Studying God’s Word

Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10

1 Corinthians 12:12-30

Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21 [69C]

We hear in the Gospel reading for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time the opening verses of the Gospel of Luke and the start of Jesus’ public ministry. As an Evangelist, Luke offers us the most detailed information about his work as a Gospel writer and the specifics of the early stages of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. Luke is the only Evangelist that provides us with a formal prologue to his Gospel. In Luke 1:1-4, the first part of today’s Gospel reading, we hear four historical and literary facts about Luke’s Gospel. First, at the time of his writing (around AD 80–85), Luke tells us that “many” others are also compiling narratives on the life and impact of Jesus. Scholars are confident that Luke is referring to the Gospel of Mark, and may well be referring to the Gospel of Matthew (both written a decade or two before Luke). Luke may also be referring to earlier versions of the Gospel of John and some non-canonical gospels, such as the gospel of Thomas and the Q sayings document. Second, Luke tells us he still has access to “eye witnesses” and “ministers of the word” in the writing of his Gospel. In other words, Luke belongs to the second generation of believers. Third, Luke has carefully investigated for himself the events associated with Jesus and has attempted to offer a fresh and more accurate and “orderly” perspective. And finally, Luke tells us who his audience is: “most excellent Theophilus.” Scholars suspect Theophilus may be the patron who sponsored Luke in the writing of his Gospel, since writing a Gospel would have been a costly and time-consuming endeavor.  In the second half of today’s Gospel reading, we hear about the start of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee that will lead to his rejection at Nazareth. Luke’s account of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth is a good case study in some of the remarks he makes in the prologue. It is very likely that Luke had access to Mark’s version of the rejection (Mk 6:1-6). According to Mark, Jesus arrives in Nazareth with his disciples weeks (and likely months) after the start of his Galilean ministry, only to be rejected by the Nazorean villagers. But note the differences in Luke’s version: Jesus’ visit to Nazareth occurs at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, and Jesus is alone when he arrives in Nazareth, having not yet called any disciples to follow him. In other words, Luke is presenting, from his perspective, a more accurate version of the details and a more orderly sequence of the events associated with Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth. Another detail that Luke includes in his telling of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth is the inclusion of the scriptural text that Jesus recited that day in the synagogue. While Mark tells us that Jesus taught in the synagogue, he does not cite any scriptural texts. Luke quotes Isaiah 61:1-2 as the prophetic text read by Jesus. This is an important Jewish prophetic text, since it not only affirms an incident that has already occurred in Jesus’ life (“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” which occurred at his baptism), it also foreshadows some of the main features of Jesus’ upcoming ministry: preaching good news to the poor and captives and healing the sick and blind. In other words, part of Jesus’ message to his countrymen involved the fulfillment of prophecy. This is why Jesus, according to Luke (and absent from Mark) proclaims to all in the synagogue: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke tells us that Jesus chose to begin his public ministry in the village in which he was raised. And at least initially, he was “praised by all.”

Dr. Daniel J. Scholz