Luke’s Gospel – Trees or Forest?

by | Mar 11, 2022 | Formation, Reflections, Systemic change

It is true that the devil is often in the details. But it is also true that often we cannot see the forest for the details.

Most visitors to this site have been listening to selections from the gospels read each Sunday. These readings describe the words and actions of Jesus. They inspire, comfort, challenge, reassure us.

Over recent years I have become aware that I have too often gotten lost among the trees and missed wider implications of the Good News.

Not seeing the beautiful forest of Luke’s gospel

Since the beginning of Advent, most Sunday Gospels have been drawn from the Gospel of Luke. We hear of Jesus’ marvelous deeds, listen to the masterful stories of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son (actually the Forgiving Father), the Lost Sheep, and so many more. I personally have found much food for thought in each of these readings.

But in my later years, I have begun to realize why each of the Evangelists tells these stories with a twist. Each of the Evangelists functions much like any good pastor or counselor. They tell stories they think will help listeners with their current struggles.

I have begun to realize the Evangelists were speaking to different audiences. Matthew and Mark were speaking primarily to Jewish audiences. John spoke to another audience. Each chose and shaped the stories and setting of Jesus’ words in a way that helped their hearers relate the Good News to their specific situation and concerns.

Luke’s choices and arrangement of stories

Luke was a highly educated Gentile. He found himself in the midst of a major culture clash. Two very different cultures, Jewish and Gentile, were struggling to put on the mind of Christ.

Was there a Jewish way of being Christian?  Was there a Gentile or Greek way of being Christian?  

Each came from a different cultural starting point. Conflict between them had deep roots in their culturally different life experiences.

Jews could not envision life without circumcision, dietary laws and life built around the temple, and many forms of ritual and sacrifice.

The Gentiles, for their part, were bewildered by the Jewish claim that Jewish customs were part of Jesus’ message.

Luke’s message – finding common ground in Jesus admidst polarization

As a highly educated Gentile, Luke stresses the universal scope of Jesus’ ministry as Savior of all humankind, not just the Jews; he frequently points out the differing ethnic and national backgrounds of persons.

First, although many Jews of Jesus’ day assumed that God was concerned only with their people and race, frequently only pious Jews. Jesus demonstrated salvation is universal. He associated with the common people, with publicans, prostitutes, and sinners (5:30-32 ; 7:34 ; 15:1 ).

The second feature of Jesus’ message is that salvation is not limited to a particular culture and is not to be earned by observing ethno-cultural religious rites and laws, even Jewish ones.

The third factor of the universality of salvation is the responsibility to make it known throughout the world.  This is the basic storyline of the sequel to his Gospel – the Acts of the Apostles.

In this light, think of Luke’s concern for the underprivileged: the poor, the downcast, women, children, publicans, the sick, the Gentiles, the Samaritans.

Similarly, he stresses the return of Christ and concepts such as praise, forgiveness, glory, joy, weeping, peace, love. All things that both cultures could agree on.

As you listen to Luke ask …

  • How stories like the Good Samaritan speak to the issues of cultural polarization?
  • What you can do about polarization today/?

Originally posted on Vincentian Mindwalk


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