Gospel: Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21
What is "Gospel?
What news has excited you recently? How has that news changed your daily life? How has it given you hope?
"City Under Siege!" screamed the headlines.
Much of what the media presents as news turns out to be nothing more than tidbits meant to shock. This shock gives us two insights. We are glad we are not the people with problems. Yet we watch and listen to the shock because we get caught up in the story. We are only affected by the shock with feelings of relief and, maybe, with the pangs of hidden guilt.
Once in while, we hear something that can change our lives for the better. Something that will affect us dramatically, nonetheless. This is "Good News."
Luke wrote a life of Jesus for someone new to the faith as "Good News." And Jesus proclaimed the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy as "Good News." Both give us insight into the reason for and the content of "Gospel."
1 Many Christians have tried to put together the story of Jesus. They want to explain everything that has happened to us now. And they want to explain why we are convinced we should believe in him. 2 The story of Jesus has been handed over to us by people who saw first hand what Jesus did, and by people who preach God's word.
3 I, too, have looked up all the facts about Jesus from the very beginning. Therefore, it seemed good for me to write you, my important friend, 4 so you would really know and trust in everything you have been taught.
Jesus was baptized by John and was tempted in the desert.
14 Afterwards, Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of God's Spirit. People everywhere talked about him. 15 He taught in the synagogues of Galilee. And, everyone who heard Jesus praised him.
16 Jesus went to Nazareth where he grew up. Just like he did every Sabbath, he entered the synagogue in Nazareth and stood up to read the Scripture. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. 18 Jesus unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 The Spirit of the Lord in on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach God's Good News to everyone in need.
The Lord sent me to proclaim freedom to the captive
and returning sight to the blind,
to free the oppressed
19 and proclaim a year when the Lord will bless his people.
20 After he read from the scroll, Jesus rolled up it and gave it back to the synagogue helper. Then Jesus sat down to teach. Everyone fixed their eyes on him. 21 Finally, he said, "Today, this Scripture reading came true as you heard it!"
Today's split reading emphasized the notion of Gospel. The first set of verses stressed how the Good News came to be written and an insight why it was written. The second set stressed the core of the Good News, a thumbnail of what the Good News was all about.
1 Since many (Christians) attempted to put together a narrative about the things having happened among us (and having fully convinced us), 2 just as (the things) handed over to us by the eye witnesses from the beginning and those having become ministers of the word, 3 it seemed good for me, having investigated all things accurately from (their beginning), to write in an orderly (manner) for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 in order that you might know exactly about the reliability of the things which you have been taught.
1:1-4 As the formal translation indicates above, v. 1-4 constitute one long sentence. The main clause can be found in 1:3. 1:1 introduced the reason for the Gospel (while 1:2 explained 1:1). 1:4 was the desired result of 1:3 (writing to inform the potential or new believer).
1:1 "a narrative about the things having happened among us and having fully convinced (us)" This is a vague phrase. The word for "things" is "pragma" (from which we get the word "pragmatic"). It can refer to events or items. The two verbs "having happened" and "having fully convinced" are actual one Greek verb that can have two meanings. Hence, the phrase can be translated "a narrative about the events that has happened." Or, it can be translated "a narrative about the things having fully convinced us." The first possibility referred to a historical perspective, the second referred to a faith perspective. As a unique genre in literature, Gospel provides both perspectives.
1:2 "just as (the things) handed over to us" The things referred to the "pragmata" (events and faith items in 1:1. But, when the noun is added to the verb "handed over," the understood subject takes on the sense of tradition or the entire group of events and faith items. So, Luke was trying to present the tradition he received from the apostolic generation ("the eye witnesses" and "the ministers of the word") to the next generation of believers.
1:3 "it seemed to me, having investigated all things accurately from (their) beginning, to write in an orderly (manner) for you" Because of the shades of meaning in the verb "having investigated" (literally, "having followed"), the adverb "accurately" could shift to the infinitive "to write." And, it could shift the meaning of "from before"; it would no longer indicate a point in time ("from their beginning" as used in the translation above) to a period of time ("for a long time") The translation could then be: "it seemed to me, having followed all things for a long time, to write in an orderly and accurate way for you." To translate the phrase in this way, however, would indicate that Luke was also some sort of witness, which he was not. He was not a bystander to the events as they unfolded, but a writer who compiled reports of the events and presented them. His perspective, then, was one of investigator who looked backward through the past.
1:3-4 "most excellent Theophilus, in order that you might know exactly about the reliability of the things which you have been taught." "most excellent Theophilus" can also be translated "your excellence, Theophilus." Was "most excellent" a title or a compliment? Indeed, was the name Theophilus (meaning "lover of God) a formal name or a nickname? The lack of supporting evidence will always leave this person shrouded in mystery. Combined with 1:4, we do know the person (or persons) was attracted to Christianity or was a neophyte.
While the verb "to teach" ("catecheo") indicated an introduction to or deepening of the faith, the word does not support the view this was an instruction in the formal process of joining the Church. There was no evidence that a class of catechumens existed in the time of Luke. However, the intent of the Gospel was catechetical. See the commentary for more thoughts.
This long sentence explained the reason for the Gospel. Why did it exist? Luke wrote his Gospel as a means to pass on the faith, especially to a new believer. Luke's Gospel was meant to be a catechetical tool. He wrote to solidify what a new believer had already learned.
Did Luke write a biography of Jesus? Not in the modern sense of unbiased facts in a chronological order. Luke was interested in the facts, of course. But he was more interested in using those facts to explain why the Church community existed and why that community believed. The life of Jesus answered those questions. But Luke had to use the facts of Jesus's life in an order that explained and promoted faith. He set out to write a Gospel, not a mere biography.
Luke thoroughly investigated the tradition he received from the contemporaries of Jesus and "ministers of the word." In other words, he came from the post-apostolic generation. He wanted to preserve the stories and teachings of Jesus that floated around the community for his generation. But, just as important, he wanted to frame those stories to promote faith among his contemporaries. He would take the stories and teachings that had already lost the context of Jesus' culture. And he would place them in the context of his culture. Luke wrote his gospel as an expression of his faith and the faith of his peers.
Before Luke, some had tried to gather the stories and teachings together. Indeed, modern scholars think Luke used Mark and the so-called "Q" source for his gospel.
("Q" is shorthand for "quelle," the German word for "source." More than 600 verses have been identified that Luke and Matthew have in common, but are not found in Mark or John. Taken by themselves, these verses seem to form a document like Proverbs, a list of wise sayings and short vignettes that could be used as a teaching tool for memorization. Studies have been done over the past two decades on the "Q," but we must remember this "document" is purely theoretical at this point in time. No document or partial document has ever been found to positively prove its existence.)
Luke's comments seem to indicate the process of gathering and collating material about Jesus was an active pursuit in the Christian community. After all, some fifty years had passed from the death of Jesus to the writing of Luke's gospel. The Church was growing rapidly and so was the hunger of new Christians to learn about the life of their Lord. The generation of eye witnesses was also dying out. A written Gospel would help bridge the gap of time and feed the needs Christian communities removed from the Christ event by two or three generations.
14 JESUS returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee. A report went out throughout the entire countryside about HIM. 15 HE was teaching in their synagogues, being praised by all.
16 HE went to Nazareth where he had been raised. HE entered, according to his custom on the day of the Sabbath, the synagogue, and HE stood up to read (out loud). 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to HIM. Having unrolled the scroll, HE found the place where it was written:
18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he anointed me
to preach the Good News to the poor.
He sent me to proclaim to the captives, freedom,
and to the blind, sight anew,
to let the oppressed go in freedom,
19 and to proclaim a year of the Lord's favor.
20 Having rolled up the scroll, having handed (it) back to the (synagogue) attendant, HE sat (down). All the eyes in the synagogue were fixed on HIM. 21 HE began to speak to them, "Today, this scripture has been fulfilled while you heard it."
4:18-19 These verses can be found in Isaiah 61:1-2. The purpose of the Spirit anointing was the preaching of the Good News to the poor. In this case, the poor are not necessarily the economically needy. The poor are those who depend solely upon God, not upon their own abilities or the people/circumstances around them.
The three activities after 4:18a explained what Isaiah meant by preaching Good News. First, the preacher would proclaim freedom to prisoners and sight to blind. Next, he would lift oppression from backs of the ordinary people. Finally, he would proclaim a Jubilee year, a year that would forgive debts both socially and economically. Hence, the Good News was meant for outsider: the prisoner, the blind, the oppressed, and those heavily in debt. Of course, the message was more than literal. Those spiritually in prison, blinded, oppressed, and indebted were to hear the message.
4:20 "Having rolled up the scroll, having handed (it) back to the (synagogue) attendant, HE sat (down)." After the proclamation of the prophet, Jesus assumed the teacher's position.
4:21 "while you heard it" is literally "in your ears." An alternate translation of the sentence could be "Today, the scripture that you heard has been fulfilled." The translation above stressed the act of listening as the means of fulfillment. The translation in this footnote stressed the fact of fulfillment.
Now we know why Luke wrote his gospel. But, what was the Good News? In the synagogue of his own hometown, Jesus read a prophecy from Isaiah and proclaimed its fulfillment. Why this prophecy? Why was it fulfilled? Both questions could be answered in one word: the Spirit.
The driving force in the Gospel of Luke was God's Spirit. The Spirit descended upon Jesus at his Baptism. The Spirit drove Jesus into the desert to be tested by Satan. And, now, the Spirit directed Jesus upon his mission. A mobile ministry of teaching and healing, of proclaiming the Good News.
With the verse from Isaiah, Jesus defined his ministry in Luke. With the Spirit poured upon him, Jesus would proclaim freedom for the trapped (captives), the diminished (blind), and those in need (oppressed). And he would proclaim a time of God's favor, a year of the Spirit. In other words, Jesus traveled to proclaim the freedom found in the Spirit and a future time full of the Spirit.
When Jesus proclaimed the Good News, he proclaimed the Spirit. Since Spirit meant breath, Jesus breathed God's word in his teaching and his healing. The power of his proclamation changed people, situations, and environments because he breathed out the power of God. When Jesus spoke, hearts turned to God and health was restored.
Not only did the proclamation of Jesus affect the present, it revealed the future. The year of God's favor was a Spirit-driven time, the end-times. No doubt, Jesus used 4:19a to justify his eschatological vision. The Kingdom and the Spirit could not be separated. As the Spirit blew in the present, so it would blow in the Kingdom.
Catechism Theme: The Proclamation of the Kingdom
When Jesus proclaimed Isaiah's prophecy fulfilled, he proclaimed the presence of the Kingdom. With his proclamation, Jesus invited everyone to enter, Jew and Gentile alike. To enter the Kingdom, however, we must accept his word. In doing so, we become dependent upon him to lead us to the Father. "The kingdom belongs to 'the poor and lowly,' which means those who have accepted it with humble hearts." (CCC 544) With the proclamation of the Kingdom comes an invitation to receive the Spirit, its guidance and its consolation.
How have you experienced the Good News? How have you seen the power of the Spirit in this experience?
In this short reflection, we've looked at the content and the reason for the Good News. The Good News is a revelation of God's presence among us. In Luke, the activity of the Spirit represents that presence. Jesus proclaimed that presence now and at the end of time.
Luke wrote his gospel to distill the oral faith tradition that immersed him. And he wrote it to promote that faith tradition to his contemporaries. Our reflections on Luke's gospel fulfill his purpose for writing it.
The Spirit compelled Jesus to proclaim the Kingdom. But, when the Spirit began to blow, it did not cease. It breathed through the community, right onto the pages of Luke. And it continues to breathe among us, in our worship, in our studies, in our faith sharing, and in our service to the poor, the blind, and the oppressed. It compels us to proclaim, as Jesus did, a year of the Lord's favor.
As you reflect on Luke's message, look at this coming week and ask yourself one question. Where does the Spirit blow in your life?