There are many commentaries on each book in the bible, and more than a few historical or archeological tomes explaining their times and people. But have you ever wondered how a particular book was received by those first readers? Take the gospels for instance. You can read any number of explanations about who the writers probably were, something about their intended audience, and more than a little about their imputed theology, but what was the impact of their first publication?
I figure that Luke, more than the other three, was tremendously controversial. I imagine that his first readers were both scandalized and mesmerized. It must have been the sort of book they had to hide under the mattress so that others wouldn’t see it, just as I hid From Here to Eternity under mine, and I’m sure that you had something hidden under your mattress also. The other gospels certainly sniff around the edges of the social scandal with their casts of prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners of various kinds, but Luke dives with lusty delight into a life with Jesus who seemed to know every sinner up close and personal and was enthusiastically willing to violate every social norm and barrier he came across. It’s hard to imagine a religious leader, much less the Son of God, having such low standards of propriety considering the crowd he hung around with.
I imagine that early readers of Luke’s gospel must have read it in disbelieving awe that lured them into a sense of freedom and fulness of life they never new existed, and I imagine that many new Lukan Christians appeared to others as unrepentant rebels who had no respect for traditional standards of morality. They certainly couldn’t fit into traditional Jewish ways, nor were they very acceptable in Hellenistic communities. Who knows what the Romans thought. I also imagine that it was this very new found freedom from traditional social constraints that could have led them astray. Failing to integrate the teachings of Jesus about a higher righteousness into their thinking and practice, they could easily have become first century versions of Haight-Ashbury hippies. Perhaps that is what Paul’s many admonitions and correctives are all about, and maybe that’s why the pastoral letters are so intent on restoring some of the discipliine of traditional mores.
The point is that it’s very hard for our modern eyes to read Luke, or any of the gospels, with a full appreciation of how radical they were and how accurate were the words of the Pharisees when they accused the early Christians of turning the world upside down. Time and again, the adults in my bible studies have considered these words with teary eyed sentimentalism that, I believe, deprives them of the full power of Christ reaching out to us in our own day and time.
So what do you think?
7 thoughts on “The Scandalous Gospel of Luke”
I\’ve been trying to write a few of these posts as deliberately incomplete hoping that some of you might offer your own additions and conclusions.
Luke spoke of the endowment of the holy spirit. Did the same auther write the Book of Acts? Whatever one believes it does bespeak of a living relationship with God. This is more than the usually authoritarian church routine.
I\’ve referred to Luke as an iron fist wrapped in velvet. He writes beautifully, but that can distract people from his radical message. Think about the Magnificat, for example.My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . .Beautiful stuff. But not too much further on we get, He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.I try to reclaim some of that radicalness when I preach Luke. I know I\’ve touched a nerve when the people complain.So, yes, Luke is radical; but it\’s like seeing a revolution where the masses attack the castle while wearing tuxedos.And yes, oldgianni, Luke and Acts were written by the same author.
Here\’s a question. How would one go about getting a contemporary bible class to read Luke with the same sense of amazement?
I am not talking like St Luke episcopal in Seattle. I never did like all that manipulation of emotions for some ones egotism. I have been through that. I learned in seminary thatthe auther of st luke was also the auther of Acts but things change. To me that endowment of the Holy Spirit makes us be more like christians should be.
Yep John, things are changing all the time, but good old Luke is still considered the author of both books, if, in fact, Luke was his name. I\’d like to have known him. I figure he was not only very very bright and well educated but also able to absorb a great deal of the timelessness of the Holy Spirit that must have made him a very odd person too. If he is Luke the beloved physician, Paul liked him a lot, but I wonder how others took to his unorthodox ways. Obviously other followers of Paul such as Timothy were unable to go as far as Luke, and I suspect they didn\’t much care for him.
The Gospel Acc to Luke is the only one whereby Jesus says that one might think badly of Him or His father, but DO NOT EVER DARE to think about trying to manipulate or curse the Holy Spirit.At Heavenly Rest when Bishop Grein [sp] graced us during a Rector\’s Forum, he especially liked the fact that same was canonized.Additionally, only in Luke is it written, To whom much is given, much is expected, to whom much more is given, much more is expected.To me the 4 Gospels would not (a) be FREE of superstition/paganistic/idolatry-like Praying with the Spirit, especially as the Psalms read: NEVER SEEK REVENGE. I was lucky enough to be given \”much more,\” and I am guided in everything I do by Luke\’s command.Thanks,Ian Andrew Schneider, Esq.baptized 8/14/94 – as I know [someone I think was you] told me 6 years later I had \”never been baptized.\” that\’s ok,man. youalso got it *right* when you looked up and noted that in the 130 year history of the church Jim Burns was the first to allow a parishioner to compose and play a new Hymn on a Sunday Morning service – and I was inspired by that!Hope you are well. †