For a study guide for next week, chapters 10-19, look after the sermon.
Study Guide for The Gospel According to Luke Chapters 1-9
This Gospel is the first half of a two-volume work, the second half being “The Acts of the Apostles.” Luke seems to be a Gentile writer who may have converted to Judaism and then to Christianity, as his references to the Hebrew Scriptures are to the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Bible. Luke’s storytelling is vivid, pinpointing detail that brings each episode to life. His Greek is polished and fluent, leading scholars to imagine that his audience included highly educated people.
Luke uses geography prominently, moving Jesus from Bethlehem to Nazareth to Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish world. The story of the church – the book of Acts – moves the story from Judea to Rome itself, the center of the Gentile world. In his two-volume work, Luke tells as one story God’s fulfillment of the promises to Israel both in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the birth and spread of the Church. “In a single vision, Luke grasps the meaning of Jesus and the church for the world, and he tells that story so that what happens with Jesus foreshadows the church’s experience and what happens in the church finds meaning as the continuation of Jesus’ story.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament, Fortress Press, 1999) pg. 215.
Luke’s Gospel uses Mark as a source and pattern for much material. It is thought to be contemporaneous with Matthew, and perhaps also written in Damascus or Antioch. We don’t know for sure that Luke is the Physician who accompanied Paul on his journeys, as there is scant evidence in the writings of the early church fathers to substantiate such claims. We also don’t know whether “Theophilus” was a real person or the imagined readers of this work. Theophilus, translated, means God Lover.
Luke emphasizes the continuation of God’s promises to Israel and Jesus as the fulfillment of them. Luke’s Gospel lifts up issues of rich and poor. Perhaps the mixture of Luke’s community reflected socio-economic inequalities. He also focuses on prayer. Check how many times you find Jesus at prayer.
Prologue: This introduction to his purpose for writing is exclusive to Luke. He does the same in Acts.
Annunciation Stories: The two annunciations (to Zechariah and to Mary) are like a diptych – two panels side by side relating twinned events. Zechariah represents the end of the Hebrew era, Mary represents the beginning of the new. You might diagram them out to see the who, what, where, and how side by side.
Birth Stories: Another set of twinned stories of John the Baptist and of Jesus. Which story has the most detail?
Canticles: The hymns on the lips of Mary, Zechariah, the Angels and Simeon may reflect early church hymns. Luke uses them so beautifully. They wrap promises from Hebrew Scripture into the fulfillment in the new age. See Hannah’s hymn (1 Sam 2:1-10).
Genealogy: Compare with Matthew. How does Luke use this?
Nazareth to Capernaum: Why does Jesus move to Capernaum to begin his ministry? How does this compare to Mark and Matthew?
Compare Jesus’ earliest ministry in Luke to that of the other Gospels
Calling the Disciples: Luke puts this at a different place in Jesus’ ministry. Note how the disciples are portrayed in Luke compared to Mark and Matthew.
The Sermon on the Plain: Chapter 6: 20-46 are Luke’s version of The Sermon on the Mount. What differences do you notice?
The Sinful Woman: Luke creates a completely different setting for this woman’s action. Does this change the point of the story?
When the Days Drew Near: Chapter 9:51 begins Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem to be crucified. This begins a new chapter in his ministry. How does Luke’s pace compare with Mark’s? Matthew’s?
10th Sunday after Pentecost
August 5, 2012
Matthew 1:39-56 and 6:17-26.
Mary and Elizabeth.
Some scholars suggest that the birth stories of Luke’s Gospel were added after the rest of the narrative. The story of Jesus’ ministry would be just as effective without them, and if you just chopped them off, the story wouldn’t lose very much. But. But in Luke’s artistry nothing is wasted. The themes that Luke will develop throughout this Gospel and on into Acts are planted in the “birth narratives” found in the beginning of his telling of the story of Jesus. The promise/fulfillment theme, which dominates both Luke and Acts begins here in these twin stories of Zechariah and Elizabeth and their son John, and Mary and her son Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit shows up more in Luke’s Gospel than any others, beginning here with Mary and with Elizabeth’s ecstatic speech, in which she is filled with the Holy Spirit. There are social messages planted here as well, the lifting of the lowly and God’s reign of justice for all that will be so prominent in Jesus’ preaching and in the preaching of John. And then there’s the affirmation that in all these events, God is the principal actor, the power behind all the everything in the life of Jesus and in the life of the early church. More than any other writer, Luke reminds us that God is the subject of the entire story, whatever the time, the place, or the cast of characters onstage.
So in essence, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is the bridge between the annunciation stories and the birth stories. And it is so beautiful. These women, the old and the young share a miracle that links them between the Old Testament and the New. Elizabeth and Zechariah are straight out of the Hebrew tradition. Fred Craddock, my commentator of Luke, (Luke. Interpretation: a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, John Knox Press, 1973) comments on how the language of Luke’s Gospel goes from elegant Greek, at the prologue of the Gospel to the same language of the Greek Old Testament when he tells the story of the annunciations and the births. He suggests that the early Christians for whom this was written might have felt as if they were coming into their home church when they read these stories because it sounded just like the liturgical language they were used to.
Notice that even as Elizabeth’s baby leaps in recognition of the tiniest Jesus, Luke is already telling us that the elder will serve the younger, and that John is already testifying to the Lordship of Jesus. Mary is blessed both because she is the mother of God, and because she has believed God’s word to her. And then Mary sings, claiming all the promises that her Son will fulfill. Notice that the future of what is about to happen through Jesus is rendered in the past tense. This song of praise proclaims what is timelessly true, past, present, and future without differentiation. It is as if the singer is so sure of the promise, that it is pronounced as accomplished fact. This is yet another statement of what will be lifted up by Jesus and in the last days; the last shall be first and the first shall be last. God’s choice of Mary is evidence of this.
So now listen to Jesus give us the same message: Read Luke 6: 17-26
Jesus has been on a mountain, with those he chose to be his special disciples, the twelve. For Luke, the mountain is a place of prayer just as for Matthew, Jesus taught from the mountain. Here Jesus comes down to level of the crowd who awaits his teaching, and he addresses them along with the newly chosen who will be sent out.
There is no spiritualization in Luke’s blessings. There are no poor in spirit or those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Here Jesus is talking about being poor, being hungry, being shut out, and being persecuted. And he follows up with “woes.” I’ll tell you the truth, Jesus’ woes give me the willies. I am way too comfortable in my nice house with a paycheck that meets my needs and money in the bank. It’s not that it’s been handed to me, I have worked hard all my life. Even at my poorest, I always had resources. There was enough to pay the rent, and we were never hungry. But Jesus envisions a world turned upside-down. What would this kind of justice look like for me? It makes me nervous, because my tendency is first and foremost to protect what I think of as mine, to want to grab onto it at all costs and let the rest of the world fend for themselves. Let them work hard like I did!
As Jesus goes on to teach us to love our enemies and pray for those who abuse us, he says in verse 43: “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by it own fruit.” And so each of us turns to God out of gratitude for God’s amazing grace to us. None of us is really worthy of the gifts and blessings that have been showered on us, and all our work and all our gain is because we have been blessed with health and good sense, an upbringing that gave us comforts and the assurance that we were worthwhile people, capable in the world. And even though we are the saddest sinners, God loves us and continues to bless us with community and comfort in this life and the promise of life forever with God. May our hearts be transformed by this unmerited love into hearts which seek to serve all God’s people and bring in the kingdom in which all are fed, all are at home, and all are loved into wholeness.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Study Guide for Luke, Chapters 10-19
The Mission of the Seventy: How does this account of their mission differ from that of Mark and Matthew?
The Lord’s Prayer: Some of this teaching is like that of Matt’s Sermon on the Mount. Does moving it into the narrative in a different way in Luke’s Gospel change the emphasis of the teaching? How?
Luke’s Parables: Some of the most familiar parables of Jesus are in this section of Luke: the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Unjust Judge, the Rich Man and Lazarus. The drama of these stories comes from human interaction. He often uses the thoughts of his characters to advance the story. The ordinariness of the human condition takes center stage, giving us the perfect examples of discipleship for Christian existence.
The Good Samaritan: There is a rhythm in the Greek to the description of the actions of those who encounter the man in the ditch. The priest is going down, ‘when he sees’ the man, ‘he passed by on the other side.’ The Levite, too, ‘when he sees’ the man, ‘he passed by on the other side.’ The Samaritan, also, is making his way ‘when he sees’ the man. Although we expect another repetition, the Samaritan ‘has compassion’ or ‘has mercy.’ Compassion is the bridge between seeing the injured and entering their world with saving care. Look for other examples in Luke of using seeing and compassion or mercy in the chapters that follow. You will find them in stories and in Jesus’ own actions. In Luke’s vision this parable becomes a perfect example of how compassion becomes the precursor for ethical action.
Prayer: Note how many times Jesus and his disciples pray. Circle the references to praying, to thanking God, to praising God.
John R. Donahue SJ writes (The Gospel in Parable, Fortress Press, 1988) “The beginning and the end of the special material of Luke’s travel narrative are marked by group of parables in which prayer is central and which therefore anchor Jesus’ teaching….of Christian discipleship as he himself makes his “way” to Jerusalem. These parables, which shock the sensibilities of the hearers, open them to a new understanding of the way of discipleship. It comprises compassionate entry into the world of the suffering neighbor, along with the rhythm of listening to the word and quiet presence before God, just as a similar rhythm characterized Jesus and the early church. Prayer however, does not lead to passive acquiescence to evil. The exhortation “always to pray and not lose heart” (18:1) is illustrated by the story of a widow who aggressively seeks justice.
“Luke’s theology is especially pertinent for an issue that concerns many Christians today: the relation between specifically religious activity – meditation on Scripture, prayer, and worship – and individual or social action on behalf of the suffering neighbor…The Gospel of Luke counters such facile polarization by juxtaposing the Samaritan who fulfills the law by showing mercy in concrete deed with Mary who listens to the word, and by placing together a widow who raises her voice in protest against injustice with a tax collector who quietly asks for God’s mercy. For Luke, listening to the word of God, prayer for forgiveness, and concern for alleviating suffering and injustice are wedded inseparably, and no human being should put them asunder.”
Table Fellowship: Notice where Jesus eats. Also notice how he uses meals and banquets to teach. Where have you heard some of these stories before? Are they different in Luke’s hands? What do they have to teach us?
Being Found: Donahue calls chapter 15 “The Gospel within the Gospel” because Luke combines three parables that are the heart of his message: the coming of the Son of man to seek and save the lost; Jesus’ defense of the weak or marginal; and the offer of God’s mercy in Jesus along with the joy which the coming of Christ brings. Two of these parables are also in Matthew. How do they sound different in Luke?