When the UK City of Culture was awarded to “Derry/Londonderry” in 2013, the leaders of the four main Churches that year agreed on a common initiative to distribute 40,000 copies of the Gospel of Luke as a free gift to homes and families of different denominations throughout the City. It was given the title “Luke’s Book”, and the hope was that it would not only highlight the shared Christian culture of Derry City, but also encourage a shared reading of the Scriptures as well.
From the First Sunday of Advent, the Gospel of Luke is again proclaimed at our Sunday Masses for the greater part of this new liturgical Year.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels because they were written from much the same general point of view, and there are indeed numerous similarities between them. But these three Gospel writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, had their own particular purpose in mind, as if they were looking at events through a somewhat different lens. These three Evangelists paint a broadly similar portrait of Christ for us, but each from a slightly different artistic angle.
We will see this reflected in different ways as we hear and read and reflect on the Gospel according to Luke in the coming Church Year. Luke himself was a doctor by profession, and he records more healing miracles than any of the other three Gospels, often using medical terms of his time to give us the finer details of a particular miracle performed by Christ during his public ministry. Luke is even a little defensive about the reputation of the medical profession to which he belonged! Whereas Mark, for example, tells us that a woman who came to Jesus to be healed had been to several doctors, yet instead of getting better she actually got worse, Luke is more discreet, assuring us that her condition was such that she could not be cured by anyone – except, of course, by Christ who restored her to health when she touched the fringe of his cloak with such great faith.
In the coming days of the Christmas season we will hear the Gospel of Luke proclaimed at Mass as we listen to the stories associated with Christ’s birth, otherwise called the Infancy Narratives. Many of the familiar details of the Christmas story come down to us from the pen of Luke who is really a master storyteller. Only in Luke’s Gospel do we read the stories of the Annunciation and the Visitation, together with the details of the arrival of the shepherds at the manger where Jesus was born and the choirs of angels singing glory to God. In fact there is an ancient tradition that Luke may have discovered many of these carefully researched details from Mary herself.
The three great prayers, or Canticles, recited every day at the Morning, Evening and Night Prayer of the Church are taken from Luke’s Gospel. Popularly known by their Latin names, the Magnificat, the Benedictus and the Nunc dimittis are also referred to respectively as the Canticle of Mary, the Canticle of Zachary and the Canticle of Simeon, and they still form an important part of the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours.
Luke also highlights in his Gospel Christ’s preferential love for the poor and the marginalised, the outcast and the sinner, and in the male-dominated culture of his day he records the special place and role of women in Christ’s public ministry. Two of the most popular Parables in the Gospels, the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, are found only in Luke’s Book, as well as the beautiful story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who eventually recognise the Risen Christ in the breaking of Bread.
Pope Francis frequently encourages us to read a little passage of the Gospel every day, and try to reflect on it so that we will come to know Christ better, love him more deeply and follow him more closely day by day. This prayerful reading of Scripture is also known as Lectio Divina, and it is an ancient form of prayer in the Church.
In the course of this new Church Year we can find in the Gospel according to Luke a portrait of Christ, and see his face reflected anew in the pages of Luke’s Book.
Fr Colum Clerkin, is Parish Priest of Culmore, in the diocese of Derry.