We’re reading from the Gospel of Luke on Sundays this new liturgical year. (C) If you’re just beginning to read the scriptures you may find Luke’s Gospel a good place to start. It’s the longest of the gospels and is followed by the Acts of the Apostles, also written by Luke. Together they present a magnificent picture of the life of Jesus followed by the life of the early church.
His gospel provides many of the readings for the various liturgical feasts we celebrate in the church through the year.
Luke takes over into his gospel about 65% of Mark’s Gospel, which he modifies for his own purposes. He shares with Matthew’s Gospel material from another source, and he also offers material not found in the other gospels–the infancy narratives, for example. (Luke 1-2). Like other evangelists, Luke shapes his gospel according to his own plan and interpretation.
In his commentary on the gospel, Luke Timothy Johnson speaks of Luke’s positive outlook on the world.
“Luke-Acts is positive toward the world, not only as God’s creation but also as the arena of history and human activity. It is perhaps the least apocalyptic of the NT writings, and the least sectarian. Not only is Luke relatively unconcerned about the end time, his historical narrative bestows value on time itself. Luke is also generally approving of those outside the Christian movement. Outsiders-not counting the Jewish opponents who are not outsiders at all– are generally regarded as reasonable and open-minded, which is a high compliment paid by apologetic literature.” (The Gospel of Luke, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Md. 1991)
Our readings from Luke for the 1st Sunday of Advent offer a good example of Luke shaping apocalyptic material to his own purposes. He presents the last days as others do: “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars and on earth; nations will be in dismay.” But Jesus says in Luke’s Gospel that we can stand strong and fearless on that day, if we live each day well in the meantime. Carry the cross with me each day, Jesus says, lest anxiety and worry lead you to spiritual drowsiness or “carousing and drunkenness.” Be vigilant and prayerful each day. Jesus will return on the clouds of heaven, but we don’t know the day or the hour, so living each day is the way to prepare for our redemption.
That’s good advice for times like ours when enormous problems confront our world and clear solutions and grand designs are nowhere to be found. We can’t even pass a national budget. We can fall into pessimism (a form of spiritual sleep) and lose hope.
Sounds like the right time to listen to the optimism of Luke’s Gospel.