Gospel of Luke Current Hot-Button Issues And Cultural Debates In Practice
Getting Biblical in Daily Life
Bestseller for Two Millennia
For Christians, Luke is the Steven Spielberg of New Testament authors. Think about it. Here's a gospel that covers most of what the Gospel of Mark covers but with the addition of so many famous parables, like the one about the Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31), and loads of unforgettable sayings, like "If anyone strike you on the cheek offer the other also" (6:29). And don't forget—he's the man behind such staying symbols as baby Jesus lying in the manger (2:7) and the Good Samaritan (10:30-36). Together with the Gospel of Matthew, Luke soon overshadowed Mark in popularity among Christians, who are still keeping it at the top of their bestsellers list.
Luke the Artist
Luke sure knows how to tell a story. His gospel is injected with a high dose of literary artistry, so much so that it has become as enduring a work of art as say, Shmoop. Or the Sistine Chapel.
Just think of all the moving and complex stories thrown at us one after the other: the Sinful Woman (7:36-50), the Good Samaritan (10:30-36), the Prodigal Son (15:11-32), the Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31), the Ten Pounds (19:11-27). You get the point. All the while, Luke develops and complicates classic themes, like care for outcasts, the rejection of wealth, and the value of what is lost. It's no wonder intellectual Ernest Renan deemed the Gospel of Luke "the most beautiful book ever written" (source, viii). Agree or disagree? Shmoop amongst yourselves.
Luke the Theologian
But what's the point of all this artistry? To make a point, that's what. And Luke's point, of course, is a theological one.
First on the docket: "fulfillment." He introduces this concept right in the first verse of the gospel when he writes of "the events that have been fulfilled among us" (1:1). What does this mean? Well, in short, the events that go down in the course of Luke's gospel are, according to Luke, the events that the prophets, Moses, and the Psalms spoke about in the wayback days. Jesus is just fulfilling them. Jesus himself says as much at the beginning of his ministry in Capernaum (4:21) and again in his last words to the disciples before he heads off to for heaven (24:44).
But the whole fulfillment fiasco isn't very easy, and Luke is majorly interested in the strange and surprising ways in which it occurs. Opposition, rejection, and defiance are the names of the game. And no matter how nonsensical it may be—we humans just can't understand it—it's all part of the grand plan.
So Jesus's arrival will fulfill, um, everything, but Luke's own people—the Jews—reject him in no uncertain terms. Luke sees this as the reason behind the destruction of Jerusalem in 70, and he's not happy about it. In fact, it makes him terribly sad (13:34-35; 19:41-44; 23:27-31).
One last thing. Luke obviously expects the return of Jesus (9:26; 21:27). But when? When does Luke expect all this craziness to go down? In some passages it appears quite close (9:27; 21:32), while in others Luke seems to be coming to terms with its delay and the consequences for Christian ethics (12:41-46; 17:22-37; 18:1-8; 21:34-36). Even if Jesus is yet to return, there's a sense in Luke that at least God's kingdom is already present, "for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you" (17:21).
What do you think? Is Luke intentionally ambiguous? Is he trying to create suspense? Or does he just have no clue?