister Mary of Bethany;14 the small band of female disciples who provided for the Lord's needs out of their substance;15 the woman with the flow of blood, whom the Jews disdainfully considered unclean to the touch, to whom the Lord showed the utmost compassion;16 and the sinful woman Christ praised for her generous unction of His feet.17 In an age which spurned femininity, or viewed it at best as a defective masculinity, this Gospel, along with the many indications of women's blessedness in the other three, sparked a revolution in the mind of men, which has only come to be fully felt in modern days.
To attempt an analysis here of the structure of St. Luke's Gospel would require too much space due both to the complexity and wonderful artistry of this magnificent work. It would profit the careful reader to acquire a good commentary and work through the details of the narrative himself. The various meanings, positioning, and connections of all the miracles and parables recorded will begin to emerge before him like a great mountain rising in the hazy distance to the sight of an approaching traveler.
The view which has been here given of St. Luke's Gospel as being the offer of the good news to all—both Jews and Gentiles—is remarkably confirmed by his second treatise, the Acts. For as in the one we mark the universality of Christ's promises, so in the other we read of their accomplishment. In the outset of the Acts we read that Jews and proselytes from every nation under heaven heard the tidings of salvation in their own tongue;18 and the remainder of the book recounts the progress of the Church from Judea, to Samaria, to the "ends of the earth", bringing within its fold every race of man regardless of nationality or religion.
Finally, the last great miracle which is preserved for us only in the Gospel of Luke, which we may well thank him for when we meet in heaven, which has become the theme of a great feast day in every church on earth, and which forms an obvious and solid link between the Gospel and the Acts,19 is the Ascension. In this we have the outward fulfillment of the pledge which our Lord made to the disciples in St. John's Gospel,20 that He must depart in order to send us the Paraclete. Thus, in his two grand and stately books, St. Luke recounts for us the establishment of salvation on earth by Christ, and the spread of salvation upon earth by the Holy Spirit, all in the holy wisdom of the Father—as expressed in the innocent words of the Boy Jesus, "Did you not know that I must be about MyFather's business?"21
1 Simon Greenleaf, The Testimony of the Evangelists
2 Beginning at Acts 16:10
3 Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 1
4 He is distinguished from "those of the circumcision," compare Col 4:14 to 4:11
5 1:26, 4:31, 23:51, 24:13
6 Chpt 10
7 Chpt 15
8 Chpt 17
9 Chpt 16
10 Chpt 14
12 Chpt 23
16 Chpt 8
18 Acts 2
19 Comp Luke 24:51 and Acts 1:9
20 John 16:7; 15:16,17,26