I remember well the joy of learning about the four Evangelists for the first time.
I was a boy in Catholic school in Brooklyn and, from attending Mass, knew that there were different names that were said when the priest at Mass proclaimed “A reading from the Holy Gospel according to…” In second grade, we learned the names of the four Gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and what their symbols were (I still recall thinking that the name, Mark, sounded like a lion’s roar and that Luke could sound like an ox’s low).
As I recall, it wasn’t until later on in grade school that we were given more details into each of the Gospels. And what a joy it was to get a full Bible for the first time at my Confirmation in 1985, and not just a children’s Bible. (In fact, I still have mine — a copy of the Jerusalem Bible!) But it wasn’t until high school that we really began delving into exactly what each Evangelist was up to in his Gospel.
And what an experience that was, learning all about the Gospels in sophomore religion class in 1987-1988. The priest that taught me, Msgr. Richard Marchese, a masterful instructor, used a fine book entitled In the Midst Stands Jesus: A Pastoral Introduction to the New Testament by Msgr. Josiah G. Chatham (1972). It was from this high school class and from this text that I really began to love what I would learn later to be biblical theology and Christology. If you can ever get a copy of Msgr. Chatham’s book, please grab it! It is a blessing!
Saint Luke gives us the Gospel of the history, the Gospel of all the details. I have to admit that I love Luke’s Gospel and I get very happy when its time come around for its proclamation at Mass every third year. In this Gospel, Our Lord Jesus is not quite the stark figure of simplicity of that extended Passion Narrative that is Mark’s Gospel, nor is he the rich, rabbinical Jesus of Matthew’s Gospel. No, this is a Jesus who is for everybody. This is a Jesus whom the Christians have had the time to reflect upon, and, theologically, this portrayal of Jesus is so much more sophisticated than that of Saint Mark’s. This is a Jesus who is a universal savior, who wills that all be saved and none be lost.
The Gospel (and so too its “sequel,” if you will, Acts of the Apostles) is addressed to a certain “Theophilus.” Now, if we were to break that word down, as you probably know, it would mean, “Friend of God.” So, this Gospel is addressed to you and to me, to us who are trying to become (and who are, by the grace of our baptisms) friends of God. We friends of God begin this Gospel not with a simple, bold, declarative statement as in Mark, or in the vastness of space and time as in John’s Gospel, or even within the rich history of Israel, as in Matthew.
No, like Saint Matthew’s Gospel, it begins with a genealogy, but it is a genealogy that is much more inclusive. Unlike Matthew’s genealogy, which begins with Abraham, Luke’s version is traced back to Adam, the father of all mankind, thus signifying that fact that Christ was born for not just the Children of Israel, but, indeed, for all people. Luke’s Gospel makes explicit what the infancy narratives of Matthew’s Gospel implies with the presence of the Magi, those astrologers from far-off Gentile, lands — namely that Jesus’ birth is for everybody, the rich and the poor alike, the Jews and the non-Jews, even the Samaritans, a group considered to be ritually impure to the Jewish people.
This is called the Gospel of the poor, because of Luke, who, in tradition, is considered to be a physician, has our Lord Jesus, who is the Divine Physician, have a special love and devotion to the sick and the poor.
Saint Luke offers us rich parables, different in style and in content, by and large, from those of Saint Matthew. In fact, no less an authority than the British novelist, Charles Dickens, described one of Saint Luke’s parables, that of the Prodigal Son, as the greatest short story ever written.
This Gospel is considered to be the Gospel of Our Blessed Virgin Mother, Mary. It is thought that Our Lady was the one who told the Evangelist Luke these details that only a mother could know, intimate details about the family history and the background of, at least, Our Lady’s side of the family. She tells the story of the Lord’s cousin, John the Baptist, and, please note, that it is only this Gospel that mentions the physical kinship between the Lord Jesus and Saint John the Baptist.
What might be most interesting in this Gospel is the role of women in the Luke. Putting aside, as if we could, our Blessed Virgin Mother, Mary, and her cousin, Saint Elizabeth, the Lord Jesus has plenty of other friendships, real, honest, good, happy, healthy, holy, relationships with women. He loves, in the purest sense of that word, his dear friends, Martha and Mary; he loves his friend, Mary of Magdala, out of whom he has cast seven demons; he loves the women who are his disciples, and who support his mission. These women who follow Jesus are not Apostles; that is very, very clear. They are not part of the Apostolic Band. And that’s okay. They are disciples of the Lord and have a very special place in the Church.
There is so much more that I could write in appreciation of this Gospel. This is intended to only introduce some themes, to draw attention to what we can look for as we hear this Gospel proclaimed Sunday after Sunday in this liturgical year in our lectionary. What a gift we have in all the Gospels, but especially in Saint Luke, the Gospel of the details that only a Mother could know, the Gospel of mercy, the Gospel of the poor, the Gospel of the women, the Gospel of the Gentiles, indeed, the Gospel of the Lord!
Lord God, who chose Saint Luke to reveal by his preaching and writings the mystery of your love for the poor, grant that those who already glory in your name may persevere as one heart and one soul and that all nations may merit to see your salvation. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. —Collect of the Mass of the Feast of Saint Luke (Oct. 18) in The Roman Missal
This article originally appeared Feb. 6, 2019, at the Register.