A New Weekly Online Study:
Last year, I hosted a successful online study of the Gospel of Mark, entitled The Gospel of Mark Challenge. As we prepare to move into Year C in late November (the liturgical year in which St. Luke’s Gospel is read), I felt it might be appropriate to host a sequel to last year’s challenge. The first aspect of “The Challenge” was to read a half chapter of the Gospel of Mark each day. The Gospel According to St. Mark is only sixteen chapters long, whereas St. Luke’s is twenty-four chapters. I suppose this means that this year’s challenge will require a bit more persistence than last year’s. That being said, at a the rate of about a half chapter per day, one could read through the entire Gospel of Luke in forty-eight days – a little longer than a month and a half.
The second aspect of “The Challenge” is to read the text as part of a discipline of prayer and devotion. Last year, I suggested using a form of the Daily Office such as Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, or Compline (Night Prayer). I have linked to some resources on the side of this page that may assist you in this way, and of course, you can always use your Book of Common Prayer or Book of Alternative Services if you have one at home.
So this is the challenge -- to read and pray through The Gospel of Luke in the months ahead. In order to support each of you in this challenge, I will be posting a regular Friday reflection in which I comment on a passage that interests me that illustrates some of the key themes in the gospel text. Last year, various individuals wrote to me asking me to comment on particular texts that seemed difficult. I am happy to do so again and encourage you to do so (this is my challenge!).
You are also invited to post comments on the blog. You do not have to have a blogger account to do so – simply click on the “comment” link and sign on as “anonymous.” It would be helpful to type your name at the bottom of the comment, but you are not obliged to do so. You may also send me private emails. I look forward to your responses! Your responses help make this online study more lively and fruitful.
A Bit About the Gospel of Luke:
In order to kick things off, I want to make a few general comments about The Gospel of Luke. These thoughts are not original, but rather culled from my own ongoing reading of Luke and much secondary literature.
Luke is widely considered to have been written in the last decade of the first century (as he has knowledge of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in AD 70). Like the rest of the New Testament, the original language of the book is Greek and Luke’s Greek is of the most elevated sort that we find in the New Testament. The Gospel is actually the first part of a two-volume series, the second installment being the Book of Acts (Part one, the Gospel, tell us the story of Jesus, while part two, Acts, tell us the story of the Early Church). We may be inclined to ask, who was “Luke?” He may have been the “Luke the Physician” that we learn about from Acts and also from Paul, but this is disputed. It was not uncommon for writers to write under a respected pseudonym in those days. In any event, it is not likely that the author was an eyewitness of Jesus. Where, then, did he get his material? It seems clear to most scholars that Luke used Mark’s Gospel as a source as we find much direct "lifiting" of his Mark's material. Luke also shares with Matthew a considerable amount of material, often verbatim with subtle changes, that is not found in Mark. Thus, it is concluded that and Matthew may have drawn on a now lost source, which scholars call “Q” (from the German quelle – meaning “source”) which is postulated to be a “sayings” collection based on the kind of shared material found in Matthew and Luke. However, a small group of scholars (and I am more and more inclined to agree with them) argue that Luke used both Mark and Matthew as sources, thus eliminating the need to postulate a “lost gospel” theory. (For a good review of these scholarly arguments visit Mark Goodacre’s Case Against Q website. I do also commend his excellent podcasts – more on these in future installments).
Key Themes in the Gospel of Luke:
The following is a list several key themes and concepts that are widely accepted as major aspects of the Lucan Narrative. The list (a summary of: Joseph Fitzmyer S.J., The Gospel According to Luke I-X, Anchor Bible 28, New York: Doubleday, 1982– p. 145), is not comprehensive but provides a useful starting point for us. As you read through the Gospel of Luke, consider some of these themes and the questions they raise.
1. The Lukan kerygma (Greek for “proclamation,” and by this we mean proclamation both by and about Jesus) in Luke/Acts takes a particular form. See if you can recognize the unique nature of Luke’s proclamation by and about Jesus. Hint: consider to whom the words of Jesus are directed and what the Early Church’s preaching about Jesus does to upset the world order.
2. Luke draws on his source material (Mark’s Gospel, and other possible sources, either a “sayings of Jesus” source, or Matthew’s Gospel) in a way that advances the particular themes of his own narrative. As we examine key passages, use a tool called a “Gospel Parallel” or simply compare parallel passages in Mark and Matthew to see how Luke handles the same episode. What does Luke’s unique handling of the episode tell us about the story of Jesus he wishes to communicate?
3. Geography is crucial to theological message – throughout the Gospel the narrative moves geographically toward Jerusalem, whereas in Acts it moves outward from Jerusalem to Rome (to the “ends of the earth”). Consider what this geographical movement says about the proclamation of the Gospel, from Luke’s perspective.
4. Christ in History – Luke roots the “Christ-event” in history as a means to illustrate the inauguration of a new era of human history. What is the meaning of the new era coming into being? How does it relate to the previous era? How does Luke establish the “Christ-event” in time and space?
5. Christology – Luke has invests particular meaning in the titles he uses for Jesus, especially with respect to salvation history. What are some of Luke’s titles for Jesus? What do these titles say about the meaning of Jesus for Luke?
6. Role of the Holy Spirit – Luke has a very unique role for the Holy Spirit in Luke/Acts, especially with respect to conversion and baptism. Pay special attention to references of to the Holy Spirit throughout Luke and Acts. Consider the role of the Spirit as a character in the narrative.
7. Eschatology (concern for the end-times) – As Luke’s Gospel was written toward the end of the first century, he has to deal with what scholars call “the delay of the parousia” (second coming/return of Christ). Observe what Luke does and does not say about the end-times, in comparison with the other gospels.
There is much to think about here as we begin our journey into St. Luke. These are but a few of the keythemes in his story of Jesus; we could (and in the installments ahead, will) add many more themes and strands. At this point, it might be easy to feel overwhelmed at all of these things to consider. In the weeks ahead we will walk through some interesting passages in the Gospel and I will draw your attention to recurring themes, patterns and ideas. The above themes are mentioned only to provide you with a bit of a guide of what to watch for as you read through the text. So as you read, think of things like the role of geography in the story; the role of the Holy Spirit; talk about the end times (and the delay of the end times); the titles applied to Jesus; and think of comparing familiar passages in Luke to parallels in Mark and Matthew and see how Luke tells the story a little differently. Each of these things will prompt questions about “why did Luke tell it this way?” I believe that as we journey together, examining some of these questions in Luke's Gospel and their possible answers, a portrait of Jesus will emerge that can still enliven our faith today.