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Monthly Scripture Study & Reflection

The Gospel of Luke

Recommended readings: Path Through Scripture by Fr. Mark Link (Paperback 1995--$14.50), Understanding the Bible: A Basic Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Fr. George T. Montague, S.M.,(Paperback 1997 $15.96)  An Introduction to New Testament Christology by Fr. Raymond E. Brown. Time magazine hailed Raymond Brown as "the leading U.S. Catholic authority on the Bible."   In this accessible work written for all Bible students, Brown presents an intelligible introduction to the way Jesus was understood in His lifetime and in the lifetimes of His original followers.

     The Gospel according to Luke sets forth the words and works of Jesus as the divine human Savior, whose compassion and tenderness extended to all who were needy according to the introduction in the Oxford annotated Bible, Revised Standard Version used in many Ecumenical celebrations. In addition to presenting the story of Jesus’ work in Galilee and his last week in Jerusalem, Luke includes more episodes of Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem than do the other Evangelists.

The universal mission of Jesus is emphasized (a) by tracing his genealogy back to Adam, the father of the race; (b) by including references which commend members of a despised people, the Samaritans; (c) by indicating that women have a new place of importance among the followers of Jesus; and (d) by promising that the Gentiles would have an opportunity to accept the Gospel.

Although the Gospel is anonymous and the evidence pertaining to the identity of the author is inconclusive, there are many considerations supporting the early Christian tradition that the author was the physician Luke, a Gentile convert and a friend of Paul’s. The Gospel appears to have been written during the last third of the first century, although the precise date is unknown.

Most Christians envy the original disciples of Jesus. What must it have been like to hear his voice, see his miracles, enjoy his presence? How could their faith not be strong in the presence of this remarkable person? They experienced firsthand what we can only experience on the basis of their testimony. We may "see" Christ in our mind's eye as we hear stories about his life on this earth. But that kind of seeing pales in comparison to his first century disciples who saw him with their own eyes. If only we could see Christ with our eyes, we could so easily and fully believe him with our hearts! If we could only see Christ with our eyes, we could set aside all doubts, we could answer every question. We could know for certain that he is risen and that he is our Lord.

But are we that disadvantaged after all? Did his followers experience his risen presence in a way different than we do? There are passages in the gospels like that from Luke 24: 13-35 which suggests that the first witnesses to his resurrection were just as dependent on faith as we are. Their eyes were open to the risen Christ by faith no less than our eyes. What other meaning can we give to this story of the disciples who discovered the risen Christ in their midst through the breaking and distribution of bread? We see the risen Christ in acts of kindness, in deeds of sacrifice. This realization is the meaning behind the comment of Jesus that he had to go to a different place. Only the Invisible Christ can be seen by all in those simple acts of kindness that transform the world.

The biblical stories of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus are told for theological as well as historical reasons. Each concrete episode in the life of Jesus carries an important spiritual meaning. We find such a story in this account of the appearance of Jesus to his disciples in the story from Luke 24:35-48. His disciples were frightened when he appeared among them, for they thought they were seeing a ghost. But Jesus assured them that he was no ghost and he offered them the opportunity to examine the wounds on his hands and feet to prove that he was real. The resurrected Christ was no mystical apparition or disembodied spirit. According to the gospel accounts, Jesus was resurrected bodily. He was made whole physically as well as spiritually by the mighty power of God! Yet, he was only recognized, even by his closet followers, when he wanted to be recognized.

That claim of spiritual and physical resurrection is the theological meaning of the bodily resurrection of Christ. The whole of human life in this world has been sanctified by the resurrection of Jesus. Many early Christians believed that material things and bodily existence were evil in and of themselves. For them, the spiritual can have nothing to do with the physical. But the belief in the bodily resurrection of Christ radically undercuts this kind of body/soul dualism. His bodily resurrection declares once and for all that matter and flesh are the creation of God and can be vehicles of spiritual experience and service. The bodily resurrection of Christ sanctifies the whole of life as a gift of God and as a means of his grace. Both soul and body belong to God and God can use both soul and body.                    GLP

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