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Luke's Gospel: Joy on the Menu
I hope the other Gospel writers won't be offended
if I admit this, but the Gospel of Luke is my favorite. Maybe that's
because the author of the Gospel might have been a physician and
there was a time in my life when I thought about becoming a doctor.
But it is also because some of my favorite Gospel stories that portray
Jesus as such a caring and compassionate Messiah are found only
There is a reason that the Church included all four Gospels in the
Bible. God's revelation of himself through Jesus Christ is too rich, too wonderful,
to be captured by just one account of Jesus' life.
This is why we read from all four Gospels at the weekend Masses
over a three-year cycle. In the Church years that begin in Advent 2003 and 2006,
most of the Gospel readings will come from the Gospel of Luke.
This Youth Update will introduce you to some of the unique
perspectives in Luke that you can listen for throughout the year.
Written to Persuade
Take up a Bible and turn to the beginning of Luke. This is the
only Gospel in which the author states his purpose for writing the
Gospel. "I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately
anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent
Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings
you have received" (Luke 1:3-4).
We can trace back to the second century the belief that the author
of this Gospel is Luke, the "beloved physician" mentioned in Colossians 4:14.
He was a companion of St. Paul and an evangelizer in the early Church. There
are other mentions of Luke in Philemon 1:24 and 2 Timothy 4:11.
He was not a Jew and was one of the many early gentile (non-Jewish)
converts to Christianity. By his own admission, Luke never met Jesus in person.
But he had a passion for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with other people
from his culture.
So Luke learned as much as he could about Jesus' life, death and
resurrection. Then he wrote his own account of the events and the meaning of
Jesus' life in a way that would appeal to other non-Jews living in the Roman
Unique Spin on Jesus' Birth
Christmas probably wouldn't be celebrated with manger scenes
and songs like "Angels We Have Heard on High" if it weren't for
the Gospel of Luke. Only the second chapter of Luke has the story
of Mary having to give birth in a stable because there was no room
at the inn.
This chapter of Luke also has the only stories about the angels
announcing Christ's birth to the shepherds and the shepherds coming
to see the infant Jesus. And if we look at Chapter 1, Luke is the
only Gospel with these stories:
— the angel Gabriel's promise to Jesus' uncle,
Zechariah, that he will have a son named John;
— Gabriel's announcement to Mary that, even though she
is a virgin, she will have a son named Jesus;
— the birth of John the Baptist, Jesus' cousin;
— Mary and Zechariah's special songs of praise, called
canticles, which tell of the wondrous things that God does for his people.
Why does Luke include these stories? Well, since he is writing for
Roman citizens, he has to explain why Jesus was born in some unimportant
country like Israel instead of being born in Rome or one of the other major
cities with which they were familiar.
And since his readers weren't Jews, he had to show how Jesus was
the fulfillment of the religious hopes of the Jewish people. Notice how Gabriel's
announcements and the canticles of Mary and Zechariah provide a basic overview
of the Jewish faith. If you want proof, take a look through the first chapter
and see if you can find the names of the great leaders of the Jewish faith:
Abraham, Jacob, David and Elijah.
Great, Joyful Surprise
Another theme emerges in Luke's stories about Jesus'
birth. Mary's canticle (Luke 1:46-55)—also called the Magnificat—sets
the tone. As you read the Magnificat, notice the joy it expresses:
"My spirit rejoices...The Mighty One has done great things for me...The
hungry he has filled with good things...He has helped Israel his
Gabriel's announcement to Mary and Zechariah's canticle also convey
this message: The salvation of the human race is good news! God is doing mighty
and surprising things, so rejoice!
The word joy is used as many times in Luke as it is used
in the other three Gospels combined: "I proclaim to you good news of great joy"
(2:10); "Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!" (6:23); "There will be more
joy in heaven over one sinner who repents" (15:7). These are just some examples
of how joy shows up throughout the Gospel. Why are people so joyful? Because
they have experienced the saving power and love of God!
Jesus' teaching about God's surprising love is most clear in Chapter
15 of Luke. Jesus tells three parables in that chapter—the lost sheep (15:1-7),
the lost coin (15:8-10) and the prodigal (or lost) son (15:11-32). The parables
of the lost coin and the prodigal son are found only in Luke.
Most people are very familiar with the story of the prodigal son.
What you may not realize is that the parable is really more about the father,
who represents God. Jesus compares God to a father who surprises everyone by
welcoming back a son whom most everyone else would have disowned. But God is
so crazy in love with us that he acts with amazing love when we take any steps
Many people, including many teens, struggle to find joy in their
lives. Life will inevitably bring its disappointments: a bad grade even though
you studied, a losing sports season even though you practiced hard. And many
teens face more difficult trials such as feeling alone without the support of
close friends, or the financial insecurity of having a parent lose a job. But
there are just as many good news stories as there are bad news stories.
Luke is telling us that being a follower of Jesus should be a joyful
and even surprising experience. When we focus on our struggles and difficulties,
we miss the positive and hopeful things that are right there in front of us.
But when we remind ourselves what a wonderful thing it is to be loved by God,
we become more aware of how God has blessed us in surprising ways.
Are you able to find joy in life? Are you willing to act a little
crazy out of the sheer wonder of knowing that you are being saved through the
loving goodness and power of God? Perhaps Luke can open your eyes to the wonderful
joy that occurs when we make Jesus Christ the center of our lives.
When people create an outline of the Gospel of Luke, they usually
base it on the geography of Jesus' travels. The beginning of the
Gospel is set in Galilee, the middle of the Gospel focuses on his
journey to Jerusalem, and the end of the Gospel contains his final
preaching, death and resurrection in Jerusalem.
But let's look at the message of Jesus in Luke by seeing what he
talked about during dinner. When you read Luke, it becomes clear that Jesus
enjoyed long meals with other people, something that doesn't seem very common
in our culture.
Jesus used mealtimes, especially with people he had just met, to
teach about the Kingdom of God. Luke records nine of these meals. Let's look
at a few of them and see what we can learn from Jesus.
The first meal recorded in Luke was with Levi, the tax collector,
whom Jesus called to be one of his followers (see 5:27-39). Levi left his old
way of life and threw a banquet for Jesus, inviting a lot of his tax-collector
friends. Tax collectors were not well liked because of their cooperation in
collecting money for the Roman oppressors. In fact, proper Jews wouldn't have
anything to do with them.
So the religious leaders (Pharisees and scribes) challenged Jesus
by asking, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" To which
Jesus gave his classic answer, "Those who are healthy do not need a physician,
but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners."
Jesus wasn't talking about physical health, of course, but about
spiritual health. He knew that the people who really needed him were those who
were struggling spiritually, those who had given up on God and were rejected
by society. And he was going to reach out to them no matter what others thought.
Do you reach out only to those who make you comfortable? Do you
avoid eating with certain people because of what others might say about you?
Jesus would say that when someone needs your help, you should offer your friendship
without worrying about what others might think.
Evidently, eating with tax collectors didn't affect Jesus' popularity
too much since the next meal story in Luke shows him eating in the home of a
Pharisee (see Luke 7:36-50). During the meal, something embarrassing happened.
A woman who was a known sinner—possibly a prostitute—entered the house with
an expensive jar of ointment. Sobbing with sorrow over her life, she washed
Jesus' feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, then covered them with
the ointment. The Pharisee who had invited Jesus couldn't believe that Jesus
was letting this sinful woman even touch him.
Aware of what the Pharisee was thinking, Jesus told a story that
made the point that people with great sins appreciate God's mercy more than
people whose sins are not so great. Then Jesus forgave the woman her sins. By
doing this, Jesus implied that sinners recognized his divine power while the
religious leaders did not.
Wow! Could you imagine being part of that meal? There were
probably some jaws dropped in surprise. You should keep this meal conversation
from Luke in mind whenever you are tempted to hold on to grudges and withhold
forgiveness from others who ask for it.
Many Catholic teens do not appreciate what the Mass is all about.
Two more meals in Luke must be mentioned because they address this very topic.
One is the Last Supper (see 22:14-20).
During this last meal before his suffering and death, Jesus established
the sacrament of the Eucharist with the words that we use at Mass today, "This
is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me" and "This
cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you."
The meal at Emmaus is told only in the Gospel of Luke (see Luke
24:13-35). After Jesus' death, a stranger joined two of Jesus' disciples who
were walking from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. Using examples from the
Jewish Scriptures, the stranger explained why the Messiah had to suffer and
die before entering into glory. During a meal together the stranger blessed
the bread, broke it and gave it to the disciples. Immediately the disciples
recognized that the stranger was Jesus, at which point he vanished.
Notice the similarities between the story and the Mass—reading and
explaining the Scriptures, and the blessing, breaking and eating of bread. Luke
is saying that to participate in the Eucharist is to encounter Jesus again!
How do you feel about attending Sunday Mass? Do you see it as
a privileged opportunity for meeting Jesus? Or do you see it as an interruption
to your Sunday morning sleep?
Care for the Poor
Luke's Gospel has many other unique characteristics we could
mention, but there is space to highlight only one more. In Luke,
Jesus places a greater emphasis on meeting the needs of the poor
and the outcast than he does in Matthew, Mark and John.
As one example, compare the Beatitudes in Matthew (5:3-12) and Luke
(6:20-23). Matthew says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit....Blessed
are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness." But Luke says,
"Blessed are you who are poor....Blessed are you who are now hungry."
The focus in Matthew is on spiritual poverty and spiritual hunger,
but in Luke the focus is on material poverty and physical hunger. Luke goes
even further and adds a section of woes in 6:24-26, starting with "But woe to
you who are rich, for you have received your consolation."
Throughout the Gospel of Luke Jesus challenges those who are rich
to see the needs of others. The famous parables of the Good Samaritan (10:29-37)
and the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31) make this point and are found only in
The parable of the rich fool (12:16-21) goes so far as to say that
a person who is focused on accumulating wealth will be excluded from heaven.
By ignoring the poor we are also rejecting the God who calls us to care for
those in greatest need.
Performing at the 2002 National Conference on Catholic Youth
Ministry, evangelizer Doug Brummel captivated the audience by retelling
the Gospel story in a simple but powerful way. Playing the part
of a simple janitor at a Catholic church, he pretended to answer
a stranger's questions about why Catholics believe the things we
believe. His answers were clear, sometimes funny, but always understandable.
Like Luke, he was modeling for us how to be evangelists, that is,
people who can share the good news of salvation with those who do not yet understand
or believe. And just as God called Luke to do this for the people of his time,
God calls us to do the same today. By becoming familiar with the Gospel of Luke
we will become better evangelists ourselves.
Who is this Theophilus that Luke is writing this Gospel for?
Theophilus was a common name meaning "friend
of God" in Greek. We have no way of knowing who Theophilus
was or if he was even a real person. One theory is that he
may have been a Roman official, which is why he is addressed
as "most excellent" (see 1:3). Or Theophilus may be a symbolic
name for anyone who reads the Gospelbecause anyone who
takes the time to learn about Jesus Christ is a friend of
I was surprised that only Luke mentions shepherds at the birth of Jesus. Why is that?
At the time the Gospel was written, shepherds were like fast-food employees of today. They played an essential role in society but they weren't wealthy, influential or famous. In keeping with Luke's theme that the poor have a special place in God's plan, it was to these overlooked people that the Good News of the Messiah was first announced.
There's lots about joy in Luke's Gospel. It seems to me that this must be different from happiness. What do you think?
Good insight! The happiness that many people pursue through wealth or popularity or pleasure does not last and doesn't satisfy our deepest longings. The joy the Gospel of Luke describes is lasting and satisfies the emptiness in every human heart. It can only come from knowing God and living in harmony with God's will. A disciple of Jesus can be unhappy about a current problem but still have the joyful peace that comes from knowing God is in charge.
Answers to Gospel Quiz:
1. Gentiles (non-Jews) 2. Zechariah and Mary 3. Magnificat 4. Joy
5. Eating (or praying) 6. The lost coin, the lost sheep, the prodigal
son 7. The Last Supper and the meal at Emmaus 8. The poor and outcast
Brian Singer-Towns is an author and editor for
St. Mary's Press and has worked with youth—including his own teenage
sons—for many years. He is the general editor of the Catholic
Vanessa (17) of Our Lady of Good Counsel
Parish in Moorestown, New Jersey, and Stephanie Beemer (16) of St.
Anthony Parish in Elmira, New York, reviewed this issue online and
posed the questions that are answered here. Peter Singer-Towns (17)
of Winona, Minnesota, the author's son, also assisted. If you too
want fameand a free CD holdervisit www.DisciplesNow.com
and click on "YU in Review."