Introduction to the Gospel According to St. Luke
The writer of the third Gospel account was:—
- not an eye witness to much of what he records
- not one of the chosen twelve
- probably not a believer until after the Lord’s death.
He was anxious it seems —
- to stress our Lord’s love of “sinners”
- to record Jesus’ acts of forgiveness
- to contrast the Lord’s tenderness towards the poor and those
who were generous with their wealth, with his severity towards the
proud and arrogant, and those who abused their wealth and influence.
St. Luke wrote with warmth and feeling, and he also wrote in a very elevated style of sophisticated polished Greek. He was highly educated.
In this all too inadequate introduction to Luke’s Gospel, we wish to focus on two very special features:
- He emphasised the necessity of prayer. This will be evident as
we progress through the Church Year, and build a collection of
material to help us respond in a Biblical manner.
- He also highlighted our Lord’s lovingkindness. We will open the series
with a concise explanation of this most esteemed virtue.
This is a word passing rather quickly from our vocabulary today. Perhaps we hear more of “mercy” which for our purposes, can be taken as meaning the same. The renowned Biblical scholar R B Girdlestone in the 19th century wrote “ …the two aspects of mercy, its reception and its exercise, are wonderfully blended in Scripture. The right and wholesome effect of the enjoyment of God’s lovingkindness is the exhibition of the same spirit towards our fellows. God is everywhere described as delighting in mercy ‘his mercy endureth for ever’ but he requires that those to whom he shows it, in their turn and according to their opportunities, ‘love mercy’…”.
The same scholar tells us that consistently throughout the Bible the way the word for mercy or lovingkindness (Hesed) is used indicates that the persons who exercise this disposition belong in a special sense to God. “In a word, mercy is the main characteristic of God’s dealings with man, and hence it is to be looked for as the distinguishing mark of every child of God… The ‘godly’ are those who, having received mercy from Him, are exercising it for Him and as His representatives”. He further notes that via Greek and Latin, this word re-emerges in English as ‘saint’ or ‘godly’.
This can be no surprise, for the great Jewish teachers, such as Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto, were just as emphatic as we read:
“The practice of lovingkindness is of central importance to the saintly, for ‘Saintliness’ itself derives from ‘lovingkindness’. And our Sages of blessed memory have said, “The world stands on three things” one of which is lovingkindness. They have numbered it among those things whose fruits a man eats in this world and whose essence endures for his reward in the World to Come. And they have said:
- Rabbi Simlai learned, ‘The Torah (God’s holy teaching) begins and ends
- R. Rava learned, ‘All who possess these three traits are without question
the seed of our father Abraham; mercy, shyness, and lovingkindness’.
- Rabbi Eleazar said ‘Lovingkindness is greater than charity, as it is said
(Hosea 10: 12) ‘Sow for yourselves with charity and reap with
[One might think of lovingkindnerss as mercy proving itself in action.]
This rather solid block of focused study is presented at the commencement of this study of St. Luke’s Gospel account, for it has to be remembered that he was a close friend and companion of St Paul the Apostle. There can be no doubt that St. Paul’s strong Jewish background played a significant part in helping St. Luke focus on Christ’s example and teaching of the mercy and lovingkindness of God.
A Merciful Heart
From the Spiritual Writings of St. Isaac of Nineveh.
“Do you desire to have communion with God in your mind by receiving the perception of that delight which is not subject to the senses? Cleave to mercy. For if (mercy) is found within you, it is formed by that holy beauty which it resembles. All acts of mercy will make the soul a partaker without delay, in the unique glory of the divine rank.
And what is a merciful heart? It is the heart’s burning for all of creation, for men, for birds, for animals and even for demons. At the remembrance and at the sight of them, the merciful man’s eyes fill with tears which arise from the great compassion that urges his heart. It grows tender and cannot endure hearing or seeing any injury or slight sorrow to anything in creation. Because of this, such a man continually offers tearful prayer even for irrational animals and for the enemies of truth and for all who harm it, that they may be guarded and forgiven.”
St. Isaac represents one of the most advanced Christian cultures ever to have existed. Syria was one of the first countries to be evangelised by the Apostles. It became a model for its enthusiastic adoption of the Christian faith which produced many great teachers and missionaries.