All posts for the month December, 2021

26 December 2021 at Saint Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

1 Samuel 1, 20-28 + Psalm 84 + 1 John 3, 1-24 + Luke 2, 41-52

Through the course of his mission, Jesus expands the whole idea of “family.” While the Gospel for today focuses on Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, it is not long before he asks the crowd gathered around him: “Who are my mother, brothers and sisters?” While sentimentality may like us to imagine that this holy family was the perfect family of all time, we might want to look more closely at what the Gospels suggest.

First of all, this is a family that knows anxiety and fear over a lost child. This is a family that had to flee their homeland for safety in a foreign country where they likely did not know the language. This was a family with a child who did not follow or do what everyone expected. This was a family with a child that brought shame on the family by breaking the rules. This was a family with a child accused of serious crimes. By the end, this is a single parent family. This is a family that practices their faith in the Synagogue and the Temple. No matter how you look at them, this family is just like us. It does not good to distance ourselves from them by imagining that they were perfect with a divine guest, that they never got frustrated, felt frightened, or shared a cross word or two.

I believe that the Holy Family we celebrate today is the Human Family struggling as it does to be inclusive like Joseph who welcomed a child that was not his own, patient like Mary who pondered the things she did not understand without refusal, and respectful of their faith and its practices. Like Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, we face all the challenges family life can throw at us with an awareness that we have one Father and are, like them or not, we are all brothers and sisters. 

There is no denying the family we have been introduced to by our Baptism. It is the Holy Family of the Church. Claimed for Christ our Savior by the sign of the cross, born again in water and the Spirit, we are one in faith, one in hope, and one in charity. These days when the evil of gossip, lies, privilege, and fear close our eyes and ears to others who are not exactly like us, there is a special challenge and need to celebrate this feast and to draw from it the hope that God who has called us together and created us in God’s own image will stand fast and refuse to be divided into them and us. 

This feast and this Gospel demand that we cultivate relationship within and without our biological families seeking the opportunity to grow wise and holy being enriched by our friendship and fellowship on this earth. Like Jesus, we shall then increase in wisdom and know the Divine favor for which we all long. 

25 December 2021 at St. Peter and St. William Churches in Naples, Fl

Micah 5, 1-4 + Psalm 80 + Hebrews 10, 5-10 + Luke 3, 10-18

I don’t know who first got the idea of staging Christmas Pageants for and with children, but I want you to know that as an old priest and a pastor with parochial schools for way too long, I sat through more Christmas Pageants than any of you could imagine. That experience has led me to the conclusion that I’ll never have to worry about Purgatory. I’ve been there.  

You know how they go, the little ones who can’t be trusted to remember lines are angels with various kinds of wire wings who flutter around and bump into one another looking anxiously around for someone to tell them when to get out of the way. Then there is always the character of Mary. Who plays that role is always a matter of great concern. It’s almost a preview of the anxiety over who will be the Homecoming Queen. Then there is Joseph who just stands around with nothing to say, his face itchy with that fake beard fearful he might trip over his father’s bathrobe. When I was that age, I never wanted to be a shepherd because they had to carry stuffed animals, and I thought that was weird. One time someone thought it would be great to have a real lamb. It got loose. That was the end of the show.

What all this has left us with is some rather odd and off the mark ideas about the details of the Good News we share tonight. We have so often imagined that the whole scene is the consequence of an in hospitable inn keeper who slammed the door in the face of this young couple leaving them alone, cold, and stuck in a stable. I remember another time when the kid who was the innkeeper slammed the door with such enthusiasm that the whole elaborate set fell over. Somehow all of that has dulled our imagination about what it all really means and what Luke was really announcing with this very dramatic event. 

Not having been to a Christmas Pageant for several years, I’ve had the time to re-think this scene deciding that the inn-keeper is hardly a cruel and thoughtless human being. In that time and culture of the middle east, hospitality was and still is a very important matter for the Hebrew people. If he sent them to the stable, it was a thoughtful and considerate gesture, because with animals there, it would have been warm. That whole business about swaddling clothes so often thought of as rags for the poor is hardly that. For in those times, it was a way of receiving and wrapping with warmth someone who was welcome and embraced.

This is really a story of hospitality, and while we might at first think it’s about us being hospitable to the Divine Child, I would like to suggest that it might be the other way around. Perhaps it is about God welcoming us into the wonder of God’s new creation which has begun with this child. That story of the Annunciation is really a creation story. God makes something out of nothing by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s creation. The news we share with the help of Luke’s Gospel is that there has been a “restart” to creation. A hospitable and loving God is welcoming those he loves. While we might like to think that we are welcoming the Christ Child, perhaps it really is the other way around. Maybe Luke used the story of a child’s birth to touch the hearts of every parent reminding them of how they felt when that first child was born. Remembering the joy, the unimaginable love, the thrill of emotions that comes when you first hold your child.

I recently read, and I believe it, that the love of a parent for a child is somehow different and greater than the love of a husband and wife.

Think of that tonight. Think about a God who has come among us sharing every human emotion from birth till death. This is a God, revealed by Jesus, not as a remote judge or manipulative creator, but as one we can call “Father.” It is God’s hospitality that we enjoy day by day in this life. It is God’s hospitality that draws us to this table God has spread before us. It is God’s hospitality that feeds us with Divine Food, flesh and blood. Welcome guests in God’s creation do not leave wet towels on the bathroom floor. We pick up after ourselves and treasure every moment we have together on this beautiful earth. Having been welcomed by God we too welcome our brothers and sisters to enjoy a share in the bounty of this precious earth.

For the first time in his Gospel, Luke uses the word “today.” As we hear that word in this assembly it becomes a present call to share the joy of what we find here and gaze with the eyes of faith on what those shepherds saw glorifying and praising God, and then going home changed and ready to tell others. We find Christ today in the feeding place of this Eucharistic Table and also in those around us now with whom we say, “Amen” when we receive the Body of Christ.

We live in the hope of another “appearing”, a coming at the end of human history. Then in one final act of hospitality, Jesus will gather to himself all those who have given him the hospitality of their hearts. 

Remember, it all happened in the night when it was dark as a reminder that the darker the night, the more joyous the dawn. Children of the light, praise the God whose love for us can never be lost. Give glory to the God who calls us all to a new day and a new creation where we can live without fear in a lasting peace that rests upon the power of his love. Give thanks to the God whose gift to us in his Son we celebrate today. Go home tonight knowing how welcome you are in God’s house and in God’s presence, and imitate God’s gracious hospitality. 

19 December 2021 at St. Peter and St. William Churches in Naples. FL

Micah 5, 1-4 + Psalm 80 + Hebrews 10, 5-10 + Luke 3, 10-18

Two women, one from Jerusalem and the other from Nazareth. One is there at the center of power, and her husband is of the Priestly tribe. The other has no husband and she lives in a place no one would ever have heard of until a visitor comes. They are for Luke, the meeting of the Old Testament and the New Testament. The old had a history of infidelity and idolatry, but it held the promise. The new is the promise and it begins with fidelity to the Word of God delivered by an angel who only appears once in the Old Testament in the Book of Daniel proclaiming the final time, the age of justice.

The only man in the story is silent. All he can do is watch because of his doubt in the power of the Lord. And silent he should be. There is nothing to say in the presence of God’s power from those who question the God’s intention to start creation over again, and that is exactly what is happening with the Annunciation. The Holy Spirit creates something out of nothing. A virgin conceives, and her son is both human, born of a woman and Divine, the Son of God. Now the Old Testament is complete. What was promised has been given.

It all comes to pass through these two unlikely people living at the margins of society. An aging barren woman long dismissed by society, and a young girl not yet married and therefore having no identity at all. Powerless, insignificant to those who hold power and 

have authority, they speak to us today an important reminder about how God works and how the Divine plan for the new creation will be made known. Elizabeth, like Sarah of old does the work of hospitality. She welcomes Mary and her unborn child, and in all humility as the elder, she declares that the child in her womb was secondary to the one Mary bore. Elizabeth become the first to proclaim faith in Jesus, calling him “my Lord” before he was born. Don’t miss the way Luke uses the faith of women to make the major professions of faith. “Blessed are you!” she proclaims celebrating the grace that they both shared: “Blessed are you who believed.”

We pick up this Gospel today, just days before we celebrate the Incarnation once again to be reminded that God has consistently chosen the weak and the marginalized over people of influence. The Word of God speaks to us today again about how God works not to instruct, but to motivate and awaken us. We are not really people of power or great influence. They are off in citadels of power like Washington, Rome, Moscow, and all those capital places of wealth, influence, and power. We are the little ones of history whose names will hardly be remembered when they vanish from tomb stones. Those people of influence will have their monuments for a few generations, but not much of what they do lasts very long.

It takes people like Elizabeth and Mary to make a difference. It takes people like you and me to allow God’s plan to be fulfilled. Those apostles Jesus gathers are a perfect example. Not one of them was really influential or particularly gifted except for the gift of faith and willingness to follow Jesus Christ.

The Gospel today warns us to be careful about feeling privileged allowing us to look down on others who are different, powerless, poor and helpless. We might very well end up standing in silence as God works through them to accomplish what we do not. In some ways, the story we proclaim here today is our story. It is the story that God works through people like us right here in a small town on the Gulf Coast or anywhere people are willing to listen the news brought once and for all by an angel. Like those women of faith, we ought to risk believing that God’s promise is being fulfilled within us and by us. When we do, the privileged will simply have to be silent enough to perceive that God is working in spite of them. When we realize that God has chosen us, there will be peace not brought by diplomats and their treaties or ceasefires, but by forgiveness and a love that is rooted in respect. It is then that we shall truly be Blessed for we have believed that what was spoken to us by the Lord will be fulfilled. 

12 December 2021 at Saint William Catholic Church in Naples, FL

Zephaniah 3, 14-18 + Psalm (Isaiah) 12, 2-6 + Philippians 4, 4-7 + Luke 3, 10-18

There is plenty of reason to hear the words of the Prophet this morning and move his message into some kind of “Archive File” thinking that he was speaking to someone else a long time ago. One obvious reason for doing so is that there is plenty reason these days not to rejoice. Facing life for too many easily makes rejoicing just too much of a challenge. Personal, family, church, and social conflicts are way too many, and we constantly facing our weakness, our sinfulness, and our helplessness. For some this experience seems to explode with violence, hateful talk, blaming, and name-calling and fear. 

It cannot be so for people of faith. Even when inflation soars, food banks struggle to feed the growing number of hungry people, and a pandemic lingers we do not surrender what faith can provide. Even with political corruption, racial injustice, and with our borders becoming unwelcoming places of conflict, we do not surrender to resentment, frustration, exhaustion, and impatience.

The words and spirit of our liturgy today and even the color of this vestment are reminders that a new day is dawning. This isn’t pink. It is the color of the morning sky.

All of this is the church’s way of stirring our hope that despite all failure in the past God is here. God is working. We will not fall apart or fall into despair. It is so easy to convince ourselves that we are victims and powerless. So, today the living Word of God reminds us to rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS.

There is an indestructible power greater than the power of ambition, greed, and selfish individualism. Without it, we might cling to misery and apathy believing that we can’t do anything except moan and complain shrugging off everything that troubles and keeps this world from peace by thinking or saying: “That’s just the way it is. No, it isn’t. Discord and some suffering are part of life and cannot be controlled. Yet, we cannot fail to see that what we long and hope for is something we already have.  In the old days we called them Virtues: Faith, Hope, Charity. We call them virtues because they give strength. They hold up the week and encourage the powerless. They are gifts of the Holy Spirit which we too often fail to draw upon.

Faith that God’s creation is not finished, and neither are we. Faith brings an assurance that God has things under control even when we do not. Hope keeps us looking forward not backward. Confident that the Kingdom of God is in our midst, and Jesus Christ has not abandoned us because he promised to remain with us always. Charity or “Love” allows us to see the beauty and goodness that is all around us and treasure the companionship of those who love us and care for us as friends. 

With these virtues, there is nothing to fear and no need for anxiety as St Paul says to us today. It is time to rejoice because faithful people live with Joy. We can forget about what happens tomorrow and beyond living this day in peace. We can control what we can and forget about what we cannot. If we don’t there will be no joy. We are God’s friends, and we have been given the Virtues we need, and it is time to accept them as a tender and loving blessing. Doing so will make it easy to shout for joy and to sing joyfully rejoicing always in the Lord.

8 December 2021 at Saint Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

Genesis 3, 9-15, 20 + Ephesians 1, 3-6, 11 + Luke 1, 26- 38

With this great feast we are called to step out of our ordinary daily routines and pause for these few minutes to let the Word of God remind us of God’s plan for creation. Paul puts that plan in plain and simple language as he writes to the Ephesians. God has chosen us to be holy and without blemish. God destined us for adoption which in the society and culture of that time meant nothing more than a completely new existence. In that world at that time, when one was adopted, their entire old identity was wiped away. If there were debts, they no longer existed. If there was anything in the past that could spoil the future, it was gone.

What this feast day urges us to do is call to mind our adoption. What must be affirmed today is the will of God that we be holy which is the whole purpose of our adoption. As with many who are adopted into earthly families, there is often a desire to know about the past, and perhaps that is why we open the third chapter of Genesis today. It’s the story of our past, and it’s not pretty. These verses we have just heard tell of losing our holiness.

Way too often, there is some mistaken idea that holiness has to do with prayers, or some extraordinary kind of service or sacrifice like martyrdom. If that’s the case, most of us in trouble. What we can discover from this great Feast Day is that those who are holy are simply close to God, and everything that is good somehow flows out of that intimate relationship. The truly holy are those are close to God. We see in the verses of Genesis today that the close and intimate relationship those first created persons had with God was broken. Leaving God to begin what is in time a long search for a way to restore that holiness for which we were created.

The woman we honor here today was holy. Her relationship with God made her so. She did not earn it by doing something. Her willingness to accept her calling is a consequence of her holiness in God’s eyes. She does not say, “Yes” and then earn her favor and holiness. It’s the other way around. Because she is already holy and chosen, she is willing to accept the unknown, unimaginable, and maybe frightening request.

She teaches us today what holiness looks like. She teaches us how a chosen people stand open to the sometimes strange and unexpected ways of God. She teaches us today what it means to be adopted, because our past is over and forgotten. We are a new people with what Paul calls a “new inheritance”. As Paul says, now we exist for one purpose: for the praise of God’s Glory. And so we can say again and again: Glory be to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be!

Earlier in this series I was exploring Luke’s Passion Narrative as if it were a drama. It’s an easy way to work through the narrative, and Luke’s style is very dramatic. To review and refresh out memories, there are Four Acts

Act One had two scenes:

  1. Prayer 
  2. Arrest

Act Two begins the Trials. The First is the religious trial before the Sanhedrin.

Act Three takes up the Civil Trial before Pilate who finds no guilt, sends Jesus to Herod after hearing about some Galilee connection. Herod does not pass judgement and sends Jesus back to Pilate. It probably is a little diplomatic game between the two rulers who are really at odds with each other but dancing around to keep the peace.

Act Four has two scenes:

  1. The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus which now brings us to
  2. The Burial.

This scene which we begin to night gives us two unique features for Luke. 

  1. There is no mention of Pilate being surprised at the early death of Jesus. Luke feared that this would cast doubt on the reality of Jesus’ death which might give some credence to the late 1st century denial of the resurrection that was developing among those opposed to the believers.
  2. The role of the Galilean women and the reference to the spices and myrrh allows Luke to not only portray them as pious Jews but helps Gentile readers to understand why they waited a day to take care of the body.

Luke’s account of the Burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea has two significant variations from the story on Matthew and Mark giving us some clues about what matters to Luke. He tells us that Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin who “had not consented to their proposal and deed.” In other words, he thought Jesus was innocent which is a theme heard all through Luke’s trial scenes. Pilate said it twice, Herod said it, a crucified thief said it, a centurion said it, and now Joseph of Arimathea is the final human witness to the innocence of Jesus. The second variation concerns the women (no surprise there since Luke has always been attentive and recorded stories of the women’s role in the ministry of Jesus). Luke indicates that some women saw where Jesus was buried but also specifies that they had come up with Jesus from Galilee and that they saw how the body was laid. Luke, as I said before is very concerned to establish that there was a dead body and that it was buried. This give credence to what is to come with the Resurrection and the Ascension. He wants to clearly establish a link between the church’s Lord and the one who dies in Jerusalem and the one who worked in Galilee by having Galileans present as witnesses to the Jerusalem events. Theologically, this means that the one who empowered is the one who died. The is real. It was through the suffering that the obedience of Jesus was perfected. It was only on the other side of these things that the one empowered entered into glory. To put it more simply: “There ain’t no glory without that cross.” Or, There’s no way to the Father except by obedience to the will of the Father.

We are now at Chapter 24 which concludes the first part of Luke’s work, Acts of the Apostles being the second part. This is really the most interesting part of our study and reflection on Luke’s Gospel because with one exception the material here is not found anywhere in the other Gospels. Luke began his Gospel with the Infancy Narrative that was uniquely his own, and he concludes with a narrative of the Resurrection that is also uniquely his own. Let us start by reading chapter 24 so it’s fresh in your mind without any interference from the other Gospel traditions. Try to blank out details we have all absorbed from Matthew, Mark, and John. Just concentrate on what is here. READ CHAPTER 24 1-12.

This much of the Chapter clearly draws on Mark 16: 1-8. Another version is found in Matthew with John’s being quite different. What present research suggests is that scribes who copied the manuscripts quite early permitted, consciously or unconsciously, the resurrection stories of the other Gospels to influence what they were writing. In some cases, they probably were remembering Mark or John while writing Luke; in others they may have intentionally been harmonizing. This does not mean that there was an attempt to deceive or to reduce the faith in any way. On the contrary, the general tendency was to enlarge the story. This “cross-fertilization” of texts is to be taken as evidence that the early church treated the resurrection stories as one story, and the blending occurred as it does with us, two, three, or four accounts of one event, even though each has its own accent and purpose, tend to become one account in the church’s memory. READ THE REMAINING VERSES (Point out the 5 events).

There are five major events: two empty tomb episodes; two major appearances; and the departure of Jesus. This is all located in Jerusalem or nearby, and it all happens in one long day. This exclusive focus on Jerusalem is distinct to Luke. Matthew and Mark have things happening in Galilee over a longer period of time. So much for the idea that Jesus hung around for 40 days before the Ascension! Once more, you see, this is Theology. It is not history. Details do not have to match.

Let’s just deal with the theology. Luke is passing on to us the early Christian understanding of the resurrection as a prototype of Christian existence. In earliest Christianity the resurrection of Jesus encompassed three different realties:

  1. The Victory of Jesus over death.
  2. The removal of Jesus from human time and space into another dimension (God)
  3. The new function of Jesus as cosmic Lord.

Luke takes these realities and makes three separate events on a chronological time line. In other words, he takes this theological idea of what happened and he puts that idea into events that happen in sequence: the Resurrection, the Ascension; the Exaltation. By taking the three different pieces of a whole individually, he can focus on the meaning of each without distraction. What this means is that in Luke, the resurrection of Jesus refers only to his victory over death. The thinking of Luke is that what happens to Jesus is what his disciples may expect for themselves. 

Stick with me. This is complicated, but not impossible. The first empty tomb tradition which is the women at the empty tomb and the second appearance story which is the one after the Emmaus story when Jesus appears among the apostles affirm the reality that there is a body that has risen. There is no dead body in the tomb even though they saw it put there. An empty tomb means one thing. The body is not there. That’s all. If Christians are going to proclaim Christ has risen, there needs to be experiences of that Christ who was dead and is now risen. So, there is a body that eats something. More importantly this body has the wounds that were on the body they buried. This faith is based upon witnesses who saw and experienced something real. It is not based on how they felt or what they wished. Whatever the nature of this victory over death was, it involved the absence of that body from the tomb. 

Luke wants to give some real authority to this, so he mentions names and these are the same women of Galilee who saw the body being put in that tomb. They knew where it was Luke told us in the previous chapter. Then Luke tells us that when the women came to the apostles and the others, Peter got up and ran to the tomb. (There is no John in a foot race with Peter in Luke’s narrative.) Luke wants the witness of Peter so that there are two sets of witnesses. Peter’s witness is important to Jewish people at the time because women didn’t count. In order to be persuasive at the time, there had to be a male witness.  The detail of finding the linen clothes by themselves is Luke’s way of stopping the rumor that the body had been stolen. They would not have taken the body without it being wrapped. This is Luke’s way of celebrating the victory over death.

After the two empty tomb episodes, we come to the first of two appearances: a story unique to Luke and a story that really highlights his writing skills. It is what we have come to call, “The Emmaus Story.”  Luke now clarifies the nature of the Eucharist, and he uses the Emmaus story to do so at least for the Lukan community. The two are abandoning the Christian journey to God. In Luke’s wonderful story telling style, we get to know who the person is that joins them, and in an ironic way, we get to hear them talk about the death of Jesus to Jesus himself! We should notice (because Luke wants us to) that there are three units to the whole story: the narrative discussion, the meal and the journey back as a Mission of Proclamation. 

The meal is really what holds this together. It is the Eucharist as we know it.

It begins with an act of hospitality, an invitation to a stranger by those who prepared the table. It is the presence of Christ at a table opened to a stranger which transforms an ordinary supper into the sacrament. Christ is in a sense the guest, and yet he is the host who breaks the bread, blesses God and shares with those at table. It is in this act that that the disciples recognize the stranger as Christ. 

It begins then with the Scriptures as Jesus goes over the writings and the prophets. The one who is named in this episode, Cleopas provides us with a glimpse into the earliest preaching. It is Luke’s concise statements about Jesus, his mighty works, suffering, death, and resurrection. This is the content of Christian preaching. The description of Jesus reviewing the Prophets with these two is a kind of reprimand for their unbelief on the grounds that the suffering death, and resurrection of Jesus is set forth in the Scriptures that they should have known. All through Luke’s Gospel there is insistence that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Scriptures. They pointed to the very acts of his ministry, so his suffering, and his death. For Luke, the gospel of Jesus Christs continues and brings to fulfillment the law, the prophets, and the writings.

The Eucharistic ritual continues: after the Word comes the Sacrament, and then Mission. The time of day is significant because the evening is the time when the Christians would gather together for prayer and the eucharist. As the story goes, Jesus becomes the host, which confirms that Luke is describing a Eucharistic Meal connected to the Paschal Meal in the upper room. Luke tells us that Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them. This is ritual language that Luke has used before when he fed the multitudes, and when he sat in an upper room. On those occasions, they did not “recognize him”, but now, the risen one is recognized. When Luke says that their eyes were opened, it describes conversion. This story serves as a bridge between the meals the earthly Jesus had with his disciples and the later church’s Eucharist. It also says that at such meals the presence of the risen Lord was known. Jesus is alive and one place of his recognition is in the breaking of bread. The importance of knowing and experiencing the living Christ in word and sacrament cannot be overemphasized. 

There is a third part to this story that we must not overlook: the return of these two to Jerusalem where they want to spread the Good News. It is the perfect match or parallel to the Eucharist as the Church has known it: Word, Sacrament, Mission (Mass). Without the third part, the “Missa” something important is missing.

Now to the appearance of Jesus to the Eleven in Jerusalem. This also reinforces the theology that what rose was a living body.  They thought they were seeing a ghost. He shows them hands and feet with the wounds, and then he wants to eat something. They fed him and he ate in front of them. Angels and Ghosts don’t eat. Only humans eat. For Luke, the risen Lord is no less than the Jesus before he died. He eats and can be seen and touched. These two stories say the same thing about the nature of Jesus’ victory over death: it is not to be understood as an escape from the perishable body, but a transformation of it. That transformation is not into a spiritual being because Jesus remained flesh and blood though immortal and not limited by time and space. This is not the immortality of the soul while the body decays. It is something totally new. 

For Luke, there is here what we could call “Table Fellowship”. What was interrupted by the death of Jesus is resumed at the initiative of Jesus. From now on the disciples will continue to do this in remembrance of him. These incidents when Jesus eats with them serves as a bridge between the meals the earthly Jesus had with his disciples and the later church’s Eucharist, it says that at such meals the presence of the risen Lord was known. Jesus is alive and one place of his recognition is at the breaking of the bread.

At this point I think it is important to dig into what it means to “remember”. I believe that this issue is at the root of a great problem among believers when it comes to what we believe about the Body and Blood of Christ. There is no room for anything but a firm belief that what looks like bread is the very real Body of Christ and what looks like wine is the very real Blood of Christ. These are not symbols or signs. They are real. The root of this error probably comes from a failure to understand “remembering”. In this use and context, it does not mean to “recall”.  There are three times in which to know an event: in rehearsal, at the time of the event, and in remembrance. In rehearsal, understanding is hindered by an inability to believe that the event will really occur or that it will be important. At the time of the event, understanding is hindered by the clutter and confusion of so much so fast. But in remembrance, the nonseriousness of rehearsal and the busyness of the event by way to recognition, realization, and understanding. 

To understand this, we have to take the word apart: RE-Member. It means to put together, to join. Think of it this way. God’s response to sin which broke and still breaks the relationship we have with God was a gathering in. The formation of a People that today we call the “Church”. It’s a joining together what had been broken apart. In the Eucharist God joins us with one another and with God’s self in the Body and Blood of Christ. Jesus gathered a people. He reached out and looked for those who were alone by sickness or sin, and he re-membered them to himself and to all the people who had been scattered by sin, self-centered, selfish, and alone. For a deeper understanding, we start with the Bible. 

John 6 is the place to start. First, we hear of the magnetic power of the presence of Jesus. Large crowds followed him everywhere. In that chapter, Jesus goes up the mountain – which is the place where one can get close to God. Once there, Jesus sits, the posture of a teacher there on that holy mountain. This is what happens in the first part of our Mass. Jesus teaches us. There he feeds that crowd by taking the little bit that we have (think of the gifts we bring to that altar). With that little bit, he can multiply it for the feeding of the world. We know how much is left over: twelve! There is the Mass.

Then he goes to Capernaum and the people follow him. He begins to teach again. He says don’t hunger for these passing loaves of bread but for the food that lasts for eternal life. “I am the bread of life those who come to me will never be hungry, those who believe in me will never be thirsty. I AM THE LIVING BREAD come down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever. The bread that I will give you is my flesh for the life of the world.”  The crowd balked at this. A first century Jew would be repulsed by the eating of flesh with blood. That’s forbidden to them. Given therefore every opportunity to soften his teaching or propose a symbolic meaning, he goes on to say, “Amen, Amen, I say to you. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood. You have no life in you, for my Flesh is real food. My Blood is real drink.”  Now, the verb Jesus uses here is not the usual word for eating. He uses the verb (trogain) which means gnaw on. 

Something real strange is going on here. While the scriptures are full of symbolic thought and symbolic images, but when Jesus puts this out so clearly, many of his followers turn away and would not go with him anymore. So, he asks the twelve if they would like to leave. This teaching is a watershed, a point of division. It’s either you are against me or with me moment. If this was just symbol talk, why would anyone be upset. But Jesus does not compromise, soften it, or give in. This is the ground for the Catholic insistence that this is the real Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

Ignatius of Antioch in letter to Smyrna. (35 AD) “They abstain from the Eucharist and Prayer because they do not admit that this is flesh of the Son of Man. Justin Martyr (165 AD) For not as common bread or common drink do we receive, but we receive the real body and blood of Christ.” Origin of Alexandria (early 3rd century) says: speaks about reverence and almost obsessive care for crumbs that fall from the sacred gifts.  St John Chrysostom says: “What is the bread but the body of Christ. What do they become who partake of it, the body of Christ? Not many bodies, but one body. This is the way we are Christified. Our bodies are Christified. We are prepared for heaven by bringing our body in contact with the body of Christ.  The early church never wavers from this.

In the 11th century a Bishop in Tours proposes the symbol/sign language. He teaches that something is added to the Bread, some spiritual, but it is still bread with an added something. A great debate occurs that ends with a Council. That council insists that this is wrong, and that what is on the altar after the consecration is the Flesh and Blood of Christ. His opponent says that there is something more going on in the Eucharist than is going on in the other sacraments. This is not a spiritual addition to bread. In the other sacraments, oil is still oil and water is still water. In the Eucharist, something is different.

Aquinas in the 13th century – a vivid personal relationship. He wept at Mass, and would often rest his head against the tabernacle begging for inspiration. At the end of his life after completing his masterpiece, he places the text about the eucharist at the foot of the cross, and it said that a voice came from the cross saying: “Thomas, you’ve written well of me. What would you have as a reward: I will have nothing except you Lord.” His great work has three parts: 1) About God and Creation 2) About human being and our moral life 3) About incarnation, Christ and the Sacraments. The last part he wrote is about the Eucharist. Baptism is the generation of Life. Confirmation is the augmentation of life. Communion is food of the life. Eucharist has three names in time 1 Past: Sacrifice 

2 Present: Communion with Christ 

3 future Viaticum the great name is Eucharistia. Thanks giving which is what we will do in heaven. 

Transubstantiation comes from Thomas. Substance is the deepest and core reality of something. When I speak of substance, I mean the deepest reality what something is. What stands under. What does it stand under? Accidents Appearance or Species

like spectacle. What you see. 

In the act of Consecration, the substance of bread and wine change into the Body and Blood of Jesus even as the appearances (species) of Bread and Wine remain. This is how we bring John 6 forward.  The senses perceive bread and wine. The change comes at the level of substance not appearances. The disciples on their way to Emmaus see everything, but they don’t get it. They do not understand. If all we understand is what we see, we are lost. 

There was a great 16th century Protestant/Catholic debate. Luther did not like Thomas Aquinas. Luther saw an addition to the bread. To speak in a general way, Protestants do not believe in transubstantion. The Council at Trent addressed the issue in response. 11 canons (summaries) Canon One: If anyone were to deny that the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity is contained truly and really substantially as a symbol – let them be condemned. We are to say that the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity is contained real, true and substantially not in sign or figure.

How does Christ become really present? Trent says, By the power of the Word. The words do not just describe reality. Language can also be active and transformative. Not just expressive or descriptive. A Baseball word changes reality: “You’re out”. Sometimes someone says something to us that changes your whole life. That’s creative and transformative. Or something the other way around something hurtful changes us for years. Our little words can change reality – think of God’s word! How does God make the world? By the power of a Word Speech! God’s word is not descriptive it is creative.

God speaks the world into being. In the beginning there was the Word – the Word became flesh, and What God says IS. Lazars come out! Pick up your mat and walk.  What God says IS. The night before he dies he took bread and said THIS IS MY BODY. Notice at Mass how the language changes.  This stuns me every time I pick up that host. The priest begins in the third person: “He Took Bread, said the Blessing, broke it and gave to them saying…”  Then it changes into the First person. We speak in persona Christi. With this final wandering away from Luke into John, we can see how closely the theology of the Gospels weave together the core of our faith resting upon the revelation given to us by each of the evangelists. Let me conclude by repeating what our Holy Father Francis has been saying over and over again as he allows the Holy Spirit to reshape this church of ours. Evangelization is what we do and evangelists is what we are by the command of Jesus and will of the Father. What Francis is reminding us over and over again is the evangelization is not a matter of words, or saying the right thing, or convincing someone by argument. Evangelization is a quality of life. People are won over to Jesus Christ not by arguments from history or propositions from a Catechism, but by actions of believing people. People came to Jesus because of what he did before they heard him say anything. People still today will be won over by the heart before the brain. Our study of the Sacred Scriptures, our study and knowledge of St Luke’s Gospel is to open our hearts so that we might live this gospel not preach it, because people will see what we do long before they hear what we say, and in the end what we say must come from the heart.

5 December 2021 at Saint William Catholic Church in Naples, FL

Baruch 5, 1-9 + Psalm 126 + Philippians 1, 4-5, 8-11 + Luke 3, 1-6

We can’t go any further into Advent without the presence and the voice of that man whose voice cried out in the wilderness. His voice is heard at a time when Rome held all the power, when Rome’s foot was on Israel’s neck. In that list of the powerful Luke includes two whose names might make us shudder because of the violence and deaths they will cause. Herod and Pilot are the names that in these opening verses give us a reminder of what is to come, because we know the end of the story. None the less, John’s voice comes like a trumpet blast out of the wilderness right into time, into history, right into reality. His voice proclaims that God is coming, and that God not only came in the past, and is not only to come in the future, but that God comes now into every moment in every age. Never mind the power of Herod and Pilot, never mind the power of that great Roman Legion, a greater one is coming. 

Having begun with a list of rulers who could not bring salvation, wholeness, and peace. John announces the coming of one who can and who will bring salvation, wholeness and peace. Just because their power and their numbers overwhelmed the people of Israel, that absence of all-out war was far from real peace. 

If we listen very carefully, John is not so much announcing someone as he proclaiming something. He proclaims that salvation has come, and it is for salvation that all people must prepare, and the way to prepare for Salvation is repentance and conversion. He proclaims that healing will come, but the healer must be recognized and people must come to him. He proclaims a season of peace, and it is a peace that can only come from reconciliation and love. 

John is in the desert, not in Jerusalem where his father, a priest, Zechariah, would be found. John is in that place where Israel crossed over from wilderness of sin to the promise of God’s faithfulness. He calls for another Passover. Like the desert days of old Israel, John calls for repentance, for conversion, inviting those who listen to experience what he has experienced, the freedom of knowing that God is about to do something great with them. 

That message is proclaimed today in this place to each of us. God is about to do something great, greater than ever before. To experience that and for God to find us, we must come out of the desert to meet the Lamb of God. There must be about us a constant spirit of change, of growth, of repentance. Acknowledging our sin, accepting the truth of our weakness and failures, we can become what God has called us to be through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are not called to be a passive mob of bystanders watching from the sidelines as the world spins past. We are called by John, by grace, by Jesus, by the Holy Spirit to be the spark that changes this world, the fuel of a real “metanoia” as the first language of the Gospel describes it. Metanoia means: “Beyond (meta) the mind (noia). In other words, the change, the metanoia expected of us is far more than an intellectual affair. It is an experience of letting ourselves be lured beyond what we know, beyond our small thinking and any notion that things will just always be this way. They will either get worse, or they will get better because we have done something about it. Metanoia is a new vision of life in which we live with joy every day, secure in the knowledge that God is with us, that Christ as come, and that Christ will come again.

We are at Chapter 19 of Luke’s Gospel now as the Journey ends and Jesus enters Jerusalem. In the 28th verse Luke writes: “After he had said this, he went on ahead going up to Jerusalem.” I am going to tell you right now at the beginning that this third part of Luke’s Gospel wore me out, and I am here to admit failure because I could not squeeze all of the material that makes up the Jerusalem Ministry, the Passion, and the Resurrection into one talk. So, I propose that you harass Colleen into scheduling a fourth session. Perhaps sometime near the end of Lent for some study of Luke’s Resurrection Narrative. It might be a good way to enter into Holy Week and Easter. 

Since I studied the Gospel of Luke at Saint Meinrad Seminary and in a summer course at University of Leuven, forty years have passed. In that time, a great deal of research and scholarship has uncovered more about this Gospel than I first learned. So, this experience has been something of a new discovery for me too. Tonight, there will be two parts. The first part should be called, “The Ministry in Jerusalem”. The second part would then be, “The Passion and Death of Christ”. Sometime in the future, God willing, we can study the Resurrection of Christ.

Part one contains Chapter 19 into 21, and it all takes place in the Temple area. This piece of Luke’s Gospel sets it apart from Matthew and Mark because of the central importance of Jerusalem and the Temple for Luke’s understanding of the fulfillment of prophecy, the end of the ministry of Jesus, and the mission of the church. The other Gospels do not focus on the Temple and Jerusalem as clearly as does Luke. In the other two Gospels, you could get the sense that had Jesus not been killed in Jerusalem, he would have returned to Galilee. In fact, the risen Jesus tells his disciples to meet him there. Not with Luke. Jerusalem has been the destination all along, and the disciples are to remain there until they receive the Holy Spirit. At the same time however, “Jerusalem” is not really a geographical location. The real destination for Jesus, and for that matter, for all of us, is God. That’s where he is going with this Journey. As a place, Jerusalem and the Temple are where God and humankind meet. 

We have no idea how long Jesus ministered in Jerusalem. The Church compressed this period into eight days, but there is every reason to believe that the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem was not for Passover, but more likely for the Feast of Tabernacles which occurs in the fall. It’s the harvest feast. The whole business with Palm Branches with the other Gospels is a hint that this could be the Feast of Tabernacles when the Hebrew people cut branches to make “huts” out in the fields where they stayed during the harvest. So, the stay of Jesus in Jerusalem may have been much longer that the one week we have imagined. The Church, that’s us, has over time compressed all three Gospel accounts into one image of the event. If you are not careful, this can be a problem when reading Luke, because there is not one mention of palm branches. Luke’s orderly account shifts to Passover so that everything will fit together.

The scene opens on Mount Olivet near Bethany which is less than two miles east of the city. The whole role of the disciples is important to notice. They get a colt. They set Jesus on the colt. The disciples call him the King who comes in the name of the Lord. There is sense that the whole city came out as a crowd. Jesus is honored and praised by his followers. This is not a group who turns on him days later demanding his crucifixion. Luke’s version is less crowded and more subdued. It is of and for believers. The meaning comes from their faith in Jesus. It does not mean that they got it all right, but at this point, they are moving in that direction.

There is not one Hosanna in Luke’s Gospel. That word and the use of palm branches was used for parades with nationalistic overtones. None of that here. There is nothing said about David or his throne either. Luke seems to be carefully writing this so as to give Pilate nothing to use in accusation. So, the Temple is the place where things get focused now. Luke’s Gospel began with the Temple and it ends with the Temple. Zechariah is in the Temple when it is announced to him that John the Baptist would be born. At the end, the disciples are in the Temple. As Luke tells us in Acts, the Christians are attending the temple together every day. Luke seems to respect and perhaps admire the Temple, that may be why his description of Jesus cleansing is more brief than the other Gospels. He purifies the Temple so that it can be the place of his own ministry. His attack is not on the system, but on excesses. 

As this section at the Temple heats up with controversy, it might help to know who’s who. We keep hearing about the “Chief Priests, Scribes, Sadducees, Sanhedrin, Elders, and Pharisees. It’s important to sort them out. At the time of Jesus, two religio/political parties within Judaism were represented in the “Sanhedrin”. So, the Sanhedrin was a council with about 70 members composed of High Priests past and present from the priestly families. It included also the Elders who were the tribal and family heads of the people, and the Scribes who were the legal professionals.

The majority of the members were the Sadducees and the Pharisees were the minority. Caiaphas, the priest we hear about here was a Sadducee. But, most of the scribes were Pharisees. The presiding officer of this council was usually the high priest. The council was the highest court of appeal. Therefore, the Sanhedrin’s authority was broad and far-reaching, involving legislation, administration, and justice. There was religious, civil and criminal jurisdiction. At the time of Jesus, the council had lost to the Roman governor the power of capital punishment. The council met every day except on Sabbath and feast days in rooms next to the Temple. In extraordinary cases, the council met at the house of the High Priest. One of the responsibilities of the Sanhedrin was the identification and confirmation of the Messiah. In fact, we read in the gospel that they sent a delegation to John the Baptist asking if he was the Messiah. There were about a dozen false Messiahs running around during the first part of this century deceiving the people making more important the responsibility of the Sanhedrin to sort it out. This is why Jesus eventually comes in contact with them.

The “Chief Priests” were drawn mainly from the ranks of the Sadducees. One of them was always the “High Priest”. We know that at the time of Jesus Caiaphas was the High Priest. His father-in-law was Annas also called, “High Priest” and he was the real power behind the high priesthood. The Jews saw the High Priesthood as an office for life. The Romans did not, and they picked and chose High Priests from time to time, probably to keep the whole system from getting too powerful. Since he was still living, Annas was really the senior at the time which is why Jesus is first brought to Annas during his trial.

The Sadducees were really the “ruling class” They represented the aristocracy making peace quickly with the Romans to secure their privileges, wealth, and influence. They were educated, wealthy and held themselves aloof, with the result that they were not popular. Jesus was a threat to them and the status quo. Their functions were associated with the Temple and the cultic actions that took place there. They maintained the place. This gave them a great deal of authority. They collected taxes, mediated domestic disputes and regulated relations with the Romans. 

The Pharisees were associated with the Synagogue which made them more associated with the common people in contrast to the Sadducees. They were considered to be the experts in the Jewish law. They interpreted the Torah liberally, and they believed in the resurrection of the dead in the future, the existence of angels and demons, all meaning they believed in an afterlife. This is contrary to the Sadducees. They were devout laymen, not priests. Where they conflicted with Jesus was over their hyper attention to the minutiae of the Law forgetting about the intention of the law. 

It is there that controversy really heats up, and “authority” is one of the hot spots in the controversy. Anything going on in the Temple is under the control of the Priests who are from the tribe of Levi. God appointed them as priests, and the Temple is their turf. Jesus is not a Levite, but he is teaching in the Temple as though it was a synagogue where the lay people are in charge. Those in charge confront him with three questions. The first is about his authority. “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” Luke then says: “They discussed it with one another, saying, if we say, From Heaven, he will say, “why did you not believe him? But if we say, “Of human origin, all the people will stone us; for they are convinced that John was a prophet. So, they answered that they did not know where it came from.” With that, Jesus tells the crowd a parable about the Wicked Tenants. It is a parable about these Priests and Scribes, but he tells it to the crowd in their presence, and they get the point. No doubt even more angry, they come at Jesus with a second question. This one is about Taxes, and you know the answer he gives: “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” It is a complicated response, because it’s not always easy to separate the two then or now. The third and final question concerns the Resurrection of the Dead. They are not asking a theological question. Their purpose is to argue or embarrass Jesus or force him into one school of thought or the other. It is a classic “what if” question. In his response, he just further angers them. His response comes from reason, or common sense, that conditions in this life do not constitute proof of conditions in the next, and then from scripture when he quotes Exodus 3:6 for the belief in the resurrection of the dead. His response ends up dividing his opposition because some of the scribes approve of his answer and begin to speak highly of him. 

With Chapter 21 Luke resorts to a new style of Literature, “apocalyptic.” As a kind of literature, it deals with revelation or a series of revelations usually by an angel which discloses a supernatural world beyond the world of historical events. The focus is on the end of the world as we now experience it and the beginning of a new world. In Luke’s Gospel, the apocalypses join historical events with descriptions of what is going on behind and beyond history. Often major historical crises triggered apocalyptic thinking like the destruction of Jerusalem. It is that historical event that triggers the Lukan apocalyptic writing of Chapter 21. What’s going on in the writing is mixed with what is really going on in history. It is laced with symbols, signs, and mysterious figures of speech. It is a remarkable witness to the faith of those who write this way. Amid painful and prolonged suffering, when there can be seen on the horizon no relief from disaster, faith turns its face toward heaven not only for a revelation of God’s will but also for a vision of the end of the present misery and the beginning of the age to come.

In this chapter, Luke describes the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem which had happened fifteen or twenty years before he wrote the Gospel. He seems to be concerned that believers not interpret the fall of Jerusalem as a sign the world is ending, and he continues to insist that the question of “When” is not answered because it is unknown. What Luke does through all of this apocalyptic scene is establish that the present time is the time for “testimony.” Chapter 21, 12-19 “But before all this occurs they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So, make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance for I will gives you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” Luke goes on to remind the church that the Son of Man will return. He tells a parable of the Fig Tree as a reminder that the church should be watching for the signs. In other words, living with hope. With one final word of caution, the Lukan Jesus instructs the faithful to be on guard, and not be overcome with worries of this life. “Be alert” he says “praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things and stand before the Son of Man.” We should pay attention to the title Jesus uses for himself. With the last two verses of Chapter 21, the public ministry of Jesus is complete. It ends beautifully: “Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the Temple.”

Luke’s method of presenting the final instructions of Jesus for these apostles is the Supper. He shapes the tradition in the form of a farewell meal with a leader his followers. Luke’s Supper Narrative is three times as long as Mark and Matthew, and it is much less foreboding. There are words of warning, instruction and encouragement. There is a prediction about the apostles and Peter, but the tone is much more positive so that the conversation at the supper is tilted toward victory, where the disciples will sit on thrones in the kingdom of Jesus and Simon Peter will turn and strengthen his brothers.  Unique to Luke is the inclusion of the betrayer at the table. In Luke, Judas is there till the end of the meal, but it is important to notice that Judas is never named until the arrest scene.  In Matthew and Mark, he departs earlier. By including Judas in sharing the bread and wine, Luke emphasizes the forgiveness extends to tax collectors, a dying thief, soldiers with nails and hammers, and even Judas. What is perhaps important to Luke is that Judas not only betrays, but he breaks the covenant in the body and blood of Jesus. That is the issue.

There are two other interesting details in Luke’s reporting of the Supper. There are two cups. Listen to chapter 22 beginning at verse 14. “Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks, he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’” Research into this chapter suggests that Luke may have blended two oral traditions: one had the cup before the bread and another has two cups. The two-cup tradition associates this more closely to the Passover tradition which seems to be Luke’s purpose because the Passover Lamb was not a sin offering. The Passover lamb was the seal of a covenant, and the Passover meal commemorated that covenant offered to the believers by a God who sets free. This is the focus for Luke, liberation; not the forgiveness of sins. For the Hebrew people the forgiveness of sins was a completely different ritual. It had nothing to do with Passover. Luke’s concern here is not with forgiveness, but with unity in the covenant. Those who share in this covenant are joined to one another, life to life, as signified and sealed in the cup divided among themselves.

In this chapter, Luke takes an incident the other Gospels report earlier and inserts it into the occasion of this meal. That incident is the dispute about greatness. By including that here as well as by having Judas remain through the meal, Luke speaks very strong words to the church for which he is writing and for the church today. Betrayal of Christ has occurred and will occur among those who partake of the Lord’s Supper. Then, by taking the dispute from an earlier setting and putting it into the setting of the Supper, he takes what could be an historical event and makes it more than an ugly moment in history to a very real and present exhortation to those who share the table. Love of place and power was a problem for the first followers of Jesus, and it continues to be so. The instructions and the meal conclude with a dire warning about the danger and the threats that lie ahead. The disciples get the point. They know they are no longer in Galilee where welcoming crowds were everywhere. They are now in Jerusalem where danger is everywhere. Jesus contrasts the first sending of the disciples where they had great success without him to the coming time when they will be on their own and rather than success, there will be violence because the charges against him will spread to them. They respond to danger by instinct, sword for sword, weapon for weapon, blow for blow; that is, prepare for danger by becoming dangerous. This is, of course, not the way of Jesus, and Luke ends the whole report of the supper with powerful words of Jesus reacting to this sword talk: “It is enough.” With that, he goes off to pray in the garden.

With verse 39 in Chapter 22, the Passion Narrative begins. I think it is helpful to think of, pray with, and study over the Passion as if it were a Drama in Four Acts.

Act 1 has two scenes: Prayer and Arrest.

There are two verses in this chapter 22 that may have been added by a scribe later on because they are not present in the earliest manuscripts. They are 33 and 34 which go like this: “Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.”Without those verses, Luke does not portray Jesus in anguish, wrestling for hours with the will of God. The scene is more like the other occasions of Jesus in prayer. Luke does not portray Jesus in distress. He is much more in command, and he simply instructs his disciples to pray by way of an anticipating accompaniment to his own prayer. This Jesus is so at peace with God that he cannot be distraught by the sufferings that are inflicted on him. It is as though Luke would have Jesus revealed as a model to Christian sufferers and martyrs. Certainly, what Luke wants to do here is present Jesus as a model for all his followers in his prayer life and in the way he confronts a crises. In Luke, Jesus is always a man of prayer, and the prayer of Jesus at this point has a striking similarity to the prayer he taught the disciples. Luke has a couple of details not found in the other Gospels. Matthew and Mark have great details, and John omits the prayer scene entirely. Let me list the difference of things unique to Luke.

  1. This scene which we commonly call, “The Agony in the Garden” is the shortest of the Gospels.
  2. It takes place on the Mount of Olives, the place where Jesus had been staying. Mark & Matthew place it in Gethsemane. John simply says, “a garden.”
  3. There are not 3 disciples in Luke. They are all asked to pray
  4. Jesus comes to them only once, not three times and Luke explains that they were sleeping because of sorrow which softens the reprimand. He is not scolding or complaining. 
  5. Luke has Jesus kneel in prayer not fall to the ground.

For Luke, the coming of that angel is all that Jesus needs for strength, and that is the answer to his prayer. With that, he goes to the sleeping disciples only one time and he is, as I’ve said several times, gentle with them. 

The best of the scholars believe that early Christians had a tradition that before he died Jesus struggled in prayer about his fate. No one knows whether they retained or claimed to retain accurate memories of the wording he used; more probably they did not. But they understood his prayer with terms like “the hour” and “the cup”, which in the tradition of his sayings he had used to describe his destiny in God’s plan. Each evangelist knew different forms of that tradition, and each developed it differently. 

Now the second Scene“The Arrest”.  Luke again is consistently kinder to the apostles than the other Gospels. There is no suggestion that Judas planned to kiss Jesus. There is no young man who runs away, and the healing of the severed ear shows us a Jesus who is still gentle and healing even with those who would do him harm. In this scene, the presence of the “Chief Priests” and captains of the Temple and elders is unique to Luke. The whole episode in Luke is brief. It is only the third time in Luke’s Gospel that Luke mentions Judas: in the naming of the 12, and in chapter 22 when Luke tells us that Satan had entered him, and finally here when Jesus address Judas directly. There is about it an intimacy that some scholars suggest is one last attempt to touch the heart of Judas.  Luke never tells us that Judas actually kissed Jesus. It is Jesus who brings that up in their confrontation, and it’s almost as if Jesus was refusing. Luke explains the decision of Judas by saying that Satan had entered Judas, and Luke is the only Gospel that says that. It would seem that this is Luke’s way of referring back to the Temptation scene at the beginning of the Gospel when he says that Satan would return. Only John’s Gospel has Jesus speaking to the arresting crowd about his disciples. In John, he insists that the disciples should not be arrested. In Luke’s Gospel, they simply disperse without any suggestion that they ran away out of fear. Luke is always protecting the disciples.  Then, Jesus is taken to the Sanhedrin at the house of the High Priest. End of Act One.

Act Two

In Luke there are four trials

  1. Sanhedrin
  2. Pilate
  3. Herod
  4. Pilate. (Other Gospels have only three) This is a direct parallel to the trials of St Paul. There were four for him.
  5. The first is the religious trial. The interrogation of Jesus begins. In the midst of it, Luke has Peter’s three denials all at once while Mark splits them up into different times. All of this happens in the night. In the morning Jesus is before the assembly of the elders with chief priests and scribes present. Two questions make up this interrogation, and the issue is his identity.
  6. Are you the Messiah?
  7. Are you the Son of God?

This is a preliminary trial to establish cause. Luke says nothing about false witnesses. The only witness is Jesus himself who answers their questions by simply saying: “You say that I am”. They do not condemn Jesus to death. Closes Act Two

Act Three

Chapter 23 and what I like to call, Act Three begins with the second trial before Pilate. This is the civil trial. Luke, different from the other reports adds that the “Council” sends him to Pilate with three charges.

This is a good example of Luke’s effort to be “More Orderly” as he promised in the opening of the Gospel.  It’s also interesting that these charges are the same charges raised against St Paul when he is brought before the prefect Felix in the 24th chapter of Acts. The charges:

  1. We found this man perverting our nation
  2. Forbidding us to pay Taxes to the emperor
  3. Saying that he is the Messiah, a king. 

Pilate has no interest in two of these charges, but he is focused on the last one. He asks the question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” And Jesus answers Pilate exactly the same way he answered the Sanhedrin. Pilate finds no guilt, and when he says so, the accusers insist that Jesus has been stirring up trouble in Galilee, a place that at the time was a hot-bed of revolution. With this, we have a major piece unique to Luke. Pilate sends Jesus to Herod who happened to be in Jerusalem at the time and had expressed interest in seeing Jesus. The trial before Herod is unique to Luke. Again, Jesus is found not guilty by the Jewish ruler and he is sent back for the fourth trial. This is a sequence that makes Pilate want to set Jesus free. The same pattern is found in Acts of the Apostles with Paul being sent by the Roman Governor to Herod Agippa II only to have Paul found not guilty. It is at the court of Herod that Jesus is mocked and robed. In Luke, there is no explanation about a custom of releasing a prisoner. Probably because Luke, who knew a lot about Roman customs did not think it was true. Luke simply has the people wanting to make a trade. Jesus for Barabbas. Act Three ends with Jesus being “handed over” as they wished.

Act Four, Scene One.

Luke has four additions not found in other Gospels at this time.

  1.  Lamenting women
  2.  Prayer of Jesus for his crucifiers
  3.  Mocking of Jesus on the Cross (Authorities, Soldiers, Crucified Thief) Notice the pattern of 3. That pattern shows up a lot in Luke’s Gospel. There were three “Not Guilty” statements as well. Missing in this scene are Mark’s “Bystanders” since Luke is always careful to see the Jewish people in a favorable light.
  4.  After the death of Jesus, Luke adds a note that the crowd of bystanders were striking their breasts, the Centurion and the women at a distance (another Triad). 

The Christology of Jesus in Luke is very striking. The Jesus he presents to us is Divine, the Son of God. Therefore, while Mark has Jesus praying psalm 22 “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Luke has Jesus praying Psalm 31 “Father into your hands I commend my Spirit.” Luke gives us a Jesus who is at peace with himself. The final substitution Luke adds is to have the Centurion call Jesus a “Just Man” rather than “The Son of God” which is what Mark adds.

Luke views the killing of Jesus as a martyrdom, the unjust murder of an innocent man by the authorities which is a model for disciples. Luke avoids any connection between the death of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. For Luke, the forgiveness of sins comes from the Risen Christ. For Luke, Jesus stands at the end of a long line of martyr/prophets just as the prophets of old were all murdered. For Luke this death is the fulfillment of prophesies. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus dies quietly, full of trust, a model for Christian martyrs to follow. That calm assurance at death was enough to convince the centurion of the innocence of Jesus. Instead of saying, “Truly this man was the Son of God”. Luke’s centurion confirms once more what we all know: “Certainly this man was innocent.” With that, I will stop for now. Sometime as we near Holy week, we can take up Act Four Scene Two: “The Burial of Jesus” 

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:

  1. Villages of Galilee from which the group of apostles is drawn and expanded.
  2. From Galilee the setting shifts to Jerusalem
  3. In the Temple of Jerusalem where Jesus teaches various groups that either rejected or struggle with his challenge
  4. 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.

There is some hesitation on my part as we begin exploring Luke’s Gospel which will be our guide through this Liturgical year until December of 2022. The hesitation comes with this first part of what will be three talks on Luke’s Gospel. About 100 years ago, I got in a lot of trouble for telling my little sister that there was no Santa Clause. I felt it my duty to tell her because I had just come to realize that the Santa sitting in our living room was one of my aunts. Her perfume was the giveaway. As the family story goes, one of my uncles was supposed to take on the annual role which was passed around from year to year among the four brothers. That uncle got drunk, and failed to show up. My aunt, in her usual “take charge” mode promptly ran to the garage and put on the outfit and came to the door. My hesitation comes from the fact that tonight and maybe in the following talks, I’m going to upset some long-held beliefs, some treasured images, and who knows what else.

So, let’s get into what we know and admit what we don’t know adding the truth that sometimes when we don’t know something, we make stuff to cover that lack of knowledge. There is a set of questions that ought to guide us whenever we begin to explore something: Who, When, What, Where, and How.

So, who wrote this Gospel? Luke is the name used consistently from the second century. He was a companion of Paul, a native of Antioch in Syria. That information comes from the Epistle of Paul to the Colossians and the Epistle to Timothy. There is no contrary information anywhere, so we can let that be. He was not an apostle or an eye-witness. He simply suddenly appears at Paul’s side during Paul’s second Mission. We can say that, because in Luke’s second part which we call “Acts of the Apostles” chapter 16, he suddenly switches to the first-person plural. He says, “We.”

When: The years 80 to 85 are generally accepted as the time. However, from the fact that Luke’s writing stops while Paul is still in custody around the year 63 and the fall of Jerusalem in about 70 would push it a little earlier. Here is an example of contrary data that leaves us to simply say: “We don’t really know exactly.”

It is fairly certain that Luke had at hand a copy of Mark’s account. Sixty-percent of Mark is incorporated into Luke. Probably another collection of quotations from Jesus was probably available to him and these would have been written in Aramaic. There were certainly some oral sources available from John, the deacon Philip, and Mary.

Luke’s Gospel, when it comes to literature is a masterpiece. He is very observant of mannerisms, psychological reactions, and hidden motivations. He favors minorities, segregated groups, and the underprivileged. Watch how often Samaritan, lepers, publicans, soldiers, public sinners, ignorant shepherds and poor show up. All of these people get special encouragement from this Gospel. He is writing for Gentiles. We know that because of the way he omits Semitic words and finds substitutes for them. For instance, he explains in his Gospel the meaning of “Abba”, “Rabbit”, “Ephphata”. He seldom quotes the Old Testament. This Gospel was written in Greek. It was good Greek, not easy street language. Luke is educated, and he writes to people who speak good Greek.

Finally, before we dig into the Infancy Narrative, you must keep in mind this is not History. It is theology. They are not the same. Luke makes no claim to have been an eyewitness. He tells us that he is giving us a well-ordered narrative so that we may know the truth. He says he is writing to Theophilus. He calls him “excellent”. That adjective/title was reserved for Roman Procurators. It was also a very common name, so there is no point in making a lot out of it.

At the time of Luke, there were two problems or “crises” that may have prompted his writing. 

The first was the Gentiles, and with that came concepts or ideas about God.  The whole Mediterranean world was very parochial, and there were as many ideas about God as there were communities, and with that then, there were different cults. That’s hard for us to understand, but it was a great challenge at the time. Rome made it even more difficult with Emperor Worship. As Rome spread across the region, the parochialism was overcome. With this came an overwhelming sense loyalty and security that drove people to side with the powerful. If you understand that world, then you can see why the message of humility and the ideas expressed in Mary’s Magnificat are seen as a revolutionary threat.

The themes of Greek plays at the time would have thought humility to be silly. The nobility of persons was the theme of their plays captivating theatergoers. Meanwhile the Christian community expected the world to believe the story of a man who died the death of a rebellious slave.

The second crises was over the Jews. The descendants of Abraham even earned the respect of Rome as it recognized that the history of these chosen people made it clear that no power could shake their fidelity to the law of their fathers. This people, reared with a profound respect for the law, their traditions, the experts would find shocking the stories of Jesus who flaunted the accepted ways and seemed so arrogant toward his religious superiors. He seemed to be encouraging social, economic, and religious sedition.

The construction of Luke’s Gospel suggests that originally the Gospel began with Chapter 3, and the Infancy Narrative was added after Acts of the Apostles was finished. The presence of the genealogy in the third chapter is hint of this possibility. Listen how it begins and see if you don’t think is the beginning. “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea and Herod was ruler of Galilee and Philip his brother ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

In Acts of the Apostles, Chapters 1 & 2 serve as a transition from Jesus to Church with the Apostles as the figures. In the Gospel, Chapter 1 & 2 serve as a transition from Israel to Jesus with the characters as the figures. There may be three sources:

  1. A source for hymns: 
    1. The Magnificat
    1. The Benedictus
    1. The Gloria
    1. The Nunc Dimits
  2. A source for parts of Chapter 2 which could stand alone
  3. A source for John the Baptist and the Jesus stories of Chapter 1

Think for a minute how Luke organizes Chapters 1 & 2. There are seven episodes.

  1. Annuniation of John the Baptist
  2. Annunciation of Jesus
  3. Visitation
  4. Birth and Circumcision of John
  5. Birth and Circumcision of Jesus
  6. Presentation in the Temple
  7. Finding in the Temple

There are obviously two parallels 1 & 2 and 3 & 4. The hymns fit in, but may have been added later. Episode 7 serves as a transition or story/passage.

I cannot emphasize this enough. 

The Infancy Narrative is a Dramatization of Theology. It is NOT history!

It all begins with a self-contained story of a Divinely prepared conception of John the Baptist. It is so similar to the one that follow that it cannot be an accident.

With the annunciation of the Baptist’s birth we get four pieces of information:

  1. It is during the time of Herod the Great
  2. The names of the Parents are Zechariah and Elizabeth
  3. They and he were of Priestly descent (Tribe)
  4. They were old and Elizabeth was without child

Luke probably did not invent the first item because it also is supported by Matthew

The second and third items are more difficult. These are probably pieces of tradition that came to Luke perhaps from the Jerusalem community or from former followers of John who came over to the Church. With the fourth item, it is more likely that Luke is trying to establish a connection with the Old Testament rather than writing intimate family history, because there is a parallel between the parents of Samuel and John.

Now, let’s examine the Annunciation.

Gabriel shows up. The only other time in the Bible that we hear of Gabriel is in the eighth chapter of the Book of Daniel. In verse 15 Gabriel is sent to explain a vision Daniel has just had, and Gabriel scares him so much that he fell to the ground. The Book or Prophecy of Daniel proclaims the coming of everlasting justice – the final time.

In the Annunciation scene there are five steps:

  1. The appearance
  2. The fear
  3. The message
  4. The objection
  5. The giving of a sign

As the story goes, Zechariah should have come to the steps to give a blessing, but he cannot. In Luke’s drama, the blessing that cannot be given at the beginning is given at the end of the Gospel when Jesus ass Jesus led his disciples out to Bethany, lifted his hand over them, and blessed them. Watch how often Luke marks the end of a scene with a departure.

There is a struggle in Luke to fit John the Baptist into the schema of salvation history as part of the process of Christian self-understanding and to persuade unconverted disciple of John.

Annunciations have eight components

  1. The visionary is addressed by name
  2. A qualifying phrase describing the visionary
  3. The visionary is urged not to be afraid
  4. A woman is with child or about to be with child
  5. She will give birth to the (male) child
  6. The name by which the child is to be called
  7. There is an interpretation of the name
  8. The future accomplishments of the child.

Luke follows this patter with one exception, the name of Jesus is not explained.

The whole concept of a Virgin Birth is unheard of in the Old Testament. So, when it springs up in the Gospel, it is an entirely new idea that brings with it the sense of a “New Creation”. This is the introduction of the message and identity of Jesus as God’s Son.

The angel’s words are a free interpretation of II Samuel 7 and give the child the character of a Messiah from David’s line. 

Remember what I said about departures being a way to end of scene. So, with the Visitation story, the scene of the Annunciation is complete. The Visitation itself is a bridge passage that brings together two characters of this drama: John and Jesus. As I said earlier, the addition of the hymn (Magnificat) was probably a later addition. We don’t know where they came from, but they have very deep Old Testament roots, and probably were hymns sung by the early Jewish/Christians.

Then we get two birth stories. One is of lesser importance than the other obviously by the details. John’s birth only takes two verses. In Chapter 3 Luke describes the whole career of John including his imprisonment by Herod before he narrates how John Baptized Jesus. Do you see something odd here? The Baptism of Jesus had to have happened before John was imprisoned. Again – no history here, so do not expect things to “add up”. This is Luke’s way of shifting all the focus onto Jesus.  Another example is that Luke describes the growth of John into manhood before he describes the birth of Jesus which, if this was history, should have taken place only a few month later. Again, a shift of attention.

Now, that Census. It is probably the result of a confused memory of the events that brought about two Herodian reigns and the consequent political trouble around the time of Jesus’ birth. The census itself seems to be a way of explaining the presence of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem. This is a literary device that provides a solemn beginning. It is ironical that the Roman Emperor, the mightiest figure in the world, is serving God’s plan by issuing an edict for the census of the whole world.

Augustus is the peaceful ruler, the one who pacified the world. Greek cities of Asia Minor (perhaps not far from where Luke was writing) adopted September 23, the birthday of Augustus as the first day of a new year, calling him a “savior.” It is hardly accidental that Luke’s description of the birth of Jesus presents a challenge to this imperial propaganda. 

The birth, Swaddling & a Manger. Luke is more interested in the details than in the birth itself. Swaddling and manger are more important any anything else if you just look at the information. The manger has nothing to do with poverty, but an odd location caused by circumstances.

There is a reversal going on here. In the first chapter of Isaiah it says: “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey knows the manger of its lord; but Israel has not known me. My people have not understood me.”Luke is saying that this is repealed. The shepherds have been sent to the manger to find the Lord who is the source of joy for all people of Israel.

Like the manger, the swaddling is far from a sign of poverty. It is a sign that Israel’s Messiah is not an outcast among his people but is properly cared for. In Luke, Jesus is not born like an alien in an Inn, but in a manger where God sustains and feeds his people. This is Theology. The details lead us deep into the mystery of what God is doing.

The Annunciation to the Shepherds. There is nothing sentimental intended here nor any effort on Luke’s part to identify with the common man.

This episode is tied to the Jewish idea that is much more deeply involved. It is drawing heavily from images in the Prophet Micah which anticipates and for-sees the triumph of Jerusalem by a ruler from David’s place of origin. Remember what David was? This detail ties in with a King descended from a shepherd image: David the King.

This Annunciation follows the pattern for the most part.

The core message is written in the style of an Imperial Proclamation. I like to think that this is Luke’s counter-propaganda that Jesus, not Augustus was the Savior and source of peace whose birthday marked the beginning of new time. Probably however, Isaiah 9: 5 seems to be the source: “For the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Then Luke gives us the final hymn: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those whom he favors”. Like the other hymns, added later, it was probably composed by a community of Jewish Christians using the same kind of poetry. It is used to hail Jesus as the Messiah at the end of his ministry, something the angles knew at the beginning of his life. Luke is telling us that the angels of heaven recognized at the beginning of life for Jesus what the disciples came to know only at the end; namely, the presence of the Messiah King comes in the name of the Lord. 

And then, after their visit, Luke says: “The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen as it had been told them.” With that, they depart, and what does a departure mean in Luke? End of the scene.

Luke was a pastor and he wrote to comfort, encourage, and renew a community that was stumbling, disconnected from its roots and facing new challenges. The purpose was not so much to speak new things, but to present old things in a new way, old things which the readers knew from the very sources and traditions Luke used in his work. He chose a familiar form, “narrative.” This form is to literature what story telling is to the spoken word. It communicates in such a way that the readers enter the story and discover that it is their own. He is a master at this, and he uses details told as if they were absolutely unique in order to engage the imagination. The narrator is important because he always knows more than the people in the story, and he shares some of this information with the readers. The readers are privileged participants in the story. So, they know how a situation that is a problem for the characters in the story will be resolved but not how it will be resolved for them. Gifted with knowledge, the readers little by little learn how the characters in the story arrive at the knowledge which they already have but what that truth really means.

The whole thing is an invitation to keep these things in our hearts, to wonder at them as their meaning is gradually unfold in the story.

So, what do learn from Luke in this season? 

Jesus is human, born of a woman. Jesus is Divine, born of God. Luke is concerned to put both of these issues together. Born of God, Jesus would return to God, and Christians must accept the end of his live and his consequent absence from history as an individual figure. The Narrative is like a painting with two panels:

The first has Zachariah and Elizabeth. We are like them. We believe yet we doubt, and what does God do? The promise of biblical history in the prophets is fulfilled in spite of us, the barren past become fruitful.

In the second panel the scene shifts from Jerusalem (Temple and Zachariah) to Nazareth. Luke is concerned to show that the origins of Jesus are much more significant than those of John. Nazareth is a no-place. Jerusalem is power.

The role of Zachariah and Mary are parallel, but it is Mary, not Joseph who names, who receives a message and brings things to pass. John’s birth is about overcoming the inability to conceive. The birth of Jesus introduces a whole new order and we are pulled into the realm of creation by the working of the Spirit which is a powerful theme in Luke’s Gospel as we will see in the next talks.

The visitation story invites us to see the New Testament, Mary reaching out and transforming the Old Testament, Elizabeth.

Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth of Galilee. This is clearly held by Christian tradition without contest. At the same time, a clear theological tradition held that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Matthew handled it one way, by beginning at Bethlehem. Luke another way by beginning in Nazareth. Luke had a problem of getting them to Bethlehem. The whole issues of showing the Church and Jesus as being just and legitimate when it comes to Roman Law begins here and is a concern all through Luke.

It’s all a journey, a long pilgrimage to Jerusalem in Luke’s Gospel just as it is for us. As we conclude this, remember the story of Jesus being lost for three days only to be found again. It’s all part of Luke’s plan. The loss of Jesus creates confusion and consternation and Jesus explains the divine necessity which called for his absence; the Father’s business. He must be with the Father. This is his ultimate destiny, and we, the church through him, and with him, and in him are on the same journey to the New Jerusalem.