Here are some things we know about Luke:
- He was not a Jew but a gentile who had come to have faith in Christ.
- He was a dear friend of St Paul and sometimes travelled with him.
- He wrote his Gospel and his second book, The Acts of the Apostles, somewhere between 75 and 130 AD.
- Traditionally it is believed he was a doctor and that he wrote his gospel in Greece and died there at the age of eighty-four.
But what else can we find out about Luke – what mattered to him, what was he passionate about and what aspects of his faith did he want to pass on to his readers?
One way of exploring those questions is to look at his Gospel and find the stories about Jesus and the stories Jesus told which are only reported by Luke and not by Matthew, Mark or John.
There are many of them:
- the parables of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, Dives and Lazarus and the Pharisee and the tax collector;
- the stories of the angel visiting Mary and her cousin Elizabeth;
- the birth stories of an inn, shepherds
and more angels;
- the stories of two sisters, Martha and Mary,
- the crucified penitent thief to whom Jesus promised a place in his kingdom and
- the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
All familiar, some loved, some disturbing and some challenging and all appearing only in Luke’s Gospel. Let’s look at just a few of these:
Luke believes passionately that God cares about those who are poor or hungry, homeless or rejected. When he tells us about Mary receiving the news that she is to bear God’s son he gives her the song we know as the Magnificat and she says,
“God has brought down the powerful
from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.”
And he records the parable told by Jesus about the rich man, Dives, who ignores the hungry beggar, Lazarus sitting at his gate suffering the humiliation of having dogs licking his sores. When both men die the rich man finds out it’s too late to put that injustice right and to feed and clothe the poor man. Surely Luke’s call for social justice and a fair distribution of wealth still needs to be heard in our world today.
Luke believes that what matters to God is honesty and integrity – truth in our inward hearts and minds. He records a parable of Jesus about a Pharisee and a tax collector praying in the temple. The Pharisee is full of himself, showing off about his status and his observance of religious requirements. He looks down with contempt on people like the tax collector. But the tax collector is humble before God, filled with a sense of unworthiness and sinfulness. Jesus makes it clear that it’s the despised but honest tax collector who is reconciled with God.
Luke’s call for honesty, integrity and humility surely needs to be heard today in a world where all too often authority and power and any sort of celebrity status are wielded with pride, superficiality, dishonesty and egotism.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is so familiar to us that we might sometimes miss its significance, its revolutionary ideas about loving our neighbour and its implications for us today. Perhaps because Luke was not a Jew this story held a special place in his heart.
A badly injured Jewish man lying at the side of the road is ignored by those who should have helped him – a priest and a Levite. He is helped by a Samaritan – and it’s perhaps hard for us to understand just how repellent that would have been to the Jews who first heard this story.
But this Samaritan did more than he needed to: he gave first aid to the injured man, took him to a nearby inn and looked after him there and when he had to go he gave money to the inn keeper, asking him to look after the patient and promising to repay him if he spent more than he’d been given. Through the reporting of this parable Luke tells us of a love that crosses boundaries dividing us from one another. We are shown how to love not only our neighbour but also our enemy.
This sort of love is costly – it leaves us exposed and vulnerable as we are called to put aside our prejudices, our hatreds and the grudges we sometimes cling to with fixed determination.
In a world where there is so much savage hatred, violence and division and where all too often our instincts are to lash out at those who are different and who we fear surely Luke’s message still needs to be heard. It needs to be heard so that there may be peace and reconciliation within and between families, communities, countries and religious groups of all kinds.
Luke’s message of God’s concern for the poor and hungry; of the need for us to approach God with honesty and integrity and the command that we love and care for our enemies as well as our neighbours is surely as powerful today as it has ever been. But the greatest and most powerful message that Luke has for me is about forgiveness and a God who yearns for us to be reconciled with him.
We know the parable well: a son breaks his father’s heart by leaving home with his share of his father’s wealth. The father waits with hope and longing, perhaps with fear and grief for his son’s return. The son does come to his senses and makes his way home intending to beg his father just to give him a job, a roof over his head and regular meals. But the father sees him coming and, abandoning all dignity, rushes out to meet him on the road, pouring out love and joy and forgiveness on the young man who had hurt him so much.
But there’s more to it than that. There is another son who’s burning with anger and resentment about the way his father has welcomed his brother home. He feels hardly done by and refuses to join the celebrations. His father goes out to him also with welcoming arms and a reassurance of his love. This father is not going to enjoy the party unless both his sons are reconciled with him and with each other and he will do whatever it takes to bring that reconciliation about.
Luke tells us of a God who comes looking for us no matter how far off we think we are from him and no matter what it is that’s keeping us from getting closer to him – even if it’s our own stubbornness, pride or shame.
Luke has given us his Gospel:
- good news for the poor and the hungry;
- good news for all held captive by oppression;
- good news to those who long for honesty and integrity among those in positions of power and authority
- and good news to anyone who thinks they are beyond forgiveness.
But Luke also calls us to pass on this good news in our generation, let us pray that we have the courage and the conviction to follow his example and do just that.