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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

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Luke

Donald Senior

Pheme Perkins

Before Beginning …

Luke tells us that he was not an eyewitness to the events of Jesus' ministry. He is dependent upon others who have already put the testimony of such witnesses in narrative form ( 1, 2 ). Scholars have identified three of the sources that Luke used: Mark's Gospel; a collection of Jesus' sayings that was also used by Matthew, called Q; and a source for additional material about Jesus, which scholars designate L (see New American Bible, introduction, p. 1350 ). Luke seems to preserve the order of sayings in his written source rather than shifting them to new discourse units as in Matthew. The introduction suggests that Luke is a secondor third‐generation Christian looking back on the founding years of the movement. Luke's ability to write in different styles—including that of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, which was the Bible for most of the early Christian communities—and to use conventions of Hellenistic literature, such as the opening dedication to a prominent patron, suggest a well‐educated author. To have received a literary education of this sort, Luke probably came from a prosperous urban family. Unlike the other Gospel writers, Luke's account did not end with the Gospel. He wrote a second volume, Acts, which showed that God's salvation, begun in Jesus, moved beyond Jerusalem and the pious of Israel into the whole world.

Luke's Gospel provides an account of Jesus' life and teaching for that universal mission. Today, people sometimes think that Christianity and its Gospels belong to North American and European culture. They wonder whether Christians can spread the message to people in other cultures without destroying those cultures. We need to remember that the story of Jesus originated in a Semitic culture. Luke and other early Christians were already engaged in intercultural dialogue when they retold the story of Jesus for the Greek‐speaking, non‐Jewish converts who inhabited cities in the eastern part of the Roman empire. Their example shows that the gospel message is not limited to any one culture. The story of Jesus belongs to all peoples.

An Assured Teaching

Luke's desire to establish Christianity within the larger world of the Roman empire is evident in references to Roman emperors and events. For example, he links the birth of Jesus to Caesar Augustus ( 2, 1 ). People have sometimes thought that Luke was attempting to write what we would call a history of Jesus and the earliest disciples. Most of the “historical” references, however, are not accurate even by ancient standards. Luke calls his work a diegesis, meaning a “narrative account,” not a history. He claims that it is thorough, accurate, and orderly. He has traced the events that have occurred among “us” (that is, the Christian community) from the beginning ( 1, 1–4 ). The purpose of his writing is to provide asphaleia, “assurance” for the instruction that Christians give. In other words, Luke's book will show that what the church preaches is rooted in the ministry of Jesus and the preaching of the first apostles.

Luke takes patterns for his story from biblical history. This literary device is especially evident in the infancy narratives, which show God's promises of salvation being fulfilled in Jesus. When Luke claims that his narrative is “orderly,” he refers to the literary order, which sets out the periods of salvation. Luke also provides assurance for the Christian preaching by showing that the Spirit of God has guided the whole process from the earliest days of Israel through the ministry of Jesus. In the second volume, Acts, he shows the same Spirit at work in the developments in the early community. Civic authorities were suspicious of new religious movements. Luke's work addresses those fears by highlighting the high moral standards and social value of Christianity.

An Ordered Narrative

Luke has told us that he is dependent upon earlier accounts but that he has reworked his material to provide a more accurate and orderly account. We have seen that accuracy and order do not refer to historical inquiry but to Luke's desire to set forth the way in which God's plan of salvation is fulfilled in the Christian movement. Scholars have made detailed studies of additions, deletions, and changes that Luke has made in the order of material taken over from Mark. There are three major additions that even the beginning Gospel reader can spot. Mark begins abruptly with the appearance of John the Baptist. Luke (as does Matthew) begins with an account of Jesus' birth ( 1, 5–2, 40 ). He adds a tale about the child Jesus ( 2, 41–52 ). Then, between the baptism and temptation stories, Luke reintroduces Jesus by giving his genealogy ( 3, 23–38 ). A long section in which Jesus is journeying toward Jerusalem with the disciples ( 9, 51–19, 27 ) contains much of the teaching of Jesus. It includes parables that Luke has taken from Q (and from his special tradition) and retold in a way that serves as instruction for the church. By contrast, Mark's Gospel has only a short section of instruction to the disciples on the trip to Jerusalem.

Finally, you will notice several differences in the Passion and the Resurrection materials. Mark ends with the women running from the empty tomb. Luke 24, on the other hand, has accounts of appearances by the Risen Lord as well as instructions to the disciples. Luke's Passion narrative differs from Mark (and Matthew) as well. Jesus is never formally tried by the Jewish court. There is an unusual episode in which Pilate sends Jesus to be investigated by Herod ( 23, 6–12 ). Pilate persists in declaring that Jesus is innocent of the charges against him ( 23, 4.14f.22 ). The dying Jesus prays for forgiveness for his enemies ( 23, 34 ) and enacts the message of the gospel by promising salvation to a repentant criminal who dies with him ( 23, 39–43 ).

Each of these sections contributes to our sense that God's plan of salvation is being carried out. The infancy narratives recapitulate the hopes of the faithful people of Israel. As Jesus begins the journey to Jerusalem, he knows that he is to be taken up from there in death ( 9, 51 ). This journey is a time to prepare the disciples both for the events in Jerusalem and for their future role as witnesses to Jesus' teaching. In the narrative of Jesus' death and resurrection, Luke emphasizes the fact that it “was necessary”—that is, part of God's plan already set out in the Prophets—for the Messiah to suffer and die in Jerusalem (see 22, 22; 24, 26f ). The episode with the repentant criminal shows that the death of Jesus extends salvation and forgiveness to others.

The Tragedy of Israel

Luke's strong narrative sense of a divine plan moving toward its fulfillment often dominates our imagination as we read Luke‐Acts. If we allow this sense of divine purpose to lull us into accepting as good or necessary all the events through which God's plan is achieved, then we will miss another component in Luke's story—the tragedy of Israel. The infancy stories awaken the joyful expectation that Israel's messianic king has arrived to bring salvation. Through him, God's peace and blessings will come to both Jews and Gentiles ( 2, 29–32 ). Yet, as the story unfolds, this promise will not be fulfilled.

Persistent rejection, first of Jesus and then of the disciples' mission, leaves Israel excluded. Luke points out the tragedy of this situation in a series of prophetic laments that Jesus utters over Jerusalem and her inhabitants. The first is a Q tradition ( 13, 34f; Mt 23, 37–39 ), which Luke has attached to an episode from his special tradition ( 13, 31–33 ). The episode contained a warning that Herod was seeking Jesus' life. Jesus connects the divine necessity that he die in Jerusalem ( 13, 33 ) with a lament for the city. The second, from Luke's special tradition, occurs as Jesus is looking out over the city where he is to die ( 19, 41–44 ). Jesus weeps at the thought of the peace that will elude the city and the terrible devastations of war that she is to suffer. The final lament, also from L, occurs as Jesus is on the way to his death. He looks out at the weeping women of Jerusalem and warns them to weep for themselves instead ( 23, 27–31 ).

The church has constantly reminded Catholics that, even though the ancestors of today's Jews chose not to accept Jesus as Messiah, Christians cannot reject or persecute Jews. She has also insisted that Christians share a common heritage with the Jewish people that is rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures. Luke's narrative insists that the heritage of the Christian movement lies in the faithful and just persons of Israel. Jesus' own family are among the righteous ones who trust in God for salvation. Though Luke's Passion narrative holds certain Jewish leaders responsible for some of the events, Jesus does not condemn them but asks God's forgiveness. Luke also presents us with a Jesus who is able to weep as he foresees the terrible fate of Jerusalem. The prosperous and beautiful city of his day will be reduced to the rubble of war. She will not enjoy the peace that God so longs to give the people.

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