Gospel According to Luke by Fr Dominic

When reading the Gospels...

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Reading the Gospels in Context

In the recent ten-week programme (20 Aug – 5 Nov 2019) conducted by Fr Dominic Tan for about 80 participants on the Gospel according to Luke, he gave several insights in his introductory session on the reading of Gospels.

He pointed out that there really was only one Gospel and that it was the Gospel of Jesus. However, this one Gospel was written by different writers with different emphasis and interpretations to suit the different audiences, whose background and perspectives about life the writers were sensitive to in explaining the faith to them. Thus, rather than calling them the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, we have the individual Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The writers themselves came from different backgrounds, which accounts too for their different perspectives when writing. This historical background of the audiences had to be taken into account so that the message of Jesus could be understood within the context of the relevant socio-economic and political world of the followers of that time. Compilation work of Jesus’ life and teachings were thus summarised, expanded, explained further, reconfigured without losing the essence of the message, in all the 4 Gospels, and the truth of what happened was ensured by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit working through the writers.

In addition, the Gospels were written at least about 35 years after the death of Christ, even after the letters of St Paul, and on retrospect, upon realising the identity of Jesus after His resurrection, the writers gave him titles like “Lord”, “Messiah”, “Son of God”, “Saviour” in their writings. They were based mostly on oral accounts and tradition and some written form. There was a realisation of the need to preserve the oral form in writing for accuracy of the teachings as the faith began to spread to other lands. The fairly recent discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1946 and later in the 1950s in Qumran further authenticated the text in the Catholic Bible and which helped explain the gap in information before AD700.

Highlights of the Gospel according to Luke

In particular, the Gospel according to St Luke was written between 80-85 AD and catered more for the gentiles than for the Jewish audience. Thus, reference to Jewish customs was omitted, for example, the ones on being clean/unclean and purity/impurity. Being an educated traditional physician, St. Luke’s account was systematic and balanced. He wrote for the oppressed and brought to light the role of women in his narrations. Each time there was mention of a male character in the narratives, it would be followed by one involving a woman. His compassion for women/mothers is seen in the raising of the widow’s son to life in Naim (Lk7:14-15).

Being also the author of the Acts, Luke has given a more complete and thorough story of the life of Christ starting from the birth of John the Baptist who was to be the forerunner opening the way for the Lord, the Annunciation by the angel right up to his resurrection, giving the disciples last instructions before his ascension into heaven. Besides having an additional 6 miracles, it is the longest Gospel of the four.

In the infancy narrative, it was St Luke’s objective to show that Jesus was far superior to John the Baptist. While the announcement of the birth of John was made to Zachariah, the announcement of Jesus was made to Mary, a virgin. When both questioned how it was to be, Zachariah was struck mute for showing doubt, while Mary was given the answer that the Holy Spirit would come upon her. In Luke too, Mary is depicted as the “favoured one” and first disciple of Christ as she was the first believer and obeyed what was asked of her even though she may not have fully understood God’s plan for her and for her son. She treasured all these things in her heart (2:51). It is in St Luke’s writings that the role of Mary is elaborated and emphasised.

In this Gospel, St. Luke evangelises with blessing, wonder and joy. Joy is particularly seen in the 3 accounts of the lost sheep, lost son, the lost coin and the joy of Simeon and Anna in living long enough to see the Lord in answer to their prayers. He advocates repentance and peace and he brought peace between enemies even at his own expense and humiliation, as in the situation where Herod passed Jesus back to Pilate for sentencing. From that point onwards we are told, Herod and Plate who were enemies, became friends. At many junctures too in this Gospel, Jesus foretells his passion even though the disciples were still unable to fully comprehend what he was saying.

What were the sources of St Luke‘s writings? According to research done by Fr Dominic, both Gospels of Matthew and Luke depended heavily on the Gospel of Mark. About 65% of St Luke’s account is based on that of Mark’s. The rest are from his own sources. It is most probable that he had access to them in his capacity as a companion to St Paul and being an eye-witness of events along St Paul’s journeys.

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Feedback on the Programme

Response from participants of the programme have been very positive. David Neai, a Protestant expressed his thanks for having been able to attend the 10-week programme, saying that he has gained a greater understanding of the Gospel according to Luke. He was appreciative of the Introduction session as it gave the perspective in which one should read the Gospels. Fr Dominic also gave good examples and illustrations and he taught with clarity. David Yeo, similarly found the sessions very interesting, lively and informative and stated that he would appreciate reading the Gospels “from now onwards”.
The programme helped participants see the links between the Old Testament and the New Testament as Fr Dominic explained the background of events and acts in Luke which had connections to religious, cultural and customary beliefs of the Jews, for example the connection between Passover Meal and the Eucharist in the Mass today. The Jews believed that in order to be part of the covenant, one had to partake in eating the meat of the sacrificed lamb. Jesus is the sacrifice in the Mass today and Catholics eat of His body and drink of His blood. Other parallels were drawn of parables and the situations of strict religiosity of the Jewish self-righteousness - especially the position of women and widows, and their strict adherence to laws and procedures, rather than to the spirit of the law.

Most importantly, there were well-prepared and detailed note handouts for each and every session to be referred to, to reinforce the lessons. Fr Dominic always urged and reminded the participants to read ahead besides also encouraging questions from the participants which were collected at the end of each session and which he answered in the next.

Participants eagerly await further programmes on the other Gospels in the near future.