The new Lectionary

Year C - the year of St Luke

Last month’s magazine contained an introduction to the new scripture readings we are now using in church, following the Revised Common Lectionary. During Advent and Christmas you will have noticed very little difference. The readings were changed slightly but the themes were the familiar ones, looking forward to the coming of Christ and celebrating his coming into the world. During January the themes will again be very obvious and specific - the Epiphany, the Baptism of Jesus, the Conversion of St Paul. The services on these days will, of course, use the passages from scripture which directly relate to the stories from whichever gospel is most relevant.

However, from the beginning of February you will find that there is a change of approach. From February to Holy Week, and then again from Trinity to next Advent, we shall only be hearing the Gospel according to St Luke. Week by week it is Luke’s viewpoint and interpretation of the life of Jesus which we shall receive. If we are to stay with Luke for a whole year, journeying with him along the way of Christ, seeing Jesus’ life and teaching through his eyes, then it seems a good idea to provide some background to Luke - who was he, who was he writing for, what were his own particular interests? What should we be looking out for as we read his words, that perhaps we would not expect in Matthew or Mark or John?

Nothing is known for certain about any of the Gospel writers. Our assumptions are based on tradition, backed up by insights from their writings. Taking this into account it is commonly agreed that Luke was a Gentile, probably a second-generation Christian from Antioch in Syria. He was an educated man who wrote stylish Greek with a poetic and artistic flair (‘the most beautiful book in the world’, his gospel has been called). He was a doctor, a compassionate man, the companion of Paul on many of his travels. He was not a Jew, so we find little about Jewish customs and prophecies; he doesn’t have a very precise knowledge of Palestine, probably only having visited the country for short periods. Luke’s knowledge of the events of Jesus’ life come from Mark’s gospel written a number of years previously and from other written and oral eyewitness accounts, and yet his is the most comprehensive and most ‘historical’ of the Gospels, telling the story of Jesus from before his birth to his Ascension into heaven.

Luke wrote his Gospel, specifically to a man called Theophilus of high rank in the Roman government, to tell him the truth about the Christian religion which Rome despised and condemned. But through Theophilus he was writing to a wider world, to convince them of the attractiveness of Jesus and the trustworthiness of his message.

As we work our way through Luke’s gospel here are some of the characteristics you might look out for:

  • it is a universal gospel, a gospel for everyone. Luke shows a picture of God with arms outstretched to hold the whole world in their embrace - Samaritans, Gentiles, outcasts of all kinds.
  • his gospel has a special place for the poor. ‘Blessed are the poor’ he reports Jesus as saying - not the ‘poor in spirit’. He alone tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus.
  • there is a strong sense of social justice, beginning with the words of the Magnificat ‘he has filled the hungry with good things’.
  • he gives a valued place to women. They play a large part in his story, written at a time when women were uneducated and had no legal rights.
  • it is a very domestic gospel, with stories of meals and homes and entertaining.
  • it is a gospel which emphasises prayer - Jesus’ prayer and the prayer of the community.

Each month the readings for the coming month are set out in the Diary at the back of the magazine. You may find it helpful to read these, and begin to think about them (perhaps noticing some of the points I’ve mentioned above), before coming to church. You may like to explore a little deeper and buy a commentary on Luke, to help you understand more about the background and meaning.

Two very accessible books are those by William Barclay:

  • A beginners guide to the New Testament; Saint Andrew Press, 5.50
    (A brief introduction to each of the books of the New Testament, highlighting their dominant ideas).
  • The Daily Study Bible - The Gospel of Luke; Saint Andrew Press, 6.50
    (An introduction to the book as a whole, with a chapter by chapter commentary).

Both of these are available from the Congregational Bookshop in Castlegate and other Christian bookshops.

A deeper study which I would recommend is:

  • The Gospel of St Luke; G.B.Caird, Penguin, 8.99

This may have to be ordered from a Penguin stockist.

Eileen McLean
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 31st December 1997