Editor’s note: All Scripture references are from the Gospel of Luke unless other wise noted.
The Gospel of Luke appears as part one of a two volume work, Luke-Acts, dedicated to someone named Theophilus (1:3; Acts 1;1) Today they are separated. Critics acclaim the author’s style as one of the best in the New Testament.
For its sources see, What are the Gospels?
A Geographical Theme
The author has used a geographical theme to present his portrait of the risen Christ. It follows Mark’s outline with only one journey to Jerusalem whereas John’s gospel has three. The one-journey story has been enhanced and overlaid with many details that reveal a theological intention. Matthew present the journey in two chapters; Mark in one, whereas Luke devotes some ten chapters to it. Its beginning is marked by a solemn pronouncement: “As the time approached when he was to be taken from this world, he firmly resolved to proceed toward Jerusalem”(9:51). Two additional times the author reminds us of the journey (13:22; 17:11).
The infancy story begins the theme of the journey-to-Jerusalem with the child Jesus taken there twice by his parents (2:22,42). He makes no mention of Jesus ministry in Bethsaida (Mk.6:45), Tyre and Sidon (Mk.7:24,31), and the Decapolis (Mk.7:31). He omits Caesarea Philippi. Thus Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah is not located at any specific site (9:18:cf Mk.8:27).
Jesus’ public ministry takes place first in Galilee (4:14-9:50), then at Samaria through Perea (9:51-17:11 ), and finally Judea- Jerusalem (17:11 – 21:38). Arriving he enters triumphantly riding on a colt (19:35-36), Luke is the only synoptic showing him hailed as a king. This fulfills the angel’s words to Mary that her son will sit on David’s throne (1:32). He then shows his authority by cleansing the temple (19:45-48).
His Galilean ministry has what is called the great omission in which Luke eliminates the second Markan loaves story and connected material (feeding 4000). The Samaria and Perea section is made up of mostly “Q” and “M” sources containing the parables of the good Samaritan (10:30-37), the good friend (11:5-8), the rich fool (12:16-21), the watchful servants (12:35-38), the barren fig tree (13:6-9), the closed door (13:24-30), the places of honor (14:8-11), inviting guests (14:12-14), building a tower (14:28-30), planning a war (14:31-32), the lost coin (15:8-10), the prodigal son (15:11-32), the unjust steward (16:1-8), the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-21), the use-less servant (17:7-10), the unjust judge (18:1-8), and finally the Pharisee and the Publican (18:9-14). These exclusive parables in Luke’s gospel gives it a distinctive character.
The evangelist showed great interest in many meals that Jesus had and with whom he ate. Levi’s coming out dinner (5:27-39), the penitent woman at Simon the Pharisee’s dinner (7:36-50), the feeding of the multitude (9:10-17), Martha and Mary (10:38-42), a guest at a Pharisee’s home (11:37-54), dinner with another Pharisee (14:1-24), dinner with Zacchaeus, the tax collector(19:1-10), the last supper (22:14-38), and finally the prophetic breaking of the bread at Emmaus (24:13-35).
Emphasizing on Social Justice
No other NT writer except the author of the Epistle of James emphasizes the social justice aspect of Christian living to the depth that Luke does. He preserves the many sayings of Jesus warning that those with material possessions have a responsibility to the poor and disadvantaged. He attacks the racism and discrimination against the untouchables that existed.
They were the lepers, Samaritans, gentiles, tax collectors, women, and the poor who had no voice. The theme is established beginning with Mary’s Magnificat: “He has deposed the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly to high places. The hungry he has given every good thing and the rich he has sent empty away” (1:52).
Only Luke reports what John the Baptizer’s reply was to the crowds who asked what must we do? “He who has two coats let him share with him who has none, and he who has food let him do likewise”(3:11). When Levi the tax collector was called to follow Jesus he “left everything behind” (5:28). In Luke’s sermon on the plain a special blessing is given to the poor, the hungry, and those who mourn. In contrast he warns the rich, the well fed, and happy that their day is coming (6: 20-26).
He eats with Simon the Pharisee but also permits a woman known as a sinner to wash his feet. Then forgives her sins (7:36-50). A group of women including Mary Magdalene served him out of their means (8:1-3). Of all the synoptic gospels, Luke is the only one who places the Samaritans in a favorable light. The good Samaritan stopped and ministered to a man who had been beaten by robbers. Whereas a priest and a Levite passed him by (10:35-37). He cured ten lepers and the only one came back to thank him and he was a Samaritan (17:11-19).
Jesus’ last acts before entering Jerusalem were to heal a blind man begging along the roadside in Jericho (18:35-43) and dining with Zacchaeus the tax collector (19:1-10). These two stories are very symbolic and summarize all of Jesus’ ministry. He came to bring hope to society’s unfortunate ones. In the case of Zacchaeus a tax collector and rich, he was able to get through the “eye of a needle” by giving half of his fortune to the poor. At Emmaus he broke bread with two and “their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (24:13-35).