Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Word Becoming Flesh - Meditations on the Incarnation of the Son of God from the Unique Perspectives of the Four Evangelists

Advent Evening Prayer (Week of Advent 3)

St. Luke


Luke 1:26-38; Hebrews 2:5-18; Isaiah 53:1-5

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel according to St. Luke is the last of the synoptics in the New Testament. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called synoptic Gospels because they share, as the word synoptic means, the “same eye” on the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ. The synoptic Gospels share many of the same stories, teachings, events, and miracles in the life of Jesus while the Gospel according to St. John, which we will discuss next week, both adds and omits significant material.

St. Luke, the “good physician” and companion of St. Paul, is with little doubt the author of the Gospel that bears his name as well as its second volume known as The Acts of the Apostles. Luke’s Gospel was likely composed in the middle of the first century prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Luke, alone of the four evangelists, names the audience of his Gospel, “most excellent Theophilus”, a man of distinction in the society who most likely was the benefactor of Luke’s writing. Writing in high literary Greek, Luke establishes the purpose of his Gospel, stating, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” Thus, Luke’s Gospel is primarily a catechetical, or, a teaching Gospel intended to fill in the details for Gentile Christian catechumens who are already somewhat familiar with the narrative and are already believers.

Luke was undoubtedly writing to a Greek speaking audience and his style of writing is comparable with high Greek literature and philosophy of the time. Luke is also the longest book of the New Testament, containing longer and more detailed accounts of synoptic narratives with the unique addition of extensive birth narratives for both John the Baptist and Jesus. In addition, Luke continued well beyond the work of the other evangelists by writing a second volume, The Acts of the Apostles, which gives the account of the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ, the Church – a work that continues amongst us today.

Luke’s Gospel emphasizes the absoluteness and the fullness of the forgiving grace which came into the world in the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Luke portrays Jesus as the compassionate Servant of the Lord who brings good news to the poor, sight to the blind, liberty to the oppressed, and who brings the Jubilee Year of the Lord, the divinely appointed amnesty for all mankind. Jesus is the Son of Man who came to seek and to save the lost. In His ministry He reaches out to the outcasts of society, sinners, and the unclean. He is the Seeker of the lost and the Savior of the lowly. His birth is announced to lowly shepherds. He is branded in Israel as one who “receives sinners and eats with them.” He pays special attention to women, not highly regarded in Judaism or in the ancient world generally. The infancy story is Mary’s story, not Joseph’s story as in Matthew’s Gospel. Mary and Martha figure prominently in Luke’s Gospel along with other women: The widow at Nain; the sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet; the women on the via dolorosa; and the woman in the Parable of the Lost Coin.

Like the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Luke includes Jesus’ genealogy in his Gospel. However, where Matthew places the genealogy at the beginning of his Gospel, Luke places it in chapter three at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, thirty years after the birth narrative and at a time when John the Baptist’s ministry was in full swing. Further, rather than stopping with Abraham, the Father of the Jews, Luke continues Jesus’ genealogy all the way back to Adam, the Father of all Mankind, and ends with God the Father. The result is, still, as with Matthew’s genealogy, Jesus is the promised Messiah and the Savior of all humanity.

Luke takes great pains to set Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection in a verifiable historical context. Luke frequently mentions time, place, and persons of historical import. The names of Augustus and Tiberius appear only in Luke’s Gospel.

Luke also emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministries of John the Baptist and of Jesus. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit as she hails the mother of the Lord. Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied over the child of his old age. The Holy Spirit was upon Simeon and, inspired by the Spirit, he hailed the Child in his arms as God’s salvation in person. The Messiah’s gift will be the baptism with the Spirit; His disciples have the promise of the Spirit for their witness to the world. The Holy Spirit is the heavenly Father’s best gift to His own. Luke continued to write of the work of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension in The Acts of the Apostles, also sometimes referred to as The Gospel of the Holy Spirit.

If Matthew’s Gospel is at once the most austere and the most compelling of the Gospels, if Mark’s is the most vivid and dramatic recital of the deeds of the Christ, Luke’s is the warmest and most winning story of them all. It is Luke who has filled the church with the moving music of the New Testament canticles (The Benedictus, The Magnificat, The Gloria in Excelsis, and The Nunc Dimittis); it is Luke’s Nativity story that has most decisively shaped the church’s Christmas celebration. And the church’s teaching has been immeasurably enriched by the warmth and pathos of such Lucan narratives as those of the widow of Nain, Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, the look of Jesus that called Peter to repentance, Jesus’ words to the weeping daughters of Jerusalem, and the story of the walk to Emmaus.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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