We have an interesting Gospel selection today. It consists of a one sentence introduction to the Gospel of Luke, and the account of Jesus’ first day of ministry. I’ll write about that momentous day when we read the conclusion of the account next Sunday. This week I’m going to focus on that first sentence of Luke’s Gospel. Let’s begin with a bit of background.
Luke wrote his Gospel account of the life of Jesus between 61 – 63 AD while he was staying with Paul who was under house arrest in Rome. He wrote the Gospel for a gentile convert, Theophilus. We know nothing about him other than Luke referred to him a second time in his introduction to the Acts of the Apostles, his history of the early Church. Here’s how he begins that history.
“In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them for forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While he was with them he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for ‘the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’”
Isn’t it interesting that Luke quotes Jesus to Theophilus. It implies a wonderful intimacy with the material he is about to present. He’s not just reporting; he’s giving witness.
In the introduction to his Gospel that we’ve read today that same witness comes through loud and strong. “Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eye witnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word handed down in to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.”
Sometimes we forget that the Gospels are much more than narratives about the life of Jesus. They do give us some information about Jesus. They tell us that he was a missionary who traveled around for three years teaching about the kingdom of God. They record many of his parables which were his primary teaching tool. But most importantly, we have to remember that the gospels were written to specific communities: John’s Gospel for Greek converts. Matthew’s for a community of Jewish Christians and Luke’s for a Greek convert, Theophilus. The Good News is packaged in a way most understandable for each community. AND, the faith of each evangelist gives his unique view and experience of the Jesus event. Sometimes their details differ because the writer is making a different point using the same material as the others. For instance, in John’s Gospel Jesus died on the day before Passover. The other three say he died ON Passover. John does so because the day before the Passover was when the Passover lambs were slaughtered. He wants to teach that Jesus is THE Passover lamb whose once and for all sacrifice has forever redeemed the world.
Where do we go with this bit of information about the writing of the Gospels? First of all, we need to understand the Gospels as more than narratives about the life of Jesus and his teachings. Secondly, we need to speak the Gospel message as our personal testimony of faith just as the evangelists wrote their Gospels to enrich and guide the communities they were addressing.
Understanding this, we need to follow their example. We know the Jesus story, but we need to internalize it, to make its Good News the life-core of our lives. Our personal, faith-filled, retelling of the story to our friends, our children and grandchildren, passes on, not only what historical facts we know but, more importantly, the experience of the Lord we have had deep in our hearts.