Before we examine the middle part of Luke’s Gospel that is often called the “Journey Narrative” it might be helpful to point out a few principals about the Gospel texts.
The collection of literature or writing that make up both the Old and New Testament is called the “Canon.” The word comes from a Greek word meaning “Rule” or “Measuring Stick.” By about 115, Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch, writes about the “Gospel” as he knew it in four parts or versions. By 180, the Bishop of Lyon, Irenaeus writes about the “Gospel” as a fourfold text. By this time, Luke’s work has been split into two, and the portion that continues after the Resurrection is separated from the Gospel. What I want you to understand is that the development of the New Testament as we have it today, was a very slow process that did not really come together until the work of Saint Jerome in the fourth century as he worked to translate them all from what original texts could be gathered together.
For all of the Gospel there are two major sources:
1) Oral Tradition, which is the stories passed on by memory from one place to the next and from one generation to the next. This tradition came first.
2) A collection of the Miracle Stories seems to have been passed around from one community to the next.
From these two sources, Mark assembles a Gospel which may have depended upon Peter as one of his sources. It would have been oral. The writers of both Matthew and Luke both seem to have had all three of these sources at their disposal, and blended them together depending upon their focus, the audience, and the circumstances for which they presented the Gospel.
As I said in the first of this series, this third gospel is anonymous, as are the other three canonical gospels. This makes it quite different from the writings of Paul whose name appears through his writing. We can tell from the Gospel that the writer was not an eyewitness. He depends on the testimony of others. He is a second or third generation Christian, and he is scarcely a native Palestinian. His knowledge of the geography and customs seems inadequate suggesting he did not live there. This Gospel avoids the use of Semitic words, and it omits gospel traditions about Jesus’ controversies with the Pharisaic understanding of the Low and about what is clean and unclean. He is obviously a rather well-education person, a good writer acquainted with both OT literary traditions and those of the Greeks. The Luke of this Gospel is probably not an apostle. He is an apostolic evangelist.
By the latter half of the 2nd century this book we all know as the Gospel of Luke was
being attributed to a Luke who was a companion of Paul. Three references speak of him as a fellow worker and beloved physician who was faithful to Paul in a final imprisonment. Many scholars believe that when Paul speaks of “we” implying that he was not travelling alone, it was Luke who was to be included in that “we.” At the same time, there are things in Luke’s Gospel that do not match with things in Paul’s writings which would suggest that Luke and Paul were not exactly together all the time. In the fourth chapter of Colossians, Paul mentions Luke in a list of those who are with him, and Paul divides the group into those “who have come over from the Circumcision” from others implying that Luke is not a Jew. We know this much: he was a physician, or least more than the other gospel writers Luke pays more attention to the medical matters that occur in the Gospel, for instance, the description in the Good Samaritan story or the comment about many physicians unable to cure. A sometime companion or collaborator of Paul, a disciple who had not witnessed the ministry of Jesus, he wrote his Gospel for Gentile converts after the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, and began his work with Chapter Tree and probably later added the Infancy Narrative as I said in the last talk.
We do not know where he was from, but his language (Greek) and some other clues suggest he was a native of Antioch in Syria. That does not mean the Gospel was assembled there. Scholars agree that it was not written in Palestine. Those same scholars believe it was written after the year 70. His constant pessimism in Luke about the fate of Jewish leaders and Jerusalem makes it likely that Jerusalem has already been destroyed. At the same time, it was before the year 100 because he writes in the second part (Acts of the Apostles) about the Church in Ephesus because he only seems to know about the church structure of presbyters. There is no sign of the developed pattern of having one bishop in each church, which is clearly noted by Ignatius in the decade before 110.
It is commonly believed that he was writing for Gentile Christians in a Gentile setting. There are all sorts of indications that support this. He eliminates materials that are predominantly Jewish preoccupations from what may be his source. Mark. He substitutes Greek names for Aramaic names. He traces the genealogy back to Adam and God not just to David or Abraham as in Matthew. When he quotes the Old Testament, he uses the Greek version.
With Chapter Three we read what scholars believe to be the original beginning of Luke’s Gospel. Read aloud, the first six verses have the character of an Imperial Edict. The chapter establishes the identity of Jesus with his unique emphasis on the Holy Spirit. Of all the Gospels, this is the one that brings the Holy Spirit into the tradition and faith of the Christian Community. The Spirit is there at the moment of Baptism when the voice says: “This is My Beloved Son.” Then right after his revelation of divinity of Jesus as
God’s Son, Luke inserts that genealogy and lists the ancestors of Jesus to affirm his humanity. There is no going forward without this distinct affirmation of the Incarnation. And the divine/human nature of Jesus. Then, as the fourth chapter opens, Luke tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit to the wilderness where he is tempted by the devil. The temptations themselves are each worth a lot of prayerful reflection, but that’s not for tonight. Luke moves on as Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee. He goes home. Now remember what Luke said at the very beginning: this is an orderly account of events. That does not mean it is historical. This is theological, and so the “order” has to do with theological order or perhaps theological priorities. THIS IS NOT HISTORY!
Jesus would not remain alone in the Gospel Mission, and it would not cease with his death and resurrection. Having presented the identity of Jesus, the message, and the mission of Jesus, Luke focuses on the disciples and shows how their own life, work, and mission is rooted in a special call. This part opens (again Luke’s dramatic style) by the lake of Gennesaret where Jesus calls Simon Peter and his companions to missionary discipleship. Then, the scene shifts from the lake to a city where Jesus demonstrates his healing power, a power exercised with due respect for the law and religious legal authority (5:15 “Go show yourself to the priests). This event reveals the basis for the developing conflict between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees. There is a triple challenge concerning their integrity and relationship to the Law.
1) In a home: the healing of a paralytic reveals his power to forgive sins. (Open the roof)
2) At a banquet hosted by Levi forgiveness is related to the call of disciples and a new way of life
3) Two sabbath day incidents:
a. In grain fields and
b. In a synagogue present how this new way of life with values transcend the Pharisees’ interpretation of Sabbath observance.
Through this whole section, the focus is on the identity of Jesus (Who is this?). Yet this provides the bases for the identity of disciples. Once you know who Jesus is, you know who you are. Once you know what Jesus does, you know what you must do. The work of reconciliation is our work. It is the work of the Church. As the identity is focused, the whole issue of a new way of life begins to surface. Conflict develops in that home cure, in the meal, and finally over the sabbath observance. Then, in the 11th verse of Chapter 6, Luke says: “They were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.” Now, for the first time in just six chapters, Luke uses one of his dramatic techniques to change the scene. He has Jesus withdraw “to the mountain to pray.”
Peter has already been on the scene, but now it’s time for the others. It is Luke’s way of emphasizing the primacy of place held by Peter. From the very beginning the status of Peter is affirmed. So, by way of summary, from Chapter 3 till Chapter 6, incident by incident, Luke develops the hostility of the scribes and Pharisees. They are watching, and gradually, they begin to pick up a pattern they don’t like. Fasting is called into question. The Sabbath is not observed the way they like. Meals are shared with tax Collectors, and Jesus is in the company of sinful women and even a Roman Centurion The last straw comes for them when he begins to speak of and proclaim the forgiveness of sins. Furious at being completely undone and unwilling to change, the scribes and the Pharisees have no alternative. They must find a way to rid themselves of Jesus.
Now, Jesus begins to establish the new Israel whose leaders would later be formed and actually sent on the mission. This new Israel will have twelve tribes just like the old Israel. Instead of tribes there will be Apostles, and he calls them from among the disciples. Then comes a description of life in the New Israel. The Lukan Beatitudes, an instruction on love, a warning against judging others, the need to bear good fruit, and the importance of a solid foundation. Then Jesus responds to the plea of a Roman Centurion and raises the son of a woman form Nain, making it clear that the new Israel will be very inclusive. A resolution of the relationship with John the Baptist ends this section with more examples of this inclusiveness as several incident with women are included.
With all that by way of introduction, Jesus calls the twelve together (Chapter 9) gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. When they return with the glowing report, Luke, almost as an aside or maybe a warning, inserts the news that Herod was perplexed and asks the question; “Who is this?” Meanwhile, Jesus has taken the apostles aside for some talk, and a huge crowd found them. At the end of the day, the crowd is hungry. The disciples recognize this, and Jesus tells them to feed the crowd. When the don’t know what to do, Luke resolves the matter with what can only be described as a preview of the Last Supper and the Holy Eucharist quoting Jesus, he took, blessed, broke, and gave. Then, the scene closes as Jesus goes off to pray alone. This time the disciples are near. Jesus asks about his identity. If Luke were writing stage directions as well as a dialogue, there would be a drum roll as Peter proclaims Jesus to be the Messiah of God! Trumpets would sound, lights would flash. Then, Jesus tells them what lies ahead: suffering and death. Lest they be discouraged, he takes them up a high mountain and the Transfiguration occurs. Again, a voice from heaven speaks to the witnesses: “This is my Son, my chosen one; listen to him.” They come down and again he warns of his betrayal. With verse 51 now in Chapter 9, it says: “He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” With that the Journey narrative takes off.
It begins in Galilee and it moves toward Jerusalem. That movement is constant in Luke’s Gospel, and it is easy to call the middle of Luke’s Gospel between the Infancy Narrative and the Passion, “The Journey Narrative.” Jesus is now on the move, and as he begins, he picks up those we call, “Apostles.” Everywhere he goes, he stops at the Synagogue. Luke is always anxious to give us a Jesus who is faithful in prayer and observant of his traditions. Think how many incidents occur in that context from the Presentation of the infant in the temple by Mary and Joseph to the final observance of the Passover. Jesus prays there, and a lot of things happen there. It is clear early in the journey that he is gaining favor and a reputation that brings great crowds not only following him, but looking for him. One by one, the miracles or cures that he works get listed: and unclean spirit is cast out, and in the episode, even the unclean spirit proclaims who Jesus is, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God” says the demon. While the unclean spirits seem to know, the people just wonder. At Simon’s house, the sick are brought to him and they are cured. In another town a leper is cleansed. Then a paralytic. As Luke presents each of these individual cures, the signs that prophets said would point to the Messiah are checked off While we know what’s happening and who Jesus is, the people in the Gospel drama still are wondering.
Through this first section with the focus on the crowd, three major groups of people seem to emerge: the crowd, the disciples, and the apostles. What now becomes clear is that Luke is sensitive to the distinct historical phases of the life of the Church. There is the crowd of the curious and the needy, there is the Church (Disciples) and among them are apostles. Luke is already, even before Pentecost and Acts of the Apostles shaping the Church.
By the sixth chapter the disciples are all accounted for, and the mission begins. Luke affirms again and again that the Gospel is for everyone. So, once the Twelve have been sent out on a successful mission, and once the identity of Jesus is confirmed by Peter, the example of the twelve motivates the sending of the Seventy lest the “Disciples” think that evangelization or the work of Jesus is only the work of the twelve. So, what’s up with the number? Two pieces of history probably shaped this detail. Moses chose seventy elders to be his helpers (Numbers 11: 16-15). Scholars suggest that more likely a stronger influence is the report of seventy nations in Genesis 10. With this Luke anticipates the mission of the nations began at Pentecost. Luke is anxious for us to see how the Church originated in the life and work of Jesus.
Now comes the great journey to Jerusalem, a journey that would lead Jesus out of history in the heavens. This is also the journey of the church which accompanies Jesus on his way to God. The idea, the whole concept of Journey recalls the Exodus during which time the disorganized, tribal people led by Moses gradually by trial and error finally become God’s people and reach the promise. This kind of journey story is nothing new. It is a theme used in ancient myths, and finally it is one made holy by the Word of God. The Journey has four stages:
- Villages of Galilee from which the group of apostles is drawn and expanded.
- From Galilee the setting shifts to Jerusalem
- In the Temple of Jerusalem where Jesus teaches various groups that either rejected or struggle with his challenge
- From Jerusalem to the Father – the Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
Tonight, it is that first and second stage that we are focused on.
Again, this is not history. You cannot trace the journey on a map. There is no sense of organization for the route because it is not geographical. The destination is the Ascension, not really the city of Jerusalem. In fact, as you may notice, the narrative never says that Jesus got to Jerusalem. It simply says he entered the Temple. It never says anything about Jerusalem. The point is the Ascension is not some place.
In the summer of 2001 I was at the Cathedral of Our Lady in Oklahoma City. I had been through the Gospel of Luke five times during that assignment of fifteen years. I was not looking forward to the summer preaching once again for the sixth time with the Gospel of Luke. One of the great benefits of staying in one parish for a while and of being the only priest there is the opportunity to really teach consistently and progressively with the Word of God. I miss that in retirement, and sometimes I am frustrated that I never get to be in the same place and the same time with the same people two Sundays in a row. It is my opinion that for the congregation, that’s a loss because there is no way to develop and really explore consistently the Word of God. In other words, none of us here can every say: “As I said last week…” Or “As we heard in the Gospel last week…” At any rate it was 2001 and I was dreading the summer months simply because I had been through those summertime gospels five times and was feeling out of ideas. One evening, I speaking with Father Stephen Happel, a life-long friend and priest companion. We were comparing notes about the summer preaching when he called my attention to the obvious fact that these chapters from nine to nineteen of Luke’s Gospel are actually a unit that ought to be treated as a whole. With that, the Holy Spirit which is so prominent in Luke’s Gospel turned on the lights. Some might think of tongues of fire, but fire always brings some light.
Beginning with verse 51 in the 9th Chapter, it begins. What we have here is a course in discipleship. What the Lukan Jesus is doing as he wanders around taking a long time to get where he is going is teaching and proposing a set of virtues that are essential for discipleship and must be at the heart of the Church Luke is forming.
The first is Poverty. Those who would follow Jesus and the Church (people) that continue his mission must be poor. The poverty Jesus commends to his followers is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved. It is not some ill to be solved, cured, and wiped out by an economic system. That kind of poverty is an issue of justice. One kind of poverty come from injustice. This virtue of poverty comes from a life style with a new way of relating to things. It has to do with what can be shared. If anything you have cannot be shared, you are in Gospel trouble. If your computer is too delicate or your car too expensive, you are not poor. God is poor. God share the sun and the rain on the good and the bad. God even shares God’s only Son.
Then moving into Chapter 10, Jesus teaches his disciples about joy. We shall have joy as disciples because we are free of anxious concerns and worries that have nothing to do with us. In the Gospel, Jesus sent out the disciples instructing them to take nothing – to be poor. Then with nothing to worry about, nothing to lose, nothing to pack, carry, or slow them down, they are free. That quality of freedom from worry and possessive concerns that seems to weigh down the rich whose stuff is too good to loan or share is called Joy. Next, in the same chapter Jesus reveals that Mercy is a virtue of discipleship with the story of the Good Samaritan. This is a quality of generosity and compassion not just at exceptional moments or a response to disasters, but a quality that is consistent and present all the time.
As the chapter continues, so does the formation, and hospitality becomes the next virtue. The story of Martha and Mary develops this virtue, and there is a way of looking at those two as really one person, the disciple whose life is in balance between being and doing. It is a call to keeping work and prayer in balance, and being hospitable is characteristic of God reminding us to be good guests and gracious hosts in the spirit of Abraham and Jesus.
Chapter 11 begins in a different place where Jesus teaches disciples about Perseverance which is the real secret to effective prayer because it preserves the relationship no matter how things are going. After teaching them about prayer, Jesus teaches disciples about worthy priorities as a challenge to greed. It is way of relating to things that is independent and free. This makes disciples rich in wisdom, purpose, and usefulness.
In the 12th chapter, there is a lesson of ear, with the assurance that we are never alone. The fear of abandonment is probably the greatest of all fears; and with it, the fear that there is not going to be enough of everything leads to thinking that we had better take care of ourselves because no one else will. Having the gift of freedom also means being free from fear which allows the disciple to look ahead not for something bad to happen, but for the master’s return and treat us like friends not as servants. Later in that same chapter, zeal is proposed by Jesus as a quality of discipleship. Those who have zeal in their lives are people who have a clear purpose, who know who they are, where they are going, and what they have to work with. This gives them a vibrant quality that is eager, and expectant, vigilant and ready for the Lord’s coming.
Chapter 13 raises a question to which Jesus does not respond. He never answers the question about how many or who will be saved. He simply launches into that talk about entering through the narrow door which we immediately decide means admission to heaven. The whole question comes from a world which saw reality as limited. For most people of the first century there was only so much to go around including salvation. Competition was endemic to the religious as well as the economic sphere. In the end, Jesus instructs that disciples are saved, and saved disciples live at home in the present because they have been given bread. They know the comfort of forgiveness because they have forgiven each other.
In the 14th chapter, the protocol for the Banquet of Heaven is being set, and the way Jesus sees it, there is to be a radical departure form the system used in the ancient world an not entirely out of use in our own. It’s about Humility, a virtue rooted in truth. This virtue does not mean being a doormat. It means know one’s rightful place in the reign of God, and it means knowing that it is a gift. The humble find their sense of self and their identity in God, not in comparison with others. As the chapter moves on, the Lukan Jesus speaks of prudence for disciples. This a quality of life rather than behavior. Remember, first discipleship is about being something, then, from that come the doing of something. The disciple always asks what kind of person shall I be, not what shall I do. Some think that Prudence means being cautious, timid, frightened or mediocre. These are not the qualities of Prudence. In fact, they are just the opposite. Prudence seeks the best way to do the right thing. The point is the Doing. It is a virtue of action not of passive caution.
The journey and the lessons continue on with Chapter 15 when Jesus insists that a disciple is watchful. It’s those three stories about a woman sweeping the house looking for something, about a shepherd leaving 99 behind to look for just one sheep, and ridiculous father who does not go back to “business as usual” when his son takes off, never giving up hope, never living with that final and self-justifying attitude about a another that says: “They’ll just always be that way.”
The next chapter finds Jesus insisting that his disciples will be wise, that they will have a quality of Wisdom seen in faithful attention to frequent and familiar tasks of each day not matter how small and insignificant they may seem. What Luke suggests is that life consists of a series of what seem to be small opportunities like a cup of water. “Whoever is faithful in little things is faithful in bigger ones” is the way he puts it. Wise disciples will know what is of lasting value and what is fleeting. They will also know that they can only serve one master. Further into the chapter there is a story we could all tell without the book. It is the story of the rich man and the poor man who has a name, Lazarus. What Jesus reveals is that awareness must be a quality of his disciples. It is about an awareness of others. Never listening to the prophets, that rich man found himself in unending misery. Never listening to Jesus, we can run the same risk. Disciples of Jesus hear the master’s words. Aware of His presence and his Gospel, they become aware of injustice.
Chapter 17 an interesting parable raises another virtue, Duty, and the parable tells the story of someone giving what is due, which is the meaning of the word, “duty.” The parable is a somewhat “back-door” way to remind disciples that they are servants. Fidelity to the duries of discipleship provides no grounds for feeling superior, and it should not bring ideas of honor or appreciation. In discipleship there is no “look what I have don” attitude. In fact, there is no time for that because there is always more to do. When the apostles cry: “Increase our faith” which begins this section, they are aware of the great task that lies ahead and what Jesus asks of them. What we learn in this section is that it is not the quantity or extent of a person’s faith that is at issue. It is not a matter of ore faith, but a life consistent with the faith we already have.
As an example of how Luke’s work is not factual history, in this chapter, he has Jesus headed to Jerusalem through the region between Samaria and Galilee. That would be like going to Miami through Tallahassee. None the less, along the way, Jesus gets to another profoundly important virtue for disciples: Gratitude. In Luke’s thought the grateful recognition of God’s initiative that brings healing and salvation is the surest sign of faith. Gratefulness confirms one’s faith. Disciples recognize what God has done for them. It’s the story of the 10 lepers that unfolds this virtue. Disciples return again and again to the feet of the master speaking his praises. This is not a passing emotion, but a way of life. It is not private either. It is public, and real gratitude is contagious.
In the 18th Chapter Luke pulls a switch with another parable about a nagging woman who comes before a judge. Probably when Jesus used this parable, it was, like all his parables, about God his Father. In which case, the focus of the story was the judge, and the listener would be drawn into a reflection upon the surprising figure who is moved by this persistent widow to provide the justice for which she pleads. When Luke tells the story, it is not so clearly about the judge. The widow emerges as the story’s focus. She is the focus not because she is a widow, not because she is alone, not because she is an uneducated outcast without a name, wealth, land, or power. She emerges because, unlike others of her kind, she is persistent, constant, steady, and unbending in the face of any obstacle. Her strength of persistent prayer is the virtue that must be found in a disciple. In this chapter another parable is told that we know very well about two men who go to the Temple to pray. With that parable disciples are brought to recognize that they are justified. However, this is not because of what they say or what they do, who they know or where they are, but that they are justified by God. In the parable, there is nothing wrong with the prayer of either man. They are both reciting psalms: the Pharisee is using Psalm 15 and the Tax Collector is using Psalm 34. The problem is not the prayer, the problems is the focus. All the Pharisee can do is recite what he has done. His prayer is all about him. What the tax Collector does is make God the center of his prayer. One has no room for God because he so filled with his own accomplishments. The other acknowledges God as the source and ground of his life and hope. He is justified, not the other one. Disciples of Jesus are justified, not because God owes them something but because the stood in truth before God and acknowledged their need and how useless their own deed are to save them.
In the new order Jesus came to inaugurate, it is an era of salvation and justification experienced as a gift, not as a right. In such disciples then, righteousness is never about self, but always about the God who saves with mercy, forgiveness and love.
Chapter 19 begins with these words: “He entered Jericho and was passing through it.” He is now near Jerusalem, and before the chapter ends, he enters the city and with that his Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension are about to take place. Armed with the virtues he has presented along the way, disciples, his church, will be ready to move forward without him because of him by the power of the Holy Spirit as the second part of Luke’s work, Acts of the Apostles will reveal.
In Part Three the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus will be the focus.