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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.

Reading through Luke

Before you sit down to study Luke, read through the whole Gospel. Many of the stories will be familiar to you, since Luke contains some of the best‐loved stories in the Gospels. You will notice that Luke is a gifted storyteller. Even in the parables of Jesus, he creates short episodes and switches from the third‐person report into dialogue between the characters. Young children often enjoy the stories in Luke more than those in the other Gospels. As you are reading, you might note passages that particularly appeal to you. Do you find any common themes in those stories? Here are some of the themes that you will find running through the Gospel.

Salvation Is a Joyous Surprise

You will soon notice that Luke has many images of celebration and rejoicing. From the very beginning of the story to the very last verse, people are praising and thanking God for the salvation that they experience in Jesus. Salvation is a “surprise” or gift because those who receive it could never have anticipated that it would come. Mary's Magnificat ( 1, 46–55 ) sets the tone. God has come and rescued the humble, poor, oppressed, and lowly people of the land. Jesus begins his ministry ( 4, 18 ) by quoting a promise from Isaiah: a threefold release from poverty, from sickness, and from sin. Luke drives home this point about salvation by showing that Jesus has the power to forgive sins and to heal people (see 5, 17–26 ). Even the rich tax collector Zacchaeus hears the message, demonstrates his repentance by making restitution to those he had cheated, and expresses his joy by throwing a banquet ( 19, 1–10 ).

God's mercy is the source of this salvation. Christians are to show mercy in the same way that God is merciful ( 6, 36 ). When Jesus gives examples of what God's mercy and forgiveness are like, he uses very active images. God is not waiting for people to come crawling back, begging forgiveness. God is out looking for people to help like the shepherd and the lost sheep, the woman and the lost coin, or the wayward son's father, who goes running out of the house and immediately orders a large celebration (see 15, 3–32 ). The elder brother in the story of the Prodigal Son shows us the other side of the coin. Jesus recognizes that some people find it difficult to accept this open‐handed offer of forgiveness to sinners, when they themselves have struggled all their lives to do everything that they are required to do and have never even had a banquet to celebrate.

Salvation Includes Everyone

In Acts, Luke will show us that God directed the disciples to take the gospel to all the peoples of the earth. The Gospel demonstrates the universality of God's love and salvation in a different way. It stresses the fact that Jesus reached out to all sorts of people, even to those who seemed to have no chance at salvation. Zacchaeus, the tax collector, was a sinner who had defrauded people to enrich himself ( 19, 1–10 ). The Samaritans, traditional enemies of the Jews, turn out to be examples of Jesus' teaching. The mercy shown by the Good Samaritan ( 10, 37 ) is so well known that we can speak of anyone who shows mercy or unmerited assistance to another as a “Samaritan.” Less well known is the Samaritan leper ( 17, 12–19 ) who is the only one of the group healed by Jesus to return and give him thanks. Women—often excluded from higher education, public leadership, and cultural events in antiquity—are constantly included in Jesus' ministry. A sinful woman provides a better demonstration of love and hospitality than the Pharisee. Her sins are forgiven ( 7, 31–50 ). Mary is permitted to sit and listen to Jesus as a disciple. She does not have to busy herself with the traditional woman's business of serving the male guests that has her sister so distracted ( 10, 38–42 ).

Today, many women experience the tension between Martha and Mary in their own lives. On the one hand, they are anxious to participate in opportunities for education, careers, and involvement with the community outside the home. On the other hand, they are still responsible for most of the work and caregiving that goes on within the home. Some women who are financially able to devote themselves to homemaking and volunteer community activities on a full‐time basis report that they feel “looked down on” because they do not have a paying job. When Jesus defended Mary's place as listening to his teaching, he was not condemning Martha's devotion to serving her guests or the traditional tasks of women in the home. Jesus was really issuing an invitation to her to join her sister. Martha was so busy that she was missing the one necessary thing, to hear Jesus' message about the Kingdom ( 10, 41f ). As our lives continue to fill up with activities at home, work, and in the community, we need to ask whether we are shoving out the time we need for the one necessary thing, hearing the word of the Lord.

Special Concern for Those in Need

We have already seen that salvation has very concrete aspects in Luke. Those who are poor, helpless, in prison, sick, and the like are promised release. Jesus and the apostles are able to relieve the suffering of the sick by healing. Acts contains many stories in which God intervenes to free the apostles from prison. To achieve this goal, however, miraculous events are not required. The story of the Good Samaritan ( 10, 25–37 ) shows how this salvation can come about through concrete actions. The Samaritan uses his own resources to see that the man beaten up by robbers is restored to health, even though, as a Jew, the victim is his enemy. The parable of the Great Supper, in which the host replaces with the poor the friends who refused to come, and the sayings about showing aid to those who cannot repay ( 14, 12–24 ) are other examples of how salvation can come to those in need.

You may have noticed in reading through Luke how often it returns to the theme of rich and poor. The rich often fail to receive salvation because they are trapped by their own desires for money or pleasure (see 12, 13–21; 16, 19–30 ). Even those who are good people like the Rich Ruler ( 18, 18–24 ) are so locked in by possessions that they cannot achieve the eternal life they desire. That does not mean that Luke thinks all rich people are excluded from the Kingdom. The Samaritan, Zacchaeus, and anyone else who is willing to share his or her wealth generously with those who are in need can become a disciple of Jesus. Acts will return to this theme in its picture of sharing possessions in the early community. Luke also retains the sayings of Jesus that call upon followers to renounce material goods in order to become disciples ( 6, 35; 9, 3; 10, 4; 12, 33; 14, 33; 16, 13 ). By doing so, Jesus, and later the apostles, demonstrate that they are completely dedicated to God. But Luke knows that such discipleship is possible only if the basic needs of the group are met through the generosity of others. He reports that a group of women followers provided the necessary support ( 8, 1–3 ). In Acts, he reports that Paul achieved the same end by laboring at his trade (Acts 20, 33–35 ).

Mary Is the First Disciple

Catholic Christians have always paid special honor to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Since much of the elaborate Marian piety of the church did not develop until medieval times, people sometimes feel that Mary has been left out in the biblical renewal. Luke's Gospel provides the basis for the devotion that we show to Mary. Her assent to God's work of salvation initiates the whole story. Her Magnificat is a strong affirmation of God's faithfulness and mercy. Sometimes people think that we honor Mary simply because she experienced a miracle in Jesus' birth. That is not Luke's picture. For Luke she is both the epitome of the faithful people of Israel who wait confidently for God's salvation, and the beginning of the new life of those who will be disciples of Jesus. Jesus defines her role in 8, 21. She is one who hears and does the word of God. He repeats this affirmation in 11, 27f. The crowd praises Jesus' biological mother. Jesus corrects them by insisting that hearing and keeping the word of God constitutes the true source of blessing.

The infancy narrative demonstrates that Mary has this quality of true discipleship. She has accepted God's will in the Annunciation scene. Later she keeps in her heart words spoken to her about Jesus, as well as the extraordinary events that she witnesses ( 2, 19.51 ). Simeon includes her in his oracle about the impact of Jesus' ministry in Israel ( 2, 34f ). She too will be caught in the divisions to come. But Mary remains among the faithful disciples of Jesus. She was present among those disciples gathered in Jerusalem after the Resurrection (Acts 1, 14 ).

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