A Gospel is the story of Jesus’ time and ministry on earth. There are four Gospel accounts which appear in the Bible in this order: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Mark was written first somewhere between the years 64-70 CE. Luke and Matthew were both written between 70-80 CE and followed much of Mark’s account but with some differences and extra stories. The Gospel of John, which was written between 90-100 CE, does not follow these first three Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry, but rather takes its own direction. While a “Gospel” is the story of Jesus and his ministry, the word ‘gospel’ goes deeper still.
“The beginning of the good news (gospel) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark 1:1 In the original Greek language “euangelion” is translated as “good news” and it also gives us the Old English word gōdspel, (gōd/good + spel/news or story). So “gospel” = “god spel” = “good news” = “euangelion” (Greek) = “evangelium” (Latin) = “evangelic” (English). In Christian writing, these words often are interchanged but all mean the “good news” of Jesus Christ. So let us dig into the good news / gospel story of Jesus according to Luke.
THE GOSPEL FOR THE GENTILES
Luke is the only New Testament writer who was not Jewish. In Section 3 (March) Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians we learned about Paul, a Jew, who was writing letters to Gentile (non-Jewish) churches. Paul probably encouraged Luke to write this gospel for those Gentile Christians and to give an account of the good news to an audience who were not accustomed to Jewish beliefs and practices and who lived in a society dominated by Greek culture and language. Luke’s gospel account has its own unique perspective which focuses concern for: the poor, redistribution of wealth, the outcast, and women.
- CONCERN FOR THE POOR
Only Luke and Matthew have stories about Jesus’ birth (the Christmas story) and these two differ radically. While Matthew focuses on: Joseph, connections to Jewish scripture, royalty and kings; Luke focuses on: Mary, a stable, and shepherds. In response to the angel’s news and her cousin Elizabeth’s blessing, Mary sings a song of praise to God which is known as the “Magnificat” (more Latin translation stuff v46 meaning “magnifies”). Read Luke 1:46-55, where Mary sings of lowliness, scattering the proud, mercy, and sending away the rich. These beautiful words are in many hymns and in modern musical versions – look up “Magnificat” on youtube.com (e.g. Bach & Rutter in the classical style to Agnew & Hass in contemporary style).
Then continuing further with the Christmas nativity story, read Luke 2:1-20. We read that Jesus has only an animal feeding trough (manger) as a crib, also the angel’s first announcement of the Good News (v10) is to poor shepherds living in the fields with the sheep. With Luke’s Gospel there are no learned men from the east following a star in the sky, and no king in the temple city of Jerusalem (Matthew 2:1-6), but rather an animal stable and shepherds who come to visit Jesus in the little town of Bethlehem.
- REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH
The story forward about 30 years as we read about John the Baptist in Luke 3: 1-18 who tells of Jesus, the Messiah, who is coming soon. John says, “every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (v9). The people want to bear good fruit and ask what they should do, and John tells them “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (v11) This is Luke setting up one the key themes of Jesus’ teachings – share your wealth with those in need. It is sad to think that 2000 years after John and Jesus that we still have the need for food banks and used clothing give-aways.
In his teaching, Jesus told some great stories. Read the story of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:13-21. Luke’s Jesus is speaking against greed and gives a stern warning against being too engrossed in wealth and forgetting to look after the poor.
|Tax collectors in the Bible
Tax collectors are mentioned many times in the New Testament. They were reviled by the Jews of Jesus’ day because of their greed and collaboration with the Roman occupiers. Tax collectors amassed personal wealth by demanding tax payments in excess of what Rome levied and keeping the difference.
Later in the Gospel we read in Luke 19:1-10 where Jesus hangs out with Zacchaeus, a rich tax collector. After this encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus promises to give back the excesses of what he has taken in taxes, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” (v8) Luke is showing us Jesus’ teaching about the rich needing to have concern for the poor and about making amends beyond the bare minimum.
- CARE FOR THE OUTCAST
Chapter 15 starts with these words, “Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ ” The Pharisees and the scribes are not happy that Jesus is associating with outcasts (as defined by these religious leaders). According to the Pharisees and scribes, you should not mix with dubious and spiritually unclean people. The Good Samaritan is a classic story about insiders and outsiders where a Jewish man needed help, but none of the religious leaders would stop to help. In this story it is an outsider, a Samaritan, that stops and helps the man. Jewish people and Samaritans were set against each other like enemies and as you read this story in Luke 10:25-37, think Samaritan = sinner/outsider. Jesus’ provocative story of a ‘good’ Samaritan would have been shock.
Now read the three stories in chapter 15. Each one tells of something lost; i) a sheep, ii) a coin, iii) a son. Each story tells of rejoicing when the lost is returned despite the circumstances. The lost in these stories stand for the outcast – the one who did not, or does not, belong to the group and it is God who rejoices at their return.
- THE GOSPEL OF WOMEN
Luke elevates the role of women in his gospel account and more women appear in Luke’s account compared with the other gospels. For example:
- Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, said that her son’s name was John (Luke 1:57-60) – her authority to ‘name’ John is not questioned.
- The angel tells Mary to name her baby Jesus (1:26-31) whereas in Matthew’s gospel it is Joseph who names Jesus.
- Mary sings a song of praise (the Magnificat) which makes strong theological statements.
- Mary frequently appears in Luke and keeps in touch with Jesus during his ministry (8:19-20).
- In the stories Jesus tells, women are often given as good examples: Mary listened while Martha worked (10:38-42), a woman in a parable found a lost coin (15:8-10), a poor widow gave two small coins to the temple (21:1-4).
- Several women are named as part of Jesus’ disciple group (8:1-3). Naming a character gives them more value or importance compared to being left unnamed.
- It is several named women who are the first witnesses to Jesus resurrection from the empty tomb. The other three gospels have only one or two women as the first witness, whereas Luke has at least five women at the tomb. Read 24: 1-12.
Through all of these observations, we get an insight that Luke is showing us a Jesus who was an activist with a strong social conscience. There are other unique aspects of Luke’s gospel. Next time we will continue with the Gospel of Luke and read about Jesus breaking bread, eating meals with all sorts of people, and the Last Supper.
REFERENCES & FURTHER READING
- Introduction to The Gospel of Luke: a commentary & meditation
- Jesus concern for the poor, marginalised, women and sinners in Luke’s gospel: A mirror in our context today
- Tax collectors in the Bible
- The Prominence of Women in the Gospel of Luke
Written by Pastor Steve Johnston