Tag Archives: Gospel of Luke

The Maccabees

This week’s Mass readings from the 1st Book of Maccabees tell the story of the re-dedication of the temple of Jerusalem three years after its profanation  by Antiochus Epiphanes.  About the year 167 BC,  Jews under Judas Maccabeus re-conquered Jerusalem and restored the temple, the heart of their religion.

The first reading this Friday describes the rededication of the temple to its former glory. The Jews continue to celebrate it in the feast of Hannukah. (1 Maccabees 4,36-61}

The New Testament writers, certainly aware of this historic event, recall Jesus cleansing the temple.(Friday’s gospel) Entering Jerusalem after his journey from Galilee, “ Jesus went into the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, ‘It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.’” Then, “every day he was teaching in the temple area” until he was arrested and put to death. (Luke 19,45-48)

Cleansing the temple was a symbolic act. By it,  Jesus signified  he himself  is the presence of God, the Word made flesh, the new temple of God.

Luke says Jesus taught in the temple “every day.” As our eternal high priest, he teaches us every day and brings us to his Father and our Father–every day.

Jesus is the temple that cannot be destroyed. At his trial before he died, witnesses gave testimony that was half right when they said he spoke of destroying the temple. When he spoke about the destruction of the temple, Jesus was speaking of the temple of his own body. Death seemed to destroy him, but he was raised up on the third day.

We share in this mystery as “members of his body.” Yet, we’re a sacramental people and need places to come together, to pray and to meet God who “dwells among us.” We need churches and holy places. We instinctively revolt when we see them go.

We recognize the heroism of the Maccabees.

The Gospel of Luke

Luke copy

The Feast of St. Luke is October 18th.  If you’re beginning to read the New Testament  Luke’s Gospel is a good place to start;  it’s the longest of the gospels, followed by the Acts of the Apostles, also written by Luke. Together they present a magnificent picture of the life of Jesus, which continues in the life of the church.

Luke’s gospel provides many of the readings for the various liturgical feasts we celebrate yearly in the church, for example most of the stories of Jesus’ early life recalled during the Christmas season.

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’s  gospel has its own plan. In his commentary on Luke’s gospel, for example, 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 (Year C) 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 in Luke’s Gospel Jesus says 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,  and don’t worry or be anxious. Be vigilant and prayerful each day, the Lord will return on the clouds of heaven. No, we don’t know the day or the hour, but we’ll we ready for the last day if we prepare each day for our redemption.

Isn’t that  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 so easily fall into pessimism (a form of spiritual sleep) and lose hope.

We can use Luke’s optimism today.

Daily Reading, Daily Bread

Reading the scriptures daily and on Sundays in the lectionary is one of the great reforms begun by the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council. It’s part of the church’s effort to seek renewal through the Word of God. But it’s going to take us awhile to get used to it.

For one thing, reflection on the daily and Sunday readings is a new way to reflect on our faith.  The scriptures are old and we live in a new world.  Pope Benedict, describing his own search for “the face of God” in scripture said you have to “trust” you will find it there.

We have to trust we will find God and enter God’s presence as we take up this daily discipline. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” God promises to speak today. The daily scriptures are daily bread, and they offer a varied diet. We go from Matthew, preoccupied with the tensions of his church with Pharisaic Judaism,  to Luke preoccupied with an outreach to the gentiles, to the other New Testament writings, each with its own purpose.

Then there are the varied readings from the Old Testament. They can be hard to understand, but the church wisely keeps them side by side with the New Testament. They hold a treasure all their own. We need to understand them better.

We need help to appreciate this daily bread, this varied diet served up. We need people like those people on the cooking shows on television who not only  tell you what to eat but make those strange dishes appetizing and appealing. We need good homilists and good catechists.

We need a “lamp, shining in a dark place.” So we ask: Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts with your light.”

The Community of Believers

Pentecost

Today’s first reading at Mass describes the early Christian community in glowing terms: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own but they had everything in common. With great power the Apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the Apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.(Act 4, 32-37)

This description of community and an earlier one from Acts 2, 33-47 are important sources for Catholic social teaching and have influenced Christians over the centuries in their thinking  about community–whether it’s the world community, the community of the church, the parish, or the family. Religious communities especially are driven by this ideal. 

In a society like ours where so much wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of so few, where excessive individualism is so strong, this ideal is surely worth considering. 

A note in the New American Bible, however, cautions that Luke is painting a “somewhat idyllic” picture of the early Christian community. Idyllic means idealized, even unsustainable. In other words, given human nature, the early Christian community never measured up altogether to the picture Luke paints.

The commentator Luke Timothy Johnson suggests Luke’s glowing picture might be influenced by the Hellenistic writers of his time– like Plato–who describes the early days of Athens as a time when “none of its members possessed any private property but they regarded all they had as the common possession of all.” Early writers also also put great stock in friendship; people of “one heart and mind become builders of community. ” (The Acts of the Apostles. Sacra Pagina, Collegeville, Min 1992 p. 62)

In reading Luke’s description of the Christian community, then, we need to avoid the temptation to look for utopias. We can’t expect perfect communities anywhere. They don’t exist here on earth. Nor should we think they existed in the past and all has gone downhill since. That’s  “Golden Age” thinking.

At the same time, though, we can’t give up on the ideal Luke presents and say it’s unreal. It’s an ideal to be aimed at, a norm to measure ourselves and the communities we belong to. Not to strive for Luke’s ideal is to lose faith in the mystery of the resurrection. Jesus taught us to pray”Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” We have to pray for and work for God’s kingdom to come now, here and now.

December 20: The Annunciation

Annunciation 

St. Luke’s account of the Annunciation to Mary, read today at Mass,  follows the announcement of the birth of John to Zechariah in yesterday’s advent readings. An angel announces that Jesus will come as her son, but Mary receives the angel so differently than the priest Zechariah. (Luke 1, 5-25,)

In the temple, where great mysteries are celebrated, the priest won’t believe he and his wife can conceive a child. They’re too old. He doubts.

In  Nazareth, a small town in Galilee and an unlikely place for a major revelation, the angel approaches Mary with a message far more difficult to grasp. “ The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

Mary believes and does not doubt, and so by God’s power she conceives a Son who will be born in Bethlehem. “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word,”

The Annunciation scene pictured above was placed at the beginning of a medieval prayer book with the words beneath it in latin: “Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise.” Most medieval artists assumed that Mary was at home in prayer when the angel came and so they put this scene at the beginning of an hour of prayer. Prayer enables Mary to believe and accept what would come.

Isn’t that true for us all? As with Mary, prayer helps us discern and say yes to what God wills. “Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise.”

My community, the Passionists, still begins the prayers of the liturgy of the hours by reciting the Angelus, a prayer that repeats this gospel story. “The angel of the Lord declared to Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit….”

Prayer opens the way to mysteries beyond us. As a woman of faith, Mary knew that, and we learn from her.

At Mass today we pray:  “O God, grant that by Mary’s example, we may in humility hold fast to your will.” Open our eyes to see and our lips to say yes.

Readings www.usccb.org