“And as for you, Capernaum, ‘Will you be exalted to heaven?
You will go down to the netherworld.” Luke 10,13-16
St. Luke, at the beginning of his gospel, tells Theophilus and other readers that he’s going to give an orderly account of Jesus Christ and his church. Using sources available to him–among them Mark’s gospel and a collection of sayings Matthew also used and some other traditions– Luke’s “orderly” account aims, not just for historical accuracy, but for his readers facing the world they live in.
For example, Luke’s gospel offers references implying that the temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed. That happened in 70 AD. It’s one clue that Luke’s gospel was written from 80-90 AD, about 50 years or so after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem shocked Jews and Christians alike and caused many Christians to think that the world was coming to an end. One reason Luke wrote his gospel was to remind his hearers about living in the present moment, and so he recalls how often Jesus tells his disciples to take advantage of the time they have, to live “each day.” (Luke 9,23; 11,3; 16,19; 18,9-14; 19,1-10; 21.1-4)
I’m sure some of Luke’s gentile readers (He wrote with them in mind) were also wondering what was going on in the land where Jesus was born and taught and died and rose again. What was happening in Capernaum, Nazareth, Bethsaida– centers of Jesus’ life and ministry?
Those areas changed after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Galilee, in particular, where Jesus lived most of his life and years of ministry, had become the center of Pharasaic Judaism. Jewish Christians were being displaced from Galilean synagogues and towns by exiles from Judea, and Jesus was considered an enemy.
Luke’s “woes” are directed to this land where Jesus grew up and ministered. It’s a land that has rejected him. Luke says that even in his lifetime, Jesus experienced rejection here. It’s a mystery of God.
The rejection of Jesus by his own people was a mystery that Christians could not understand then. “He came to his own and his own received him not,’ John’s gospel says. Paul writes extensively about this mystery in the 9th chapter of this Letter to the Romans. Hope in the mystery of God’s mercy, Paul writes, Israel will have its day of belief.
But rejection of Jesus goes on in other towns and places; we don’t understand his rejection now. Why can’t people believe in him; why do they turn away from him? We ask this today especially as we see people abandoning Christianity and its churches. We wonder about the future of Christianity, especially among the young.
The mystery of unbelief is a mystery which calls us, not to believe less, but to believe more strongly. Believe in him with all your strength, preach him as well as you know how, Luke’s gospel says. Live like him,
and you will enter into the mystery of his cross and resurrection.