Today is also the feast day of St Luke, Evangelist. He wrote one of the major portions of the New Testament, a two volume work comprising the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. He is the only gentile Christian among the Gospel writers. As a Greek, he takes care to explain to Gentile readers Jewish customs and the meaning of Hebrew words. Tradition holds him to be a native of Antioch, and Paul calls him “our beloved physician” (Col. 4, 14). His Gospel was probably written between 70 and 85 A.D. and shows evidence of Paul’s thinking within it.
He appears in Acts during Paul’s second journey, remains at Philippi for several years until Paul returns from his third journey, accompanies Paul to Jerusalem and remains near him when he is imprisoned in Caesarea. During these two years, Luke had time to seek information and interview persons who had known Jesus, perhaps even Our Lady. He accompanied Paul on the dangerous journey to Rome where he is a faithful companion. “Only Luke is with me,” Paul writes (2 Tim. 4,11).
COMMENT: Luke wrote as a gentile for gentile Christians. He attempted to render Jesus comprehensible to Greek Christians. The Gospel reveals Luke’s expertise in classic Greek style as well as his knowledge of Jewish sources.
The character of Luke may best be seen by the emphases of his Gospel, which has been given a number of subtitles:
1) The Gospel of Mercy. Luke emphasizes Jesus’ compassion and patience with the sinners and the suffering. He has a broadminded openness to all, showing concern for Samaritans, lepers, publicans, soldiers, public sinners, unlettered shepherds, the poor. He alone records the parable of the sinful woman, the lost sheep and coin, the prodigal son, the good thief on Good Friday.
2) The Gospel of Universal Redemption. Jesus died for all men, not just the Jews. He is the son of Adam, not just of David, and the gentiles are his friends too.
3) The Gospel. of the Poor. “Little people” are prominent: Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, shepherds, Simeon, and the elderly widow, Anna. He is also concerned with what we now call “evangelical poverty”, possessing what we need rather than what we want.
4) The Gospel of Absolute Renunciation. He stresses the need of total dedication to Christ. ‘Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?’ (Lk 9:23-25).
5) The Gospel of Prayer and the Holy Spirit. He shows Jesus at prayer before every important step of his ministry, like the selection of the Twelve Apostles Lk 6:12-13). The Spirit is bringing the Church to its final perfection.
6) The Gospel of Joy. Luke succeeds in portraying the joy of salvation that permeated the primitive Church. This is very probably close to the heart of Pope Francis.