Commentaries on Luke
Luke, a Syrian doctor, was converted to Christianity when the first missionaries left the Jerusalem and Caesarea communities to take the Gospel beyond the borders of the Jewish country. Luke then left his homeland to accompany the Apostle Paul.
He arrived in Rome, the capital of the then known world, where he stayed for at least two years. There he met Peter and Mark who were preaching among the Christians in Rome.
When he wrote his Gospel, various texts containing deeds and miracles of Jesus were available to him, the same texts which Mark and Matthew had used. In his travels, he had also picked up other stories that came from Jesus’ first disciples. These stories were preserved in the oldest churches of Jerusalem and Caesarea.
On this we have the witness of his first paragraph (1:1-4): he was concerned with finding the testimonies of the first ministers of the Word, this is the apostles.
Then it would be wrong to think that Luke wrote long after the events, as some people say, and elaborates on things he doesn’t know. Though the last corrections to his gospel were done about the year 70, the bulk is much older. This is the case specially for the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel telling us about Jesus’ infancy. They are the translations almost word to the word of a Hebrew or Aramaic writing from the first Christian generation based on information which his mother Mary must have supplied.
Luke’s cultural background was Greek and he was writing for Greek people. He omitted several Marcan details, dealing with Jewish laws and customs which would have been hard for his readers to understand.
Luke saw in the Gospel the power reconciling people with God and with one another. Therefore, he was concerned about giving us the parables of mercy and the words condemning money – a divisive factor between people. Likewise, Luke showed the very natural way Jesus treated women, who were completely marginalized by the world.
The Gospel of Luke has three sections (see Introduction to the New Testament):
– Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, 3:1–9:56;
– the journey to Jerusalem, 9:57–18:17;
– the arrival in Jerusalem and the passion, 18:18–23.
The last chapter on the apparitions of the risen Jesus will serve as an invitation to read the Book of Acts, which is a continuation of Luke’s Gospel.
• 1.1 Luke dedicates his work to Theophilus, who may have been a well-to-do Christian. According to the custom of the times (printing did not exist), Luke gave him his manuscript with the expectation that several copies would be made at his expense for the use of Christian communities. Luke would also dedicate the Acts of the Apostles to Theophilus.
• 5. In the days of Herod. This Herod was the father of “Tetrarch Herod” who is recorded in 3:1 and whom Jesus knew. He was the last king of the Jews. When he died, Judea lost its autonomy. This Gospel begins in the Temple, and will end in the Temple. This first book of Luke will take place in a setting that is strictly Jewish. Only in his second book, the Acts, shall we find the extension of the Gospel to all the nations. God’s work begins with simple believers – there were many of them in Israel, those who in the Psalms are called “the poor of Yahweh.”
Among the Jews, there were a number of priestly families called Aaron’s descendants. All the men from these families were priests from generation to generation. From time to time they had the privilege and duty to fulfill priestly functions in the Jerusalem temple, but the rest of the time they worked in their towns and villages as ordinary citizens.
Elizabeth could not have children (v. 7). As with Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel (famous ancestors of the Jewish people), and Hannah (mother of the prophet Samuel) this occurred so that God’s goodness and power shown to the humble and despised would be made more obvious (1 S 1).
Your prayer has been heard (v. 13). Zechariah wanted to have a son, but no longer hoped for one. However, in the temple he prayed for the salvation God would grant his people and is promised both salvation and a son.
He shall never drink wine (v. 15). In Israel many men consecrated themselves to God in this way: they neither cut their hair nor drank alcoholic drinks and withdrew from the world for a while (Num 6). They were called Nazirites.
Zechariah’s son was to be a Nazirite from his mother’s womb until his death, as Samson had been (Jdg 13:5). The one who would be known as John the Baptist receives the mission to preach repentance, and his very life was to be a model of austerity (Mk 1:6). In that he will be the opposite of Jesus who, but for exceptional times such as his fasting in the desert, would live like everyone else and not request special fasts of his disciples (Lk 7:33-34).
Then, the angel indicates what John, Zechariah’s son, will be: He will go in the spirit and power of Elijah (v. 17). In Scripture we see that after Elijah disappeared, having been taken to heaven in a flaming chariot (2 K 2:11), the community of believers kept wondering about the meaning of such an unusual event. They even thought that just as Elijah had worked during a time of religious crisis to bring his people back to faith, so he would also return from heaven before the coming of the Messiah to restore his people’s faithfulness.
The text here refers to this Israelite expectation: one should not think that Elijah would return from heaven in person as Malachi 3:23 seemed to say. Rather John the Baptist would operate with the spirit of Elijah to obtain reconciliation for all, through justice and faithfulness to God’s law.
So, in this remote corner of the world, the Good News begins with an elderly and childless couple, because nothing is impossible with God.
THE VIRGIN MARY
• 26. The first two chapters of this Gospel are, like the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, an account of the infancy of Jesus. The spirit, however, is entirely different. Matthew uses without scruple stories that were not authenticated, but were in the tradition of “infancies of saints” that circulated among Jews and he used them to show what the mission of Jesus would be. Luke also gives us an account that is first of all theological but based on facts. In doing that he uses a very ancient document familiar to the Christian communities of Palestine. We find seven tableaux in the first two chapters:
– Annunciation of John, annunciation of Jesus;
– the visitation;
– birth of John;
– birth of Jesus;
– the presentation;
– Jesus in the Temple.
The account of the annunciation of Jesus marks the difference from John in his person and in his mission.
How considerate God is toward humans! He does not save them without their consent. The Savior is expected and welcomed by a mother: a young girl accepts to be the servant of the Lord and becomes the mother of God.
The virgin’s name was Mary (v. 27). Luke uses the word virgin. Why did he not say a young girl or a woman? Simply because he was referring to the words of the prophets stating that God would be received by the virgin of Israel. For centuries God endured thousands of infidelities from his people, and had forgiven their sins. At his coming, the Savior was to be welcomed by a “virgin” people, that is, a people fully consecrated to him. In Jesus’ time many people concluded that the Messiah would be born of a virgin mother when they read the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. Now then, the Gospel says: Mary is The Virgin.
The one who, from the beginning, was chosen by God to welcome his only Son through an act of perfect faith, had to be a virgin. She, who was to give Jesus his blood, his hereditary traits, his character, his first education, must have grown under the shadow of the Almighty like a secret flower belonging to no one else, who had made of her whole life a gift to God.
How can this be? (v. 34). The angel states that the baby will be born of Mary without Joseph’s intervention. The one to be born of Mary in time is the same one who exists in God, born of God, Son of the Father (see Jn 1:1).
The power of the Most High will overshadow you. The sacred books spoke of a cloud or shadow filling the temple (1 K 8:10) as a sign of the divine presence over the holy city, protecting it (Sir 24:4). By using this image the Gospel conveys that Mary becomes God’s dwelling place, through whom he works out his mysteries. The Holy Spirit comes, not over the Son first, but over Mary so that she may conceive through the power of the Spirit, since a man’s intervention is excluded. The conception of Jesus in Mary is the result and the biological expression of her total surrender to the unique and eternal Word of the Father.
It is thus that the Alliance between God and humankind is finally realized. It will not only be the “work” of Jesus. He, himself, is already the eternal Alliance. A child born into a family belongs entirely to the family of its father and to that of its mother: he is the alliance between two families until then strangers to one another. So it is that Jesus, born of the Father and of Mary, is the Alliance between God and the human family, and it is there that the faith of the Church is rooted: Jesus is truly God and truly man.
Before the angel came, had Mary thought of consecrating her virginity to God? The Gospel gives no indication to this effect other than Mary’s word: I do not know man. Let us recall that Mary was about to be married and was engaged to Joseph, which, according to Jewish law, gave them the rights of marriage (Mt 1:20). It is possible that this question is merely meant to invite a response from the angel on the intervention of the Spirit. The whole text however becomes more transparent if Mary had already kept herself for God alone.
“Mary ever-virgin” affirms the Christian tradition that never fails to expand the scriptural statement. As for Mary having thought of virginity before the angel’s visit, that is a different matter. Such a decision was foreign to Jewish mentality, but it is also certain that the Gospel becomes alive with new and surprising decisions. Such an unusual decision born of an unusual relationship with God is not surprising for those who have an inner experience of the Spirit.
Only Mary could make known the mystery of Jesus’ conception to the primitive church. How could she express such an inner experience and how would it be reported?
Therefore, in writing, Luke had to use biblical words and forms that would allow us to understand the mysterious encounter of Mary with God.
The angel Gabriel (v. 26). For the Jews Gabriel was the name of an angel of the highest rank who appears in the book of Daniel to announce the hour of salvation (Dn 8:16 and 9:21). So, in speaking of Gabriel, the Gospel implies that, for Mary, everything began with the assurance that this was the moment when the destiny of the world was being decided.
Rejoice. This was the joyful way in which prophets addressed the daughter of Zion, that is to say, the community of the humble, who looked forward to the coming of the Savior (Zep 3:14; Zec 9:9).
Full of grace (v. 28). The word used in the Gospel means specifically: beloved and favored. Other people had been loved, chosen, favored; but in this instance it becomes the very name of Mary.
She was troubled at these words. The text does not speak of fear as it did in the case of Zechariah (1:12). From the first moment that Mary’s spirit was awakened, she was aware of the presence of God inspiring her every decision, and so the divine revelation does not cause fear in her. The divine words, revealing her unique vocation, do trouble her.
You shall conceive (v. 31). Here the Gospel makes use of several biblical texts, of which some foretell the future of a child, and in some others God entrusts a mission. See Gen 16:1; Ex 3:11; Jdg 6:11. We have already mentioned Isaiah’s prophecy (7:14) announcing the one who would be Emmanuel, meaning God-with-us. Mary will name him Jesus, which means savior.
He will rule over the people of Jacob forever (i.e., the Israelites). This is a way of saying that Jesus is the Savior, the son of David, announced by the prophets: 2 S 7:16; Is 9:6.
He will be great (v. 32), but not in the way that John the Baptist would be great before God, for John was only a human being (1:15). Jesus was to be son of the Most High, and son of David: these two attributes pointed to the expected Messiah or Savior (2 S 7:14; Ps 2:7). See also Rom 1:3-4. This is why it was made clear that Joseph was from the family of David: see commentary on Matthew 1:20.
THE SERVANT OF THE LORD
I am the handmaid of the Lord (v. 38). In saying this, Mary does not lower herself with false humility; instead she expresses her faith and her surrender. From her will be born the one who will be both the servant announced by the prophets (Is 42:1; 50:4; 52:13) and the only Son (Heb 1).
Many persons are mistaken about the word “servant” in that they view almighty God as using his servants to his own ends without taking time to look at them and love them. For them God would lose his greatness if he were to give Mary authentic responsibility in the incarnation of her Son.
This is quite contrary to the spirit of the Bible. God loves people, he wishes, he who is God, to experience human friendship (Dt 4:7; Pro 8:31). God had no need of a woman to make a human body, but he wanted to have a mother for his Son; and for Mary to really be that mother, it was necessary that God looked upon her with greater love than he had for any other creature. Thus, Mary is called full of grace.
Grace is what we call the power God has to heal our spirit, to instill in us the disposition to believe, and to make us resonate with the truth so that the expression of real love comes from us in a spontaneous way. We call grace that which came from the living God to blossom on earth: Isaiah 45:8; Psalm 85:11.
Mary is really full of grace because Jesus was born of her as he is born of the Father. This is why the Church believes that Mary has a unique role in the work of our salvation. She is the marvel that God achieved at the outset of transforming humankind into his image.
THE HUMBLE PEOPLE
• 39. The angel’s message has not left Mary alone with her problems. The angel spoke of her elderly cousin, Elizabeth. With her Mary will share her joy and her secret. Mary, quite young (was she more than fifteen?), will learn from her many things that Joseph could not tell her. What had been foretold to Zechariah will now be fulfilled: “Your son will be filled with the Holy Spirit while in the womb of his mother.”
What is most important in history is not what is spectacular. The Gospel prefers to draw our attention to life-filled events.
A few years later, Jewish crowds would go to John the Baptist looking for the word of God. No one would wonder how he received the Spirit of God, and no one would know that a humble girl, Mary, put God’s plan in motion on that Visitation day.
Blessed are you who believed! (v. 45). What is important is not that Mary is the mother of Jesus in the flesh, and this, Jesus will repeat (11:27).
Mary, who has become the Temple of God, communicates the Spirit – the Spirit of Jesus.
About Mary’s canticle. Mary, so unobtrusive in the Gospel, having no part in Jesus’ ministry, is the one who proclaims the historical revolution begun with the coming of the Savior.
– the mercy of God who always keeps his promises,
– the change that is to take place in the human condition.
This is what Martin Luther King, the emancipator of the Blacks, recalled: “Despite the fact that all too often people see in the church a power opposed to any change, in fact, the church preserves a powerful ideal which urges people toward the summits and opens their eyes as to their own destiny. From the hot spots of Africa to the black areas of Alabama, I have seen men and women rising and shaking off their chains. They had just discovered they were God’s children, and that, as God’s children, it was impossible to enslave them.”
The song of Mary also expresses the deepest feeling of the Christian soul. There is a time for us to seek truth, to discover what our major duties are and to become truly and essentially human. There is a time for asking from and serving God. In the long run, we come to understand that divine love seeks out what is poorer and weaker to fill it and make it great. Then our only prayer becomes thanks giving to God for his understanding and merciful designs.
• 57. What was circumcision? (See Gen 17).
The child lived in the desert (v. 80), that is, the desert of Judea by the Dead Sea, where some large communities of which the well-known Qumran community had settled. These communities, called the Essenes, devoted themselves to prayer and meditation on Scripture. And took part in the education of children.
• 2.1 The emperor issued a decree. The Jews formed a small nation under the rule of the Roman empire, which included diverse peoples. The precision given by Luke presents a difficulty because Quirinus was appointed governor of Syria in the year 6 A.C. and Jesus was twelve at that time. Several explanations have been built, but very possibly Luke used a mistaken chronology in that place like in Acts 5:36. Luke is infallible as a witness of salvation, not as an historian.
Because of the census, Joseph and Mary had to leave their Nazareth home at the time the child was to be born. Joseph, a descendant of David, must have had relatives in Bethlehem, the city of David and of his family. Jesus may have been born in the house of one of those relatives.
The chalk hill on which the village of Bethlehem was built had many natural caves used as dwelling places by the not so rich. The cave where Jesus was born consisted of two rooms separated by a rock formation. The innermost room was probably used as a shed and stable. Since there was not enough room or privacy in the common room, Joseph and Mary settled in the area where the animals were kept.
Thus, it was foreseen by the Father that Jesus would be educated in a real home, where neither work nor bread would be lacking. In his birth, however, as in his death, Jesus would resemble the most abandoned.
She gave birth to her firstborn (v. 7). This term was used then to designate an only son, underscoring that this first son was consecrated to God (Ex 13:1). See also Rom 8:29; Col 1:15.
The liturgy of Christmas sings: “Happy mother of God! Today you gave birth to the Savior of all times, and giving birth, you remained a virgin.” In fact God was not too great for Mary: “From on high he sees the proud, but he becomes weak with the humble.”
• 8. With the necessary stages in the religious formation of humankind being over, God sent his Son on earth to introduce us to true religion. Now the angel proclaims peace and graciousness to humankind. See how much God loves us! Let yourselves be caught up in his love! Why continue to fear? Have you not understood that God became a child and that from now on he will be among us as a silent and defenseless child?
Let this be a sign to you (v. 12). They will recognize God who became poor for us in order to communicate his treasures to us.
They returned giving glory to God (v. 20). While the world was in darkness, some shepherds saw God. Why were they called to the manger? God delights in revealing himself to the poor, and Mary and Joseph had the joy to share with them a part of their secret.
With the birth of Jesus a new age begins (the final age as the apostles will say) in which, on one hand, people hope for the salvation of the world, and on the other they already enjoy this salvation. The shepherds are models for those dedicated to contemplation. Following them, the Church will never be totally involved in works of mercy or human development, but instead, with its truest spirit, will continue to look upon Christ present in its midst, giving thanks and rejoicing in God.
• 19. Mary treasured all these messages (v. 19), because every event of her life was for her the way God revealed his plans to her, and all the more so now that she was living with Jesus. She wondered, marveled but was not confused, because her faith was beyond wavering. However, she too had to discover the ways of salvation slowly and painfully. She pondered on these things until the time of the Resurrection and Pentecost when all the words and deeds of Jesus became clear.
• 22. Mary and Joseph went to the temple to fulfill a ritual of the Jewish religion (Lev 12:8). Jesus being a firstborn male must be consecrated to God (Ex 13:1).
Simeon and Anna like Mary and Joseph belong to the “small remnant of Israel,” This minority of God’s people live their faith in humility and faithfulness to the prophets’ teaching: God knows how to make himself known to them.
What is the meaning of the sword that will pierce Mary’s soul? It indicates Mary’s grief upon seeing her Son die on the cross. It also signifies that Mary will suffer because she will not always understand what her Son does. The best-shared love will not prevent each from remaining a mystery to the other, and more so for God than for anyone else. God does not watch our fidelity from heaven, but rather seeks us (he tries us in the sense of asking us to reveal ourselves). The love of the Father will be Mary’s cross just as it would be for Jesus.
Christ is God’s light which enlightens people, but which also blinds and confuses them at times. He is a sign that is opposed, but this is a mystery – those who oppose him are not always the worst. There are some people who believe in Christ, but do not follow him. Unable to see his light they do not know that it condemns them. There are good people who do not believe because God wills that they seek the light their whole life long.
NAZARETH – ACHIEVING FREEDOM
• 41. During his Nazareth years Jesus discovers life as any child or youth of his age. He does not receive special education. Nor does he manifest extraordinary talents, other than perfect judgment to assess and evaluate everything according to God’s criteria.
Joseph passes on to him the faith of Israel; the Nazareth community, however insignificant, makes him a practicing Jew, subject to the Law. What was the deep experience of Jesus, how did the Son of God place himself in this world of humans, step by step, as he discovered it? Luke has given us but one instance that to him was significant as it had been for Mary herself.
At twelve an adolescent was to observe religious prescriptions, among them the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feasts. Seated in the shade of the Temple galleries, the teachers of the law used to teach groups of pilgrims and to dialogue with them.
It is on this occasion for the first time that Jesus disconcerts his entourage. Why have you done this? The Gospel highlights this misunderstanding: Mary reproaches Jesus and Jesus reproaches his parents. It then emphasizes the awareness Jesus has of his privileged relationship with the Father and his total availability for his mission. If the discovery of the Temple, heart of the nation, center of Israel’s religion, stirred new feelings in him, he could have asked permission or forewarned his parents. How could he remain two days without thinking his parents would be anxiously searching for him? He must have thought this suffering was necessary and conquered his liberty in a radical way before returning home with them. Jesus had to experience all of human life, sin excepted; in his own way he passed through the stages of psychological development. Instead of speaking of the lost child it would be more exact to say that the youthful Jesus found himself.
It might seem strange that Mary did not think to tell Jesus one day of his origin and who Joseph was for him. If we hold to this account, it is Jesus who takes the lead over Mary and Joseph and tells them himself whose son he is: I must be in my Father’s house.
They did not understand that answer (v. 50). Mary had heard the message of the annunciation and knew that Jesus was the Son of God. She undoubtedly never thought that being Son of God would be what Jesus had just done. In the same way God oftentimes disconcerts us even if we know very well what he wants.
• 52. Luke does not mention anything more about the life of Jesus in Nazareth until he reaches the age of thirty, when he begins to preach. He was Joseph’s apprentice, and after Joseph’s death became the carpenter of Nazareth. Joseph must have died before Jesus revealed himself, otherwise, when Jesus left home, Mary would have remained with Joseph (see Mk 3:31). Mary’s son was a man among people and later the Christian community of Nazareth would treasure things made by the carpenter Son of God.
Too often we read the Gospel as a “life of Jesus” and are astonished to find great blanks such as the thirty years of Nazareth. We forget that the written Gospel intended first of all to build a catechesis with the actions and words of Jesus, and not reconstitute his whole life.
• 3.1 Luke provides us with facts that enable us to situate Jesus in history. It is the year 27 after Christ and actually Jesus is about thirty to thirty-five years old. The Jews have lost their autonomy, and their country is divided into four small provinces. Herod and Philip, sons of the Herod mentioned at the birth of Jesus (see Mt 2:1) rule over two of these provinces.
Those interested in the chronological commentaries can also read John 2:20.
In the first two chapters Luke has shown us how the Son of God inserted himself into humanity. As Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, he was “born of a woman, subject to the Law” (Gal 4:7) which means that he had to be formed by a culture, marked by his era, limited by the human context of his time. We are now going to see that he did not begin his mission in a grandiose way with prodigious miracles but very simply entered a movement initiated by another one, John the Baptist.
The first paragraph shows how the Holy Land was divided, a challenge to the promises of God. In the case of several high priests there was contempt for the law of God, for the high priests should succeed each other, father to son, and remained in office all their lives. In this degrading situation a new element would rock the people: the preaching of John the Baptist.
• 3. Listen to this voice crying out in the desert (v. 4). The text which follows is from Isaiah (40:3) John renews the tradition of the prophets after four centuries of interruption and like many among them, he speaks of an imminent judgment. To confront the judgment of God is always most fearful and John speaks of rebuilding a sense of justice. John speaks of the punishment to come. In verse 7 the text says more precisely “escape from the coming wrath”. These Hebrew words refer to a condemnation already pronounced by God that will soon bring a terrible trial on a national or worldwide scale (Lk 21:23; 1 Th 2:16) that believers recognize as a judgment of God. It is then that the wicked receive their punishment, while the just who count on God are saved (Is 1:24-27; Joel 3:1-5, Zec 14).
John awakens the expectation of a savior. It is easy for us to say that the savior was Jesus and that God’s judgment would come a few years later with the war that destroyed the Jewish nation, but for those who were hearing John it was difficult to imagine what this savior might be.
We are the sons of Abraham! (v. 8). Just like the prophets, John warns us against fanaticism whether it be national or religious. It is not enough to walk under the flag of the God of Israel (or the Church) since many of those who pretend to defend this cause are no more than a race of vipers. God demands justice and reparation for the evil that has been committed.
So we see John preaching without having asked anything of the religious authorities. People come from all directions searching for pardon. Verses 12-14 tell us that John turned no one away: neither the prostitutes nor the collectors of Roman taxes. He does ask of all a commitment of solidarity. Once corruption has taken over and the vision of God’s Alliance has faded away, those who recognize their part in the evil affecting the whole of society must make positive gestures regarding money and the enjoyment of it, which will be for all a sign and a call to conversion. Such signs should increase in Christian communities today and in the groups seeking to purify our society.
It is that which gives meaning to the total renunciation of John and his appalling austerity: in no way are we all asked to imitate him, but his sacrifices give weight to his words. The religious leaders and the Pharisees who see themselves as models keep away even sneering perhaps, (7:30 and 33) but the people come to John asking for baptism.
• 15. Baptism means to be immersed in water and to rise. The Essenes in the desert were baptized on the occasion of certain feasts to show their desire to reach a purer life when the Savior would come. John, in turn, baptizes those who wishing to straighten out their life, marking their commitment by a visible ritual.
Here the Gospel compares John with Jesus and John’s baptism with Christian baptism. All of us have heard words like: since Jesus was not baptized until he was thirty years old, one should be baptized as an adult. This is a useless argument since we are not dealing with the same baptism and the demands are different.
Baptism in water… baptism in fire (v. 16): this refers to common experiences. We wash stains off clothes in water, but what has been washed does not then resemble that which is new. Besides there are stains which remain. On the other hand, fire purifies rusted metal so that shining metal comes from the crucible as good as new. Moreover, fire can consume stains together with whatever is stained.
John baptizes with water those who want to straighten out their life. For them, baptism is a way of expressing publicly their decision and promise. Such resolutions are fallible as are any human commitments and insufficient to eradicate the root of evil from our heart.
Jesus, on the other hand, requests that his apostles baptize those who enter the church. It is then when God gives his Spirit that transforms people interiorly.
John did not baptize children (or women). As Christian baptism draws its power, not so much from the commitment of the recipient, as from the gift of God making us his children, we can baptize children as did Christians from the early times. They may receive the gift of God, provided that their family and the Christian community accept the responsibility for their growth in faith.
• 21. Jesus neither needs conversion, nor John’s baptism. Being the Savior, he wishes to join sinners seeking the way to forgiveness. By receiving John’s baptism, Jesus affirms this as the right way: to seek justice and reform one’s life.
There had been no prophets for centuries. God seemed silent and the Jews often said that “the heavens were closed.” Now, God speaks again and Jesus stands in place of the prophets. The heavens opened means that Jesus received a divine revelation (see Ezk 1:1 and Rev 4:1).
You are my Son (v. 22). Who saw and who heard that voice is not clear from the Gospel (Mt 3:16; Mk 1:10; Jn 1:32). Studying the texts brings us to the following conclusion: Jesus was favored with a revelation from God which John the Baptist may have shared. Why such a manifestation? Did Jesus need to know that he was the Son of God?
Let us not forget that the phrase son of God can be understood in various ways. In the period before Jesus, the king of Israel was called son of God. Son of God was also used to designate the expected Messiah, chosen by God to save Israel.
Jesus was Son of God in the sense of Only Son of God, begotten of God from the time of his conception. From that moment on, he was conscious of being the Son of God.
On the other hand, it was only at the time of his baptism by John that Jesus received the call from God inviting him to begin his ministry of salvation, and that God made him his Son (in the old biblical sense), that is, prophet and king of his people. God is calling him to begin his ministry. That is why in 3:22 we read a word of Psalm 2: “You are my son, this day I have begotten you,” a word of God presenting his Messiah to the world. (A good number of ancient texts give to verse 22 the same text as Mk 1:11).
Since the word of God (if it is really from God) is always effective and accomplishes what it says, Jesus receives at the same time the fullness of the Spirit, who consecrates prophets and works miracles. From the moment of his conception Jesus enjoyed the fullness of the Spirit bonding him in a unique relationship with his Father. Now he receives the Spirit enabling him to be the prophet and the servant of the Father.
Thus, Jesus is anointed to proclaim the reign of God and to call the poor first (4:18). Different from so many liberators who, according to Scripture, received the Spirit with a view to a specific mission, Jesus is fully savior. Different from us, who are always so concerned to leave a way out of our commitments, Jesus will not rest until his word and witness to the truth lead him to his death.
In many pages of the Gospel we see Jesus dealing with individuals. In other and more important circumstances Jesus is depicted as the savior of the whole human race as in this baptism. The Bible tells us of a God who creates, nurtures, instructs and brings to maturity the only one “Adam,” i.e.: the human race as a whole – Jesus is not the savior of “people,” i.e., of many individuals, in order to give them free entrance to heaven – Jesus takes by the hand the human race (Heb 2:16) and makes it one holy body in which God the Father will recognize his only Son.
• 23. Luke then presents a list of Jesus’ ancestors, which is quite different from Matthew’s (Mt 1:1). Luke not only goes back to Abraham, he also supplies the legendary list of Abraham’s ancestors all the way back to the first human, as if to emphasize that Jesus has come to save all of humanity. He is not only the Savior of Christians: his coming is relevant for the whole of history and helps us to appreciate the contribution of all the saints and wise people God has raised throughout the world. On the other hand, from Abraham to Jesus the list is very different from Matthew’s. The list of ancestors varied depending on whether one counted natural parents or adoptive parents, since adoption was a frequent occurrence among the Jews.
• 4.1 In secular history, people only participate and cope with other people. Sacred history views things from another perspective: God’s plan unfolds hindered by the disturbing devices of the evil spirit, and people are called to take part in this struggle that exceeds their own plans. This is why Jesus had to face the evil one.
We speak of temptation when we feel the pressure of bad instincts or when we feel dragged into doing evil by circumstances. Jesus did not possess our bad instincts but the Holy Spirit led him to be tested into the desert – remember that to tempt and to test have the same meaning – and there he felt the strongest persuasion from the evil one who tried to dissuade him from his mission (see also Mt 4:1).
Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, began his ministry by undergoing a very hard test: forty days of total solitude and fasting. In this situation, Jesus experienced his frailty as he faced a leap into the unknown: he was about to let go of life in Nazareth in surrender to the Father’s will, and begin a mission which would lead him to death within a few years.
The devil, or the accuser, spoke to him; thus is he named in Scripture because he always criticizes. He leads us to accuse God, and when he has made us fall, he then accuses us and tries to convince us that our fall will not be forgiven by God.
If you are the Son of God. Jesus knew who he was, but he had not yet tested his power. Could he not, for a moment, release divine energy when his body was weak from hunger? Could he not, someday, get down from the cross to save himself?
Jesus refuses to be self-serving. He has higher goals: and so the Devil takes him higher. Knowing people as they are, Jesus is tempted to impose himself on the people and manipulate them. He is tempted to compromise and use weapons of the devil who respects neither the truth, nor freedom of conscience. It would then be easy to reign over the nations “in the name of God,” since the devil gives them to whom he wishes (v. 6).
Jesus has chosen to serve only God. The devil asks, “Why, then, do you not begin your preaching with something spectacular, like dropping from a high place into the midst of the crowd at prayer in the temple? – Do you not believe that God will perform a miracle for you?” – This time the devil uses the very words of Scripture: in reading them, one might think that with much faith, one would always be healthy and successful. Jesus warns against the error of a “faith” which tries to remove the cross. Jesus will not demand miracles from his Father to avoid suffering the humiliation and rejection that are the lot of God’s messengers: this would be to challenge God under the pretense of trusting him.
The devil left him, to return another time (v. 13). In the Passion of Jesus, the devil will turn the people’s wickedness against the Liberator whom he could not lead astray. See John 12:31 and 14:30.
• 14. Jesus returns home in the company of some of John’s followers who become his own disciples (Jn 1:35) and he performs his first sign in Cana (Jn 2:1). This miracle launches his ministry. From Capernaum, where Jesus lives in the house of Simon and Andrew, near the lake, Jesus begins to preach in the synagogues of Galilee (Mk 1:35) and his words impress people because he works with the power of the Spirit, namely, he speaks with authority and his miracles confirm his words.
He began teaching in the synagogues (v. 15). Jesus does not begin by preaching to the crowds who know nothing of him; instead, for months he makes himself known in the synagogues.
• 16. In Israel there was only one Temple, that of Jerusalem, where priests used to offer sacrifices. In every place where at least ten men could meet, there was a synagogue where every Sabbath a liturgical service led by community members was celebrated. It was easy to take part in the readings and commentaries on them, so Jesus made himself known by participating in the Sabbath services in the synagogues of his area, Galilee.
After some time Jesus, already famous, passed through Nazareth where he was not welcome. In this account Luke shows why Jesus attracted the people and why, particularly in Nazareth, he was rejected.
He found the place where it is written: this paragraph is from Isaiah 61:1-2. The prophet is referring to his own mission: God sent him to the Jews in exile to announce that soon God would visit them. Yet his words prove even more appropriate in the case of Jesus who was sent in order to bring real freedom to a people waiting for it.
The phrase to free the oppressed is not found in Isaiah’s text, but Luke takes it from another text of the same prophet (Is 58:6) and inserts it here because this expression ‘to set free’ summarizes better than any other word the very work of Jesus in his mission.
Today these prophetic words come true even as you listen (v. 21). Jesus has come to inaugurate a new age in which God becomes present and reconciles people. Every fifty years Israel celebrated a jubilee year during which debts were forgiven and slaves recovered their freedom (Lev 25:10). In the same way a year of mercy from the Lord is beginning. Thus the time of promises and prophecies is over. God begins to show himself to humankind as he is: Jesus reveals the Father and the Father reveals his Son through the signs and miracles that he performs.
He has appointed me to free the oppressed (v. 18). Jesus brings real liberation to everyone since his deeds urge each one of us to live in truth: “the Son makes you free… the truth will make you free…” (Jn 8:32). The Jews, obviously, were looking first and foremost for political freedom, which is part of total human liberation. Why did Jesus not bring it? Was he only interested in “souls”?
Actually the Old Testament never promised “the salvation of souls” which is sometimes emphasized these days in various groups. Such believers think they are saving their souls and yet remain silent, or blind accomplices of the daily sins permeating all economic and social life.
The Old Testament foretold that Jesus would be the Savior of his people and of his race. His words and deeds were stirring people who had become helpless and were opening the way for human liberation at all levels, but they were like seeds and could not produce immediate fruits. Jesus had no desire to join the fanatics and violent among his people in order to obtain national sovereignty as oppressive as Roman domination. He was witnessing to the truth and laying the foundations for all future liberation movements.
In the same way today, if there is true evangelization, liberating deeds are seen and free persons appear, able to liberate others.
He has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor (v. 18). See commentary on Luke 6:20.
Then Luke explains why the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus:
– First, because of their pride: a stranger easily dazzles us, but we fiercely deny that one of us could stand out or be our teacher: who is this but the son of Joseph? See commentary on Mark 6:1.
– Secondly, because of their selfishness: they do not agree that God’s benefits should be shared with others. So Jesus reminds them that the prophets of old did not limit their favors to their compatriots alone (see 1 K 17:7 and 2 K 5).
• 31. See commentary on Mark 1:21.
• 42. Jesus is a model missionary. He no sooner gathers a few believers together than they want to keep him for themselves, either because they see in him a true prophet, or want to form a true community under his guidance.
Jesus, however, leaves the task of shepherding (in the sense of guiding a specific community) to others, because he has many more people in mind still awaiting the Gospel.
• 5.1 THE APOSTLES
Jesus invites himself aboard Peter’s boat, and Peter is willing to render him this service. Jesus looks for more: even though many are ready to assist him, he seeks those who are willing to totally surrender to his work. The listeners are many, but he needs apostles.
Miracles are another way in which Jesus teaches. The miracle reported here is God’s word for future apostles. Lower your nets; the nets were at the breaking point; you will catch people…
Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man (v. 8). Such is the fear of the one who discovers that God has entered into his inner life: this is a first act of faith in the divinity of Jesus. Yet Jesus calls on sinners to save sinners.
Leaving everything (v. 11), they followed him. It is not that they had much, but it was their whole life: work, family and their whole past as fishermen.
Apostle means sent. Christ is the one who chooses his apostles and sends them in his name. Where will he find someone to send except among those who are willing to cooperate with him? One begins to be an apostle, or at least to cooperate with Christ, when one looks for something more than performing good works for the benefit of the parish, when one feels responsible for people: fisher of people.
Here Luke may have combined two different events: the call of the disciples briefly presented in Mark 1:16 and the miraculous catch. John also relates a miraculous catch (Jn 21) but he places it after the resurrection. We have good reason to think we are dealing with the same miracle, but it suited John to combine it with the appearance of the risen Jesus to the apostles, which occurred later in the same place.
• 12. See commentary on Mark 1:40.
Make an offering for your healing (v. 14). The same law that demanded that a leper be isolated (Lev 13:45), provided that if the leper was healed, he could, after examination by the priests be reintegrated into the community. Because leprosy was seen as God’s punishment, healing meant that God had forgiven the sinner who was to express his gratitude with a sacrifice.
• 15. He would often withdraw to solitary places and pray. Luke mentions Jesus’ prayer several times (3:21; 6:12; 9:28…) Jesus did not withdraw only to be still, but because, on each occasion, prayer was a necessity for him.
• 17. See commentary on Mark 2:1.
There were many Pharisees and teachers of the Law. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were not against Jesus yet, but being men who had received much religious formation, they were the first to wonder about Jesus’ religious claims: was he only a faithful believer respectful of God’s law or was he promoting a new sect? Jesus took advantage of their presence to show that he was not simply a disciple of Moses and the prophets, but the master of them all.
We easily understand why the teachers of the Law were scandalized. How could this man without studies or title, stand up to them as if he were a teacher? They were looking for the coming of a God who would confirm their teaching and acknowledge their merits. Jesus, however, was in the midst of common folk and did not pay attention to the authority of the masters of the law who looked down on them. Since the teachers of the Law could not believe, their only recourse was to oppose Jesus.
• 27. See commentary on Mark 2:13.
The events related in this chapter show how Jesus situates himself in society and with what people he relates: with a small group of fishermen who will be in charge of his new movement, with lepers and sick people who seek him. He calls people who, like Levi, belong to a despised group.
• 6.1 Here we have two conflicts between Jesus and the religious people of his time concerning the Sabbath.
See commentary on Mark 3:1.
Let us not forget that the word Sabbath means rest. God requested that one day be made holy each week, not primarily for religious assemblies, but to allow everyone to rest (Ex 20:10). God is glorified when people are not enslaved in order to gain their daily sustenance because of their work.
In the first episode, Jesus does not argue with the Pharisees who consider work the mere act of plucking a few ears of corn and shelling them. First he recalls that great believers, like David, at times overlooked the law. He then adds: The Son of Man rules over the Sabbath. Among the Jews, however, no one, not even the High Priest, could dispense from the Sabbath observance. So Jesus leaves them perplexed and wondering: Who does he pretend to be?
In the second case, Jesus could have said to the man: “Why do you ask me to do something forbidden on the Sabbath? Come back tomorrow to be healed.” Jesus does not avoid the confrontation because Gospel means liberation and we become free when we admit that there is nothing sacred in a society that attempts to impose its own standards. The law of rest (Sabbath) is one of the fundamental laws of the Bible but that does not prevent the possibility of this law causing oppression and for that reason it must at times be dispensed with.
It is the same for the most sacred laws of the Church: at a given moment they might be an obstacle to the Gospel and, if that be the case, Christian conscience, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, must find a solution for the time being. As long as people are subject to an order, to laws and authorities which are considered sacred and which no one thinks of criticizing, those people are neither free nor true sons and daughters of God. (See 1 Cor 3:21-23; 8:4-5; Col 2:20-23.)
A respect for God that would destroy our critical sense would not be in keeping with the Gospel; a religion preventing us from seeking the truth and from questioning every area of human restlessness would not be the true one. To study the Bible without daring to know and take into account the contributions of modern science for fear that our very naive vision of sacred history would fall apart would be to sin against the Spirit.
• 12. Jesus keeps those whom he loves the most in his prayer. The success of his mission will depend upon them; other people’s faith will rest on them. Jesus does not want their call to be his own will: before calling them, he wants to be certain that he is doing the Father’s will (Heb 5:8). For the simple reason that Christ chose them and entrusted his Church to them, they will be tested in a thousand ways (Lk 22:31). Therefore Jesus wants to safeguard them through the power of his prayer (Jn 17:9). The day before his death he will have the consolation that not one of those the Father gave him has been lost (Jn 17:12).
• 17. See the commentary on the beatitudes in Matthew 5:1. Matthew adapts them for the members of the church of his time. Luke, on the other hand, puts the beatitudes here just as Jesus proclaimed them to the people of Galilee. In the words of Jesus, the beatitudes were a call and a hope addressed to the forgotten of the world, beginning with the poor among his people, heirs of God’s promise to the prophets.
The Gospel, as in Mary’s Canticle (1:51-53), reverses the present situation. Since then, God shows his mercy especially by his generosity towards the poor and the despised. He also entrusts his Gospel to them and makes them the first to participate in his work in the world. The poor are those whose contribution is most necessary to the building of the Kingdom; when the Church forgets this, she does not delay in returning to what Jesus criticized in God’s people of his time.
There are a thousand ways to present Jesus and his work. However, in order for such teaching to deserve the name evangelization (or: communication of the Good News) it must be received as Good News first by the poor. If other social groups feel more identified with the teaching, or they are invited first, it means that something is lacking either in content or in the way of proclaiming the message. Most probably it is not given in such a way that it does justice to the disinherited.
In contrast with these beatitudes, Luke presents lamentations recalling those of Isaiah (65:13-14). They are lamentations as used for the dead, not maledictions. For the rich forget God and become impermeable to grace (12, 13, 16, 19). These lamentations are a sign of the love of God for the rich, as are the beatitudes for the poor, for he loves them all, but in a different way. To the first he affirms that he will destroy the structures of injustice, and to the others he gives a warning: richness brings death.
The beatitudes do not speak of the conversion of the rich, nor do they say that the poor are better, but they promise a reversal. The Kingdom signifies a new society: God blesses the poor but not poverty.
When people speak well of you (v. 26) (see 1 Cor 4:8). The contrast between groups of people who are persecuted and those who are well thought of can exist within the Church itself. Many problems can remain unsolved and even mission itself be blocked because of influential groups and persons who want for nothing and know how to obtain official benedictions. Jesus recalls the example of the prophets.
In Jesus’ time the religious authorities of the Jews had a very limited esteem for the writings of the prophets, giving all importance to the books of the Law centered on the cult of the Temple. Jesus would tell his disciples that they are the heirs of the prophets (Mt 13:17; Acts 3:25; James 5:10), and will give importance to the unassuming messengers who, within the people of God (and often in contradiction with dominant ideas) proclaim the word of God. A Christian should never be surprised by weakness or any other defect that he meets in the Church; let him be happy to be faithful even when persecuted.
• 27. Here Luke presents only a few of Jesus’ sayings which Matthew combines in chapters 5 to 7 of his Gospel, and which we have explained.
Some people feel cheated when they see that Jesus speaks about changing our life rather than about reforming society. Let us not reproach Jesus for not mentioning social reform at a time when few understood what it was. The reason is elsewhere: Jesus deals with the essential. The root of evil is within people. It is obvious that evil structures prevent people from living and growing. It is equally obvious that not a single revolution, however many benefits it may bring, can establish a less oppressive society, as long as people themselves are not transformed according to the Gospel. Jesus teaches us the way towards growth and freedom.
All need conversion to Jesus’ word. Jesus’ obvious predilection for the poor and oppressed does not mean they are better. It means God is compassionate, sharing a deeper mercy where misery is deeper, offering hope and total liberation where hope is dimmest. The oppressed person is not innocent; if he were not paralyzed by fear, divisiveness, and greed for the advantages offered to him by his oppressor, he would attain a moral power capable of renewing the world. Thus, the oppressed will not be freed unless they grow in confidence in God, which will enable them to understand each other and risking a way of reconciliation.
The following sayings of Jesus point out the indispensable changes of heart and approach.
Give to the one who asks (v. 30). Jesus does not give a rule which is automatically applicable in all situations: we know there are times when we should not give because it would encourage bad habits. Jesus wants to challenge our conscience: Why do you refuse to give? Are you afraid you will not be paid back? What if this was the opportunity to trust your Father and to let go of something which is “your treasure” (12:34)? You who wish to be perfect, why do you ignore so many opportunities to give up your own wisdom in order to let God take care of you?
• 31. Here, as in Matthew 5:43, Jesus does not refer mainly to personal resentment and friendships, but to opposition in the social, political or religious order: treating differently the people of one’s group or party and those of the opposite side. We love and respect those of our own group and are only moderately concerned about the rights of others: they are probably sinners and even in the best of circumstances of small interest…
Jesus invites us to overcome such differences: what counts is the individual and when my neighbor needs me, I must forget his color or whatever label has been given him.
If you lend when you expect to receive. Once again, we are dealing with a social attitude: people who look for friends among those who can promote their social climbing and who avoid all who might be a burden because they are people without influence: Lk 14:12.
• 35. See commentary on Mt 7:1. Perfection for us consists in imitating the Father. He is God by being compassionate; his compassion is his ability to be touched by the poverty and the anguish of his creatures, and to lavish upon them what he can give. The attitude of the person who judges his brothers and sisters is the very opposite of mercy.
Jesus speaks of the way in which God already leads us in the present life. A rationalist culture has often convinced us that God lets the laws of nature and humankind go their own way while he remains a passive spectator, but the kingdom of God is the presence of God himself who even today has liberty to reverse all situations, even if for that purpose he has his own time.
• 43. No healthy tree… (v. 43). These sayings were already mentioned in Matthew 7:15. Here, however, Luke gives them a different meaning by referring to a pure conscience. We must purify our mind and our spirit to become the tree that produces good fruits.
• 7.1 THE POWER OF GOD
This captain of a foreign army earned the esteem of the Jews. The amazing thing was not that he should have contributed to the building of the synagogue, but rather that the Jews should have accepted it from him. He must have been a good man. He knew the Jews’ prejudices too well to have dared to personally approach this Jesus of whom they spoke. Indeed, up to what point did Jesus share his compatriots’ pride? Would he respond to the petition of a Roman official? That was why he sent his Jewish friends to Jesus.
The man is really troubled: will Jesus consent to go to a pagan’s house and “become impure”? (Jn 18:28). The captain goes one step further: Jesus does not have to come to his house. While other sick people seek to be touched by the Master thinking that Jesus possesses some healing power, this man, has instead grasped that Jesus has the very power of God and does not need to go to the sick servant: it would not be any more difficult to give a command from a distance to a life that was slipping away.
• 11. No one has ever attributed power over death to any person. Only Jesus conquers death and he does so very simply.
Jesus only knew this young man through his mother and it is for her that he has restored him to life. To be a widow without children is the height of distress (see Ruth), and it will be the lot of Mary.
The woman represents suffering humanity. “You will suffer because of your children”: this was said after the first sin. Humanity cannot avoid accompanying the dead after depriving them of their reasons for living. Humanity buries their young with tears, while continuing to kill them.
THOSE WHO DOUBT
• 18. Jesus and John the Baptist. The situation has been reversed. John appeared as a great prophet, while Jesus began preaching in John’s wake but without the same impact (3:18-20). Now John is in prison and Jesus is known as a healer. Has John doubts in prison? It is possible even if he had told some of his followers that Jesus would take his place. It might be more accurate to interpret his question as a pressing invitation: “If you are the one who is to come, why so much delay?”
John’s disciples did witness the cures, but the cures are not everything and Jesus adds: the poor hear good news because real evangelization restores hope and leaves people renewed.
The blind see, the lame walk… (v. 22). The prophets foretold these signs (Is 35:5) that were really something new, because in the past God usually manifested himself as a powerful savior. These healings pointed to the liberation that Jesus was bringing: not punishment of sinners (which was a great part of John the Baptist’s preaching) but, before all else, reconciliation suited to healing a world of sinners, of violent and resentful people.
Fortunate are those who encounter me, but not for their downfall (v. 23). And fortunate are those who do not doubt Christ’s salvation after seeing the fruits of evangelization. Fortunate are those who do not say: this way is too slow. The Gospel shows its richness in giving life to people, in restoring hope to those who have experienced weakness and sin. It is necessary to have seen and understood that this is most important.
It does not matter if the world seems to continue to surrender to the forces of evil. The presence of liberated people compels others to define themselves in terms of good and evil and this makes the world grow.
With this, Jesus answers the disciples of John, men who are self-sacrificing and concerned for the triumph of God’s cause. Perhaps they are so absorbed in their search for justice that they fail to recognize God’s powerful working in Jesus’ actions, which appeared so gentle and mild.
• 24. When John’s messengers had gone. Most of John’s disciples continued to follow him and did not acknowledge Jesus. Jesus did not accuse them, instead he praised John and situated himself in respect to John.
A prophet and more than a prophet (v. 26): Jesus clearly takes a stand in favor of John; yet John was the subject of many reservations in respected circles. No one (the Gospel uses the Jewish term: among those born of woman, that simply means: no one) could be found greater than John. For the common people John was the greatest contemporary figure. Jesus agreed with them for this reason: John introduced the Savior and the kingdom of God.
The least in the kingdom of God is greater than he (v. 28): in the sense that Jesus’ disciples entered the kingdom that John only announced. However holy John may have been, he was not given the knowledge of God that permeated Jesus. Actually Jesus emphasized the superiority, not of his disciples as compared to John, but of his own mission when compared with that of John.
John said that each one had to straighten out his life. Jesus rather insists that all efforts are useless if a person does not believe in the Father’s love. John’s disciples used to fast; Jesus’ disciples will know how to forgive. John attracted to the desert those who knew how to let go of conveniences that they were accustomed to; Jesus lives among people and heals their wounds. The baptism of John signified a person’s willingness to give up his vices, while the baptism of Jesus bestows the Spirit of God.
They are like children sitting… (v. 32). They do everything at the wrong time; they reproach John for his austerity and Jesus for his lack of austerity. There is no “one” way of serving God; there is no “one” model of holiness, “one” style of Christian life. God acts in thousands of ways throughout history, encouraging at a given time what he will censure later in another milieu. The alarming asceticism of hermits in the desert or that of the ancient Irish monks has been a richness for Christianity; a Christianity that appears more human has not prevented other believers from following Jesus to the cross. Jesus went further than John but he needed John: the Gospel is heard with pleasure but is not taken seriously as long as repentance and sacrifice are brushed aside. Perhaps the renewal of our faith today is waiting for prophets and for movements that dare to question a culture and a society that has become sterile.
• 36. The Pharisee, Simon, had some clear and simple religious principles: The world is divided between good people and sinners. Those who obey are the good people; sinners are those with notorious sins. God loves the good and does not love sinners: God stays away from sinners. Being good, Simon stays away from sinners. Since Jesus does not move away from the sinful woman, the Spirit of God must not be guided by him.
Simon was a Pharisee, and Pharisee means: “separated” (apart). Let us not condemn him: a constant theme running through the Bible invites the righteous to separate themselves from sinners; it was thought that the “uncleanness” of a sinner necessarily contaminates the others. Jesus shows that this need to separate, like awaiting the punishment of sinners, disregards both the wisdom of God and the reality of the human heart. God knows that we need time to test good and evil and also to arrive at a mature and stable orientation. He lets us sin because, in the end, we will know more clearly that we are bad and that we need only Him. Thus God easily forgets our sins and our excesses, if in spite of them or through them, we come to genuine love.
Simon did not welcome Jesus with the customary signs of hospitality at that time. In those days, people reclined on sofas around the table according to the custom of rich people and thus Jesus did as well. How could he dialogue with this respectable man who believed he knew the things of God but was incapable of feeling them? Jesus was waiting for the arrival of the sinful woman.
The one who is forgiven little (v. 47). This is a maxim rather than a valid affirmation in every case. Many who were not great sinners have loved Jesus passionately. Here Jesus speaks with irony to a very “decent” man: Simon, you think you owe little (and you are wrong in that), and for this reason you do not love much.
This is why her sins are forgiven (v. 47). Some see a contradiction between this verse and verse 42, where great love is the fruit of greater forgiveness. In verse 47 great love obtains this forgiveness. Jesus does not attempt to say which of the two – love or forgiveness – comes first: in fact, the two go together. Here Jesus is contrasting two forms of religion. The religion of the Pharisee is something like bookkeeping: God takes note of good and bad works to later reward more fully the person with more entries for good works. True religion, focuses instead, only on the quality of love and trust, and usually we love to the degree that we become aware of how much God has forgiven us.
Your sins are forgiven (v. 48). Try to understand the scandal such words must have caused. Actually, whom had the woman loved except Jesus? Who could forgive sins, except God?
It is easy for us at a distance to side with Jesus against Simon and his friends, but in fact Jesus went against all the reasons that usually help religious persons in their own decision-making.
From early times a question has been raised: what relationship is there between the sinful woman of this paragraph, Mary of Magdala of the following paragraph, and Mary of Bethany who, during another meal, pours perfume on the feet of Jesus (a very strange gesture) in the house of another Simon, and becomes the subject of criticism? Are they one, or two or three? The Gospel does not tell us clearly, given also the fact that the evangelists never hesitate to relocate a word or conversation of Jesus to put them in a context better suited to their account.
Whatever the answer may be, there are links between these various episodes. The scandal for religious persons was not that on one occasion Jesus allowed a sinful woman to approach him, but that women who belonged to the group of disciples familiarly approached him. One of them, Mary of Magdala, could have been less than a model at the time of her demons (8:2).
JESUS AND THE CULTURE OF HIS TIME
• 8.1 See the commentary of Matthew 1:18 concerning the inferior status of women in the time of Jesus and especially in Jewish society. No spiritual master would have spoken to a woman in public: women were not even admitted to the synagogues. Nevertheless, Jesus did not pay the least attention to such universally accepted prejudices. Various women took Jesus’ words and attitude as a call to freedom. They even joined the circle of his intimate friends while ignoring the gossip. Here we have a fundamental testimony about the freedom of the Gospel.
Jesus was truly human, and as such he belonged to a race and a culture: he was a Jew of his time and his gospel was attuned to the culture that he shared. Yet Jesus did not adopt the inhuman traits of his culture; nor did he accept the prejudices of the Jews of his time with regard to women, to public sinners, to pagans and so on, nor did he share their views in regard to the Sabbath. His gospel is a leaven that changes cultures for the better; in many respects his way of life goes against the mainstream of cultures.
Mary of Magdala (Magdala was a village on the shore of Lake Tiberias) will be at the foot of the cross along with Mary, the wife of Cleophas, the mother of James and Joset. These two women, along with Joanna, will receive the first news of the Resurrection (Lk 24:10).
• 9. See commentary on Matthew13:1-23.
This is the point of the parable (v. 11). The comparison (or parable) of the sower helps us to understand what is happening around Jesus. Many people became very enthusiastic at the beginning, then, after a while they left. Only a few persevered and the apostles wondered: How will the kingdom of God come if no one is interested?
The Gospel records Jesus’ explanation about the fields on which the seed fell. There was a lot more to explain. First, his comparing the kingdom of God with something that is sown must have surprised the listeners. Throughout Sacred History, there had been abundant sowing and Jesus’ contemporaries were expecting a harvest (see Rev 14:15).
We, like Jesus’ contemporaries, want to reap, that is to enjoy the fruits of the kingdom of God, namely, social peace, justice and happiness. Many wonder how it is possible that people continue to be so evil two thousand years after Christ.
If the kingdom of God has come and it is already in our midst, that does not mean we are going to enjoy its fruits. The kingdom of God is where God rules, and God rules where people accept him for what he is, where he can be Father and where his sons and daughters can accept his plan for them.
From that moment on, people grow in a thousand ways, and social consciousness also develops. People become aware of their dignity and their common destiny, in spite of the fact that it seems more impossible every day to reach the goal.
KINGDOM OR REIGN OF GOD
Jesus spoke Aramaic, a language in which a single term means three different things: the kingdom, that is the place where God acts as king; the reign, or the fact that God acts as king; royalty, or the dignity of God the king.
Jesus often speaks of the kingdom proper: “you will not enter the kingdom of God”; elsewhere, however, the meaning is debatable as for example in the Our Father. Should we say: “Your kingdom come” or “Your reign come”?
In the present parables, traditionally called the parables of the Kingdom, the two meanings go together. The great news that Jesus proclaimed was the coming of an age totally different from the times of sacred history that the Jews had experienced. God was obviously present throughout human history, especially Israel’s history, yet now he was coming in a different way. Now, and only now, would people know him as he is.
The reign of God began with Jesus revealing the true face of God; then at his rising as Lord of the living and the dead, he would begin to rule and personally reorient human history.
• 19. See commentary on Mark 3:31.
• 26. See commentary on Mark 5:1.
• 40. See commentary on Mark 5:21.
• 9.12 See commentary on Mark 6:35.
This multiplication of the loaves occurs in all four Gospels, which is true of very few events in the Gospel. Besides this account, another multiplication of the loaves is related in Matthew 15:32 and Mark 8:1. It is likely due to the fact that one could see in it the announcement of the Eucharist as will be emphasized in the Gospel of John (chap. 6).
This abundance of accounts may be due to the fact that the multiplication of bread is one of the miracles of Jesus which best shows his absolute power over the laws of nature (see commentary on Mark 8:1).
Remember that the Jews of Jesus’ time were a poor people, too numerous for a fertile, but limited territory. The Roman occupants claimed a good portion of the resources, and politicians like Herod imposed heavy taxes, which were partly justified by the need to occupy the extra manpower in grandiose projects.
Many people had no security in employment, as is true today in many countries, and Jesus along with his followers shared that situation. In that desolate area, Jesus felt responsible for all his brothers and sisters who became his guests (as also happens in Luke 11:5), and he acted according to faith. Every day, in those times until now, many people must have shared their last resources with someone poorer, confident that God would pay them back. Jesus, in turn, would do no less. The miracle he performed at that moment confirms the faith of many humble believers, who are perhaps not too devoted to the Church, but who often know how to risk all they have.
Jesus is not concerned that this miracle awakens in them a misguided enthusiasm that will end up with a split among his followers (see Mk 6:45). Jesus had not fed them to attract them to his church, but to fulfill God’s promises to the poor.
• 18. This occurred near Caesarea Philippi, a famous spa located in the far north of Palestine, at the foot of Mount Hermon. Jesus had gone away from Galilee because he was not safe there. As was his custom, he sent the Twelve ahead of him to the villages he would visit, to prepare for his coming.
What do people say about me? And you, what did you tell them about me when you were among them? Who did you tell them I was? Peter answers first, confident that they were not wrong in presenting their teacher as the Messiah, the One sent by God.
Jesus does not deny that he is, but he forbids them to make it known from then on, because, according to the people, the Liberator had to crush his enemies. Can the apostles simply call Liberator, one who will die on a cross?
By comparing this text with Mk 8:27 and Mt 16:13, we come to the following conclusion: Matthew combined in a single story two different events in which Peter was first in proclaiming his faith. The first episode is the one that Luke relates at this point.
In the second, Peter recognized Jesus as the Son of God and received the promise that Matthew recalls. Perhaps this took place after the multiplication of the loaves: compare with John 6:66-69, or perhaps after the Resurrection: compare with John 21:15-17, which insists not on faith, but on the love that Jesus can see in Peter. See also Galatians 2:7-8.
• 22. Why did Jesus ask his apostles the questions we have just read? the Gospel answers clearly: because the time had come for Jesus to announce his passion to them. Jesus had not only come to teach people but to open for them the door leading to the Resurrection. Since his apostles now know him to be the Savior promised to Israel, they must learn that there is no salvation if death is not conquered (1 Cor 15:25). Jesus will obtain this victory when he freely chooses the way of the cross: the Son of Man has to suffer much and be rejected by the authorities.
Immediately after that, Jesus adds that we must all share in his victory over death: You must deny yourself: this is the fundamental orientation of our life. We must choose between serving and being served, sacrificing ourselves for others or taking advantage of them. Or, as a well-known prayer puts it: Let me seek not so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.
It is in his early years that a child is helped towards this choice. In a true family he is not the center and king, with his parents as slaves, but he learns how to serve and give himself. He must accept his brothers and sisters, share with them and at times limit his own future for their good.
Take up your cross each day (v. 23). Here comes the acceptance of the cross which the Lord gives to each one of us and which we do not have to choose because we find it in our destiny. We must not carry it because we are compelled to, but rather we must love it because the Lord wished it for us.
In a world where it has become usual to live one’s own life – and in so doing, to waste it, many difficult, even abnormal children, will cause their parents to become true followers of Jesus in bearing their cross.
If you choose to save your life (v. 24). Jesus refers to the general orientation of our life. He has nothing in common with those who are only concerned about avoiding “sins,” while they pursue their ambitions and their desire to enjoy this life to the fullest. The mere fact of seeking to live without risks separates us from God’s way.
If someone feels ashamed of me (v. 26). Besides the cross given to us each day, God will ask us to witness to our faith and in that we will have to run risks, even if it is nothing more than the risk of being ridiculed by our friends and our boss. During periods of violence, can Christians remain silent, limit themselves to their “spiritual” reunions, give no concrete indication of what they themselves think and live?
• 28. Recall the divine revelation Jesus received at the beginning of his ministry (Lk 3:21). This other divine manifestation Jesus receives at the Transfiguration is due to the beginning of a new stage: the Passion.
Jesus has already been preaching for two years, but there is no hope that Israel will overcome the violence that will lead to its ruin. Even if Jesus’ miracles do not convince his compatriots, Jesus will have to face the forces of evil: his sacrifice will be more effective than his words in arousing love and the spirit of sacrifice in all the people who will continue his saving work in the future.
He took Peter, James and John with him: these men had a privileged place among the Twelve (Mk 1:29; 3:16; 5:37; 10:35; 13:3). Most probably the rest of the “apostles” only reacted very slowly. All the patience and pedagogy of Jesus did not make them grow more quickly and they were not ready to enter the cloud with him.
He went up the mountain to pray. It is quite possible that it was during a night of prayer that the event that Jesus expected took place. This transfiguration of Jesus has first of all a meaning for himself. Jesus did not know everything beforehand; he was not spared doubts and anxieties. It does not seem that the Father manifested himself with abundant favors for him: Jesus served without expecting heavenly rewards. On this occasion however he received certitude concerning the purpose of his mission.
For the apostles it is a decisive witness that will help them to believe in the Resurrection. (The letter headed “Second Letter of Peter” makes no mistake when it insists on this witness of God, even if done in an awkward way (2 P 1:17), because it claims to be written by Peter himself). It is a fact that many persons throughout history have been considered as prophets or even as “the” prophet, but none of them have pretended to have a witness from God in his favor, other than his own successes. Jesus counted on witnesses, beginning with John the Baptist. In all biblical revelation faith is supported by these witnesses. Here it is Moses, the founder of Israel, and Elijah, father of prophets, who recognize Jesus.
Luke tells us that Moses and Elijah spoke to Jesus about his departure (v. 31) (in Greek this is “exodus”). Jesus then becomes the new Moses who will bring God’s people from this world of slavery to the Promised Land.
This is my Son. See the commentary on these same words in 3:22. Here, however, Jesus appears as the one for whom Moses and Elijah were waiting, the one for whom they had prepared, even if for this moment they can console him for he still carries the weakness of our human condition. See in relation to this Transfiguration of Jesus the commentary of Mk 9:1.
• 46. See commentary on Mark 9:33.
Mark remarks that Jesus took a child in his arms: something unusual for people of that time since children did not count, and religious teachers only urged that they be well disciplined. The model of religion seemed to be a serious man who did not laugh, did not run, did not look at people in lower positions, especially women and children. Oftentimes, such a mentality is seen in those who criticize child baptism and first communion.
Jesus does not answer the apostles’ question: Who is the greatest? because what matters is not to become great, but to be close to Christ. In order to receive Christ, we must welcome him in the person of the little ones.
• 51. After having recalled the actions of Jesus in Galilee, Luke begins the second part of his Gospel, where he brings together words of Jesus spoken on different occasions. In order to preserve continuity in his account, he imagines that Jesus is giving these responses while on the way from Galilee to Jerusalem where the third part of his gospel will take place.
The first paragraph reminds us that between the two provinces of Galilee and Judea, there was Samaria. Its people were Samaritans, non-Jews, and the two peoples really hated each other. When Jews from Galilee were going on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, every door was closed to them throughout Samaria.
It would seem that each time Jesus meets Samaritans, it is to teach us a new way of seeing those who do not share our faith. Religions have often been aggressive, at times very violent, especially those religions that see themselves as a revelation of the only God. This was already the case in the Old Testament. Jesus is not part of such fanaticism, teaching us not to confuse God’s cause with ours nor with the interests of our religious community. There is absolute respect for those God leads by another road. What a contrast with the legends of the past that this account awakens in verse 54 (see 2 K 1:9).
Here Jesus tells his apostles to be less impulsive: the Samaritans who refuse to welcome Jesus on this occasion are not guiltier than those who close their doors to a stranger. Why destroy this little village, if by doing this they still had to look for a place in another village? It was better to move on without delay.
BREAKTHROUGHS – BECOMING FREE
• 57. In contrast with Jesus’ customary understanding attitude about human nature, here we see Jesus very demanding with the disciple who wants to follow him: Jesus cannot waste his time in forming those who are not ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of the Gospel.
The third of these would-be disciples, perhaps, was secretly hoping that at the time of saying good-by, his family would beg him not to do such a foolish thing, and so he could remain with his good intentions: I would like to, but…
The second case is different: Let the dead bury their dead. Faced with these abrupt words that we occasionally meet in the Gospel, there are two attitudes to be avoided. The first would be to take these words as a general rule, a precept addressed to everyone without nuance, the second, more frequent, would be to say: “That must not be taken literally, it’s an oriental way of speaking.” For Jesus there is no entry into the Kingdom without an experience of liberty.
First I want to bury my father (v. 59). This means perhaps that he should bury his father who has died. Most probably it means that he wanted to look after his aging father up to the time of his burial (Tb 6:15). It is difficult to think one is truly free if he had not had the opportunity to prove it by acting differently from what is understood and accepted around him. Think of Francis of Assisi begging for bread in his own town after having lived there as the son of a rich family.
Leave them and proclaim the kingdom of God. When a call from Jesus reaches you, it is the complete will of God for you in this precise moment. Leave there your excuses, your duties: perhaps these would be duties only in a world of the dead. God has provided that others, perhaps his angels, will see to them.
• 10.1 See commentary on Matthew 10:5 and Mark 6:7.
Luke reports a mission of the seventy (or seventy-two) after the mission of the Twelve (9:1).
There were twelve apostles, according to the number of the tribes of Israel: this means that, at first, the Gospel was proclaimed to the people of Israel. Then came the mission of the seventy-two (or of the seventy): these numbers symbolized the multitude of pagan nations. This mission, then, is a figure of the task that is the responsibility of the Church until the end of the world: to evangelize all nations (Mt 28:19).
When the Church has been present long enough in a particular place, we tend to believe that everyone has had the opportunity to receive the Gospel: this is an illusion. Even in the best of circumstances, many families, especially the poorest ones, have waited for years for some missionary’s visit.
Do not stop at the homes of those you know (v. 4). The Gospel says: “do not greet anyone.” Missionaries would soon lose their wings if they stayed to chat or asked hospitality from friends who had not welcomed the Kingdom. They should rather count on the Providence of the Father who will open to them the heart and house of one of those who have listened to the Good News.
In visiting homes, the first thing to do is to give peace, that is, to come as a friend on behalf of Christ and his Church, taking time to listen to the people visited and to find out their concerns. Then, and only then, will we be able to give them a good answer and to tell them: the Kingdom has come to you; even though you may have a thousand problems, believe that today God has come closer to you to reconcile you. This is the time to be reconciled with family members and neighbors, to let go of resentments. Begin doing what you can do, and trust that, in his own way, God will solve what is beyond your own power.
Many of the people who welcome the missionaries with joy are not going to persevere: they are not going to enter a Christian community. That does not necessarily mean that the missionaries’ efforts have been wasted. These people will remember this moment of grace from the Lord, and it will help them in living with more faith. In any case, there will be some whose hearts were touched by the Lord at that time and they will become active members of his Church.
The mission helps form the missionaries and also awakens those they visit. Jesus formed his disciples, not only through his teaching, but also by sending them on missions. That is the way he formed the seventy a few months after they met him. Likewise now, the best people for missionary work are often those who have been recently converted.
HEALING THE SICK
• 8. Heal the sick, Jesus says. We have already mentioned that Jesus did not come to bring good health to all the sick people, but rather to bring us salvation. Since we are sinners, our salvation is worked out through suffering and through the cross.
Jesus’ messengers do not try to replace doctors. They do not proclaim faith as a means to be cured: that would cheapen it. They do, however, offer “healing” to the people who have not yet discovered that the kingdom of God and his mercy have come to them.
Wherever there are communities of Christians, they must care for the sick and visit them as a sign of their being concerned for everyone and being everyone’s family. The love shown by a visitor encourages the sick person, gives him joy and arouses gratitude in him, and thus disposes him for an in-depth renewal and for the forgiveness of sins. See also James 5:13.
In his first letter to the Corinthians 12:9, Paul speaks of the various gifts that the spirit gives to the Christian community and he makes a distinction between the gifts to work miracles and to heal the sick. This last gift may correspond to a natural talent the person had before.
Obviously we should encourage those who can pray and lay their hands on the sick. Doctors and health care workers must look on their skillful care of patients as a service done for the sick on behalf of God.
• 17. At first, the person who preaches Christ and works for him is scared. Then follows the joy of having surpassed oneself, and even more the joy of having believed and worked with the very power of Jesus. Jesus gives thanks for the seventy (or seventy-two) and for all those who will follow them.
What are these things (v. 21) that God has revealed to the little ones but the mysterious power of the Gospel to transform people and show them the truth? The apostles marvel at the power coming from the name of Jesus (Mk 16:17). Jesus underlines the defeat of the Adversary, Satan.
The learned and the clever think they know, but do not know what is essential. They speak of a God who is no more than a shadow of the true God as long as they do not recognize him in Jesus. They do not know where the world is heading because they do not see how God’s power is working wherever Jesus is being proclaimed.
The little ones, on the other hand, have understood. Before they saw themselves as a sacrificed generation. For the little ones are used to sacrificing themselves for their children from generation to generation, or they are sacrificed by powers, under the pretext of bringing happiness to their descendants. They did not live for themselves; rather they were preparing a place for others. Now the little ones, namely, the humble believers, have everything if they have Jesus, the Father has given everything to him.
Little ones live their faith in simple ways but they know that none of their sacrifices are lost. It is Jesus who reveals the Father to us and, knowing him in truth, we also share in his control over events. Our desires and our prayers are powerful because we have come to the center from which God directs the forces saving humankind: because we work for eternity, our names are already written in heaven (v. 20).
To evangelize does not mean to try to sell the Gospel but rather to prove its power to heal people from their demons. We need not become activists in order to accomplish that. We must admit that we have no power in these things and we must give thanks to God who enabled us to see, to hear and to communicate his salvation.
Fortunate are you to see… (v. 23). Stop being envious of famous people, kings and prophets of the past. You who are alive now, and who are neither kings nor prophets, have been given the better part.
• 25. Who is my neighbor? (v. 29). The teacher of the law expected to be given the precise limits of his obligation. Whom was he supposed to look after? Members of his family? People of his own race? Or perhaps everybody?
It is significant that Jesus concludes his story with a different question: Which of the three made himself neighbor? (v. 36). It is as if he said: do not try to figure out who is your neighbor, listen instead to the call within you, and become a neighbor, be close to your brother or sister in need. As long as we see the command to love as an obligation, we do not loving as God wants.
Love does not consist simply in being moved by another person’s distress. Notice how the Samaritan stopped by in spite of it being a dangerous place, how he paid for the expenses and promised to take care of whatever else might be necessary. Instead of just ‘being charitable’ he took unconditional and uncalculated risks for a stranger.
On one occasion, Martin Luther King pointed out that love is not satisfied with comforting those who suffer: “To begin with, we must be the good Samaritan to those who have fallen along the way. This, however, is only the beginning. Then, some day we will necessarily have to realize that the road to Jericho must be made in such a way that men and women are not constantly beaten and robbed while they are traveling along the paths of life.”
With this example, Jesus also makes us see that, many times, those who seem to be religious officials, or who believe they fulfill the law, are incapable of loving. It was a Samaritan, considered a heretic by the Jews, who took care of the wounded man.
For the Jews, neighbors were the members of Israel, their own people, dignified by sharing the same religion; in fact, this familial relationship came from “flesh and blood.” For Jesus, true love leads one to give up any discrimination.
• 38. Many things seem to be necessary in a family: cleaning, preparing meals, looking after the children. If there is no time to listen to others, what is life worth? Perhaps we do many things in the service of God and our neighbor; only one thing nevertheless is necessary for us all: being available for Jesus when he is present.
Martha is working and worrying and does not have time to be with Jesus. Jesus is peace and the person who does not attend to him in peace does not receive him. There is a way of serving and working feverishly which leaves us empty, whether it is at home or in the community; instead Jesus wants us to find him in our daily work.
Our prayer can also be a way of fidgeting like Martha: when we fret in saying prayers, when we use a lot of words to present our worries to the Lord a hundred times over; when the person responsible for the celebration becomes nervous and overly concerned about the perfection of the singing or the homily.
To pray is to take the time to listen, to meditate in silence on the work of God, it is to slow our desires, so as to pay attention only to God, secretly present, and slip into his will.
How strange that in some non-Christian religions, people learn to bring their minds to peace and silence and reach true serenity. Meanwhile, we enter prayer with our concerns and do not let go of them until the prayer is ended.
Mary sat down at the Lord’s feet. It is the traditional attitude of the disciple, at the feet of her Master. Surely Jesus was not continually teaching, but being himself the Word of God, he brought God to all that he touched. Mary felt it was good to be there and she was aware that her presence was not to displease Jesus.
Mary has chosen the better part (v. 42). She followed only her instinct, but Jesus sees more: he will not be there much longer, and in any case his presence among us is always brief. Mary has been able to take hold of these brief moments when Jesus could be hers, and she is his while listening to him.
If the Mary in this episode were the same as Mary of Magdala who accompanied Jesus (Lk 8:2) we could imagine the following:
Mary is among the disciples who, along with Jesus, are received by Martha, her sister or “relative”. Mary is not in the least concerned about preparing the food and Martha complains. Jesus then praises Mary, not only because she is listening to him, but also because she had already decided to follow him. Like the apostles, Mary has chosen the better part.
• 11.1 The apostles already knew how to pray and they prayed in common, as all the Jews did, in the synagogue and at key times during the day. Yet, in living close to Jesus they discovered a new way to live in close fellowship and they felt a need to address the Father differently. Jesus waited for them to ask him to teach them how to pray. See Mt 6:9.
• 5. Jesus urges us to ask with perseverance without ever getting tired of asking but, rather, “tiring” God. God will not always give us what we ask for, nor in the way we ask, since we do not know what is good for us. He will give us a holy spirit, or a clearer vision of his will and, at the same time, the courage to follow it.
Knock and it will be opened to you (v. 9). A page from Father Molinie is a commentary on this verse. “If God does not open up at once, it is not because he enjoys making us wait. If we must persevere in prayer, it is not because we need a set number of invocations, but rather because a certain quality, a certain way of prayer is required. If we were able to have that at the beginning, our prayer would be heard immediately.
“Prayer is the groaning of the Holy Spirit in us as Saint Paul says. Yet, we need repetition for this groaning to open a path in our stony heart, just as the drop of water wastes away the hardest rocks. When we have repeated the Our Father and the Hail Mary with perseverance, one day we can pray them in a way that is in perfect harmony with God’s will. He himself was waiting for this groaning, the only one which can move him since, in fact, it comes from his own heart.
“As long as we have not played this note, or rather, drawn it from within, God cannot be conquered. It is not that God defends himself since he is pure tenderness and fluidity, but as long as there is nothing similar in us, the current cannot pass between him and us. Man gets tired of praying, yet if he perseveres instead of losing heart, he will gradually let go of his pride until being exhausted and overcome, he obtains much more than he could have wished for.”
PETITIONS – THE SAINTS
Jesus invites us to ask with perseverance: persevering petitions cease being self-centered and become prayer, that is, they lift us up and bring us closer to God.
What about asking the saints? We must admit that, very often, the person who begs from the saints takes a road opposed to real prayer. Such a person is not interested in discovering God’s mercy, but in obtaining some favor. She does not care whom she addresses as long as she finds an efficient and automatic dispenser of benefits. So begins the search for saints, shrines and devotions.
The Church is a family. Just as we ask our friends to pray for us, so too and much more should we ask our brothers and sisters, the saints. No one will criticize us if, at times, we show our confidence in their intercession, especially the intercession of those whom we admire more because we know their lives and their deeds. This “petition” to the saints should not, however, be confused with perseverance in asking, which introduces us into God’s mystery. Only Mary, the mother of God can accompany us in that prayer because God made her our mother; because he deposited in her all the compassion he has for us; and because he united her to himself in such a way that when we look at her, we always find the living presence of God.
• 14. See commentary on Mark 3:22 and Matthew 12:23.
By the finger of God (v. 20). In Exodus 8:15 the same expression is used to designate the power of God working miracles.
• 23. Whoever is not with me… This phrase seems to contradict Luke 9:50: Whoever is not against you is with you. In fact, in Luke 9:50 Jesus admits that his spiritual family goes much beyond the visible group of his disciples: those who, without belonging to the church, work for the same goals, must be considered as friends.
In Luke 11:23, on the other hand, Jesus speaks of people who refuse to stand with him and his message and who want to remain uncommitted: they do not join him, and later they will criticize him.
• 24. The Jews believed that evil spirits preferred to live in the desert or, rather, that God had banished them there (Tb 8:3). Here Jesus is speaking of people who only believe for a while because they do not repent enough of their past sins. They enjoyed listening to the word, but they did not take the costly measures that would have allowed them to heal the root of evil. See commentary on Mt 12:43.
• 27. Blessed is the one who bore you! This woman envies the mother of Jesus and is full of admiration for his way of speaking. She is mistaken if she thinks that Jesus’ relatives can be proud on his account, and she is wasting her time if she admires his words instead of making them her own. So Jesus turns her towards the Father, whose word he gives, and to herself, whom God invites to the family of his sons and daughters.
As for Mary, the mother of Jesus, the one who believed (1:45), she kept all the words and deeds of the Lord in her heart (Lk 2:51).
• 29. The Ninevites, being sinners, received no other divine sign than the coming of Jonah, who invited them to repent. Jesus’ contemporaries believe they are “good” because they belong to the people of God, and they do not realize that the hour has come for them to repent as well.
The people of Nineveh will rise up with these people and accuse them (v. 32). Jesus again uses the traditional image of collective judgment where each one excuses himself by pointing out that others have done worse. This image retains a deep truth: all that God has given to each one of us should produce fruits for all humanity.
• 37. See commentary on Matthew 23.
The Bible does not demand these ritual purifications that Mark also mentions in 7:3, but the teachers of Jesus’ time insisted that they were necessary. Jesus rebels against these new religious obligations. Why do they not pay more attention to inner purification?
Then we read about the reproaches Jesus addressed to the Pharisees on various occasions. If Luke like Matthew has kept these very hard words of Jesus, it was perhaps a reminder that the Gospel goes much further than the vision of the Pharisees, so concerned, as they claimed, for the service of God. Some of them were part of the first Christian community, and were influential (Acts 15:5). Doubtless, the hostile attitude adopted by the party of the Pharisees in the following years accounts for the remembrance of these reproaches. There are surely others and deeper reasons for the many warnings we read in Scripture about Pharisees.
Entering the new covenant is a free gift from God. It is also a gift from God to possess a good knowledge of Christian doctrine, or exercise a special ministry in the Church, or belong to a Christian group committed for their faith. Nevertheless there is always the danger to behave as an elite group, thus losing the true humility that should lead us to occupy the last places, where we really should be.
• 49. Those who, before Luke, wrote down this saying of Jesus: I will send prophets… (which we also read in Mt 23:34), introduced it with the formula: “Wisdom says,” which was a way of designating Jesus. When Luke placed these lines within Jesus’ discourse, he forgot to take out these words. Removing them would have made the text a lot clearer.
See commentary on Matthew 23:34. Jesus states that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law will be mainly responsible for the persecution against the first Christians (against those apostles and prophets he is going to send).
The warning of Jesus is equally relevant for Christian institutions and all those who in one way or another guide the community. We too, perhaps, build a church for the “elite” who un-consciously despise the poor and the lowly. So very quickly were the prophets paralyzed or eliminated.
You yourselves have not entered, and you prevented others from entering (v. 52). Is not this one of the reasons why so many simple people go to other churches?
• 12.1 Nothing is hidden that will not be made known: this could be interpreted in different ways. In these paragraphs, Jesus refers to the courageous testimony of faith. We have to speak the truth without worrying about what people will think of us. Here hypocrisy is attributed to those who are always trying to be diplomatic, and whose primary concern is not to lose friends.
Do not fear: see commentary on Matthew 10:28.
Do not fear (v. 4): see commentary on Matthew 10:28.
Everyone who criticizes the Son of Man (v. 10): see commentary on Mark 3:29.
GREED – PRODUCTIVITY
• 13. Who has appointed me as your judge? Jesus does not resolve legal differences as do the teachers of the Law since it was the Law that decided civil and religious questions. Jesus reserves his authority for what is essential: suppressing the greed ingrained in our hearts is more important than looking at every person’s right with a magnifying glass.
Avoid every kind of greed (v. 15): Jesus does not say people should be resigned to mediocrity or destitution, satisfied to have ten people sleep in the same room, and without any opportunity for education. We know that all this prevents the growth of people in awareness of their dignity and their divine vocation. Jesus does not criticize our efforts to achieve a more just society, since the whole Bible requires it.
It is one thing to seek justice, knowing that without justice there is neither peace nor communion; it is quite another to look at what others have with the desire to share their greed. Today we clamor for justice, but tomorrow we may only seek more superfluous “necessities.” Such greed will never let us rest and, what is more, it will close the door of the Kingdom on us (Mk 10:23; 1 Tim 6:8).
Possessions do not give life (v. 15). Make sure that your concern to have what you lack does not make you neglect what could give you life now.
In this regard, we should allow the poor to speak, all those brothers and sisters of ours who, though immersed in poverty, continue to be persons who live, in the strongest sense of this word. Should we pity them, or should we count them among the few who already enjoy the Kingdom of God? One of the greatest obstacles preventing the liberation of people is their own greed. The day they agree to participate in powerful boycotts and not go their own way in the pursuit of advantages for one or other category, they shall begin to live as people.
What shall I do? The rich man in the parable planned for larger barns for his sole profit and Jesus condemned him. We too must consider what we should do to bring about a better distribution of the riches of the world.
The person who amasses for God (v. 21) knows how to find happiness in the present moment. Wherever she is, she tries to create a network of social relationships through which everyone gives to others and receives from them instead of wanting and getting things in a selfish way.
A CHURCH POOR LIKE JESUS
• 32. Do not be afraid little flock. Nowhere in the Gospel does Jesus lead us to believe that with time most people will be converted.
We know that the non-Christian world is numerically much more important than the “Christian” world and it grows more rapidly. When large numbers in the “Christian” world give up the practice of religion, we understand that the Church is both a sign and a little flock.
Jesus asks each one of us to be detached from earthly things and he also asks the same of the flock. What matters for the church is not the building of powerful institutions nor the holding of key posts in society “for the greater glory of God.” A Church which awaits the return of the Master is careful to be ready to pack their bags, wherever it may be, when the Lord will send them out and ask them to become missionary again.
Sell what you have and give alms (v. 33). Are ordinary people convinced that the Church has done this? Christians rejoice when their bishop and pastors condemn injustice and remind them of the rights of the working class and the marginalized. It is not enough for us to preach to others. God asks justice of the world and poverty of his Church. Our call for justice will not be heard as long as the Church does not accept for herself the whole Gospel.
It has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom: compare this with Luke 10:23 and Matthew 16:16. The Church is in the world, this little flock that seeks what is essential.
• 35. Jesus develops the parable of the servant expecting his master’s return. This servant is here contrasted with the rich of the preceding paragraph (12:13) who was only concerned about a long and comfortable life. The servant works for God.
Happy are those servants whom the master finds wide-awake (v. 37). Wide-awake, that is, concerned about tomorrow’s world. Wide-awake also means being aware of the truth; we do not consent to call ‘good’ evil, and ‘evil’ good; we do not forgive ourselves for allowing evil and we are not intimidated before injustice.
The Son of Man will come like a thief (v. 40). We should not think that this refers only to the day of death, nor should we be afraid of God’s judgment if we live in his grace. Jesus tells us about the master returning from the wedding, who is so happy that he reverses the usual order and begins to serve his servants. If we have been serving God for years, how could we not reach another phase of spiritual life in which it would seem that God is concerned only in giving and feasting with us?
Peter said to him: (v. 41). This new paragraph is aimed at those who hold responsible positions in the Church.
My Lord delays in coming (v. 45). Those in responsible positions may betray their mission. More often, they make the mistake of seeing only to the good functioning of the institution and they forget that Christ is coming.
God comes all the time through events that, unexpectedly, ruin our plans. Therefore, the Church must not rely too much on planning its activity: who knows what God has in store for us tomorrow? Instead the Church should see to its prayer and its availability so that the Lord will let her be in the best situation when he shakes up our little universe.
Be awake to admire, rejoice in and discover the presence of God and his blessings that enlighten our lives.
• 49. I have come to bring fire. Must we think of fire as referring to something precise such as love, the Gospel or the gift of the Holy Spirit? It is better to stay with the image of fire that purifies, burns all that is old, gives warmth and fosters life; fire of the judgment of God destroying all that is not surrendered to its reforming action.
Jesus comes to remake the world and to bring the jewels that will remain for eternity out of the rubble. Those who follow Jesus must participate in this work of salvation directed at a situation combining work, violence, suffering as well as great dreams wise or mad.
I have a baptism to undergo… (v. 50). Jesus is the leader and will be the first one to face death as a means of obtaining resurrection. This step, as ‘agonizing’ for Jesus as it is for us, is the baptism of fire (see Lk 3:16) that introduces us into a glorious and eternal life. It is the true baptism of which the others, baptisms of water and Spirit, are only a preparation (Rom 6:3-5).
I came to bring division. This is followed by words of Jesus that are so upsetting for those who expect of him a peaceful life. Jesus is a source of division among nations (see commentary on John 10:1-4) and social groups. Often people have tried to use religion as cement for national unity or family peace. It is true that faith is a factor in peace and understanding; but it also separates those who are truly alive from those others, be they relatives or friends, who cannot have all that is now the most important to these true believers. Many times, the wound and the scandal of this separation are so painful for them, that they turn into our persecutors.
The Gospel does not put this world on the road to an earthly paradise, but it challenges it to grow. The death of Jesus brings into full light what was hidden in hearts (Lk 2:35); likewise it reveals the lies and the violence underlying our societies, just as it revealed those which underlay the Jewish society of his time.
• 54. When you see a cloud. The signs which are seen around Jesus are enough for everyone to understand that now is the time announced by the prophets, when people must be converted and Israel must acknowledge its Savior: tomorrow will be too late (vv. 57-59).
When you go with your accuser before the court (v. 58). In Matthew’s Gospel this refers to reconciliation between brothers and sisters. Luke, instead, uses this phrase in reference to our conversion. We are on our way to God’s judgment and it is the same as going before the authorities; therefore we must take advantage of the time given to us to straighten out our situation. We must not waste this moment when we can be saved from Judgment by believing in Christ’s message.
• 13.1 They told Jesus… about an uprising of Galileans in the temple court and the immediate intervention of the Roman guard stationed at a nearby fortress. They profaned the holy grounds strictly reserved for the Jews and shed blood in the Holy Place.
Those relating the story expect that Jesus will answer in a way expressing his national and religious indignation over the killing of his compatriots and the offense against God. Jesus does not choose to focus on these issues: as usual he shows that people are more absorbed in human rather than divine causes and he calls their attention to what counts: those Galilean patriots were violent men, just like the Roman soldiers who killed them. Right then, God was calling everyone to a conversion on which their survival depended. In such a violent atmosphere there was no way out for the dominated Jewish people except through faith, because faith works through the spirit of forgiveness.
In this passage Jesus questions the idea we have of God’s punishment. We cannot believe in God without believing in justice. For the Greeks whose gods were capricious and not very honest, justice was a divine power superior to the gods. We always tend to make ourselves the center of the world and believe we are better than others. If misfortune falls on someone else, we think it is just, but when it is our turn, we ask: “What have I done against God that this should happen to me?”
The Gospel deals with several aspects of the question. First of all let us try to be free of a ghetto mentality (see 6:32): the evil done by our enemies is not worse than the evil we do.
The justice of God goes far beyond our justice, and is only really fulfilled in the next life (the case of Lazarus, 16:19).
The misfortune, which to us here below appears as the “punishment of God,” is no more than a sign, a pedagogical measure used by God to make us aware of our sin. And God often converts a sinner by granting him unexpected favors (see the case of Zaccheus, 19:1).
Then why is there so much about God’s punishment in the Old Testament? God’s people did not know yet an afterlife, so it was necessary to speak of God’s punishments in this life, for these people to believe in his justice. In fact God continues to give such signs both for persons and for communities. It is good to know how to recognize them, keeping in mind they are not the last word of God’s justice.
• 10. The word untie (v. 15) was used by the Jews to express that someone’s sin or penalty was canceled. It also meant freeing an animal from its yoke. Jesus frees the human person and invites us to follow his example.
We should not be surprised at the indignation of the chief of the synagogue. Since he had never been able to help his sick sister, he must have felt discredited by Jesus’ move. Would it not be the same with us? It never occurred to Jesus to ask the authorities for permission to save people.
• 18. See commentary on Matthew 13:31.
At the conclusion of his Galilean ministry, Jesus invites optimism: although the results are few, a seed has been sown and the Kingdom of God is growing.
• 22. See commentary on Matthew 7:13.
Is it true that few people will be saved? Jesus considered this a useless question. What should have been asked, instead, was whether Israel listened to God’s call, and if she was following the narrow road that would save her.
People coming from east and west (v. 29) People from all nations will be converted and come into the Church while the Jewish people – for the most part – would remain outside.
• 34. See commentary on Matthew 23:37.
Note however a little difference: until the time when you will say (v. 35). For Luke, disciple of Paul, it is certitude: the day will come when Israel will recognize Christ (see Rom 11:25-32). For Jesus has come to save Israel, which means to give sense to its history. It will then, doubtless be the end of all other histories.
• 14.7 Here Jesus develops a biblical proverb inviting us to be modest in social gatherings (Pro 25:6-7). Such behavior befits God’s children. Whatever the area of human activity may be, we should let others seek the first place, while stepping on other people as they do so. We know that what matters is not what is seen: God knows how to exalt the humble and place them where it best suits him.
Moreover, when we go from the earthly church to the Kingdom of heaven, there will be changes in who occupies the first places. Someone who was pope, or bishop or a prominent “Catholic” may count less than the little old lady who was selling newspapers.
• 12. Everyone of us seeks to be near those who are above us, since we think we benefit more from being connected with those who are superior than with those who are inferior.
Jesus’ warning points to one of the main causes of injustice. We all share in the guilt when we decide with whom it is more beneficial to be associated; consequently everyone tries to climb higher, always leaving the weakest in the most isolated and helpless position.
It would be a strange sight to see public officials pay more attention to the poorly dressed, or to see the poorest areas supplied with water and power before the residential districts, or to see doctors go to the rural areas to practice.
• 15. In many parts of the Old Testament there was talk of a “banquet” that God would prepare for good people, for his servants, when he would come to establish his Kingdom. Jesus also developed this theme many times because the banquet represents the communion of saints. The parable here is very similar to the one which Matthew relates in 22:1.
Happy are those who eat at the banquet in the kingdom of God, says the man speaking to Jesus. Perhaps he did not suspect that in order to participate in the eternal feast, it was necessary to respond then to the call from God inviting everyone to gather in his community, the church, and to build a more loving world. The one who turns away from his brothers and sisters today will not eat with others at the banquet.
We are given the reasons why those invited did not respond to the call of the Lord, when he summoned them to build a better world along with him. I have bought a land… I just got married… These are all good reasons. Yet financial concerns of the family must not stop our community involvement, nor prevent us from participating in the Christian assembly. Many times, those who enjoy greater cultural formation allow themselves to be paralyzed by the needs of a “happy home” with well-educated children. If we are not very demanding with ourselves we will be soon among those in whom the thorns have choked the seed.
Bring the poor… compel them to come to my church; force them also to fulfill the role fitting to them in society. God relies on the poor and the marginalized to maintain the aspirations toward peace and justice in the world, to awaken the consciences of those “good” people who are too comfortable.
• 25. Jesus thinks about people who, after becoming enthusiastic about him and giving up their personal ambitions to dedicate themselves to the work of the Gospel, turn back to seek what ordinary people see as a more “normal” and secure life. Jesus needs disciples who commit themselves once and for all.
Why this comparison with the king going to war? Because the person who frees himself for the service of the Gospel is, in fact, a king to whom God will give greater rewards than anyone else would give (see Mk 10:30). He must also know that the fight is against the “owner” of this world, the devil, who will stop him with a thousand unexpected tests and traps. Had he not totally surrendered, the disciple would surely fail and be worse off than if he had not even begun.
So long as you don’t give up… (v. 33). Jesus asks some people to give up their loved ones and their family problems. To all he shows that we shall never be free to answer God’s call, if we do not want to rethink our family links, our use of time and all that we sacrifice in order to live “like everyone else.”
Without giving up your love for your father and your children… (v. 26). This is found in Matthew 10:37. Luke adds: your wife.
THE BLACK SHEEP
• 4. Why do the Pharisees complain? Because they are scrupulously concerned about ritual purity. In this perspective – present in the Old Testament – in a relationship between two people, the one who is unclean will contaminate the other. Since “sinners” by definition never think of purifying themselves of the hundred and one impurities of daily life, Jesus could then be considered a teacher ready to become impure at any moment. So it is that Jesus will speak of God’s mercy that has not swept away sinners from his presence.
Then again, is not there something more human in the indignation of “good” people: let everyone see the difference between the rest and us! Once more Jesus battles against the old idea of merits that have been gained and therefore worthy of God’s reward.
Happy the one sheep Jesus went after, leaving the ninety-nine! Poor righteous ones who do not need God’s forgiveness!
In large cities today, the church seems to be left with only one sheep. Why does she not get out, namely, let go of her income, privileges or devotions of a commercial style, to go out looking for the ninety-nine who got lost? To leave the comfortable circle of believers who have no problems, to look beyond our renewed rituals, and to be ready to be criticized just as Jesus was criticized, is the challenge today.
Who lights the lamp, sweeps the house and searches except God himself? Out of respect for God, the Jews of Jesus’ time preferred not to name him, and they used expressions such as the angels or heaven.
THE PRODIGAL FATHER
• 11. There are three characters in this parable: the father, representing God; the older son, the Pharisee. Who is the younger son? Is he the sinner or perhaps Man?
The Man wants freedom and thinks, many times, that God takes it away from him. He begins by leaving the Father, whose love he does not understand and whose presence has become a burden to him. After having wasted the heritage whose value he does not appreciate, he loses his honor and becomes the slave of others and of shameful actions (pigs were unclean animals to the Jews).
The son returns. Having become aware of his slavery, he convinces himself that God has a better destiny in mind for him, and he begins on the road back to his home. Upon returning, he discovers that the Father is very different from the idea that he had formed of him: the father is waiting for him and runs to meet him; he restores his dignity, erasing the memory of the lost inheritance. There is a celebration of the feast to which Jesus referred so many times.
At last we understand that God is Father. He did not put us on earth to collect merits and rewards but to discover that we are his children. We are born sinners: from the start of our lives we are led by our feelings and the bad example of the society in which we have been raised. There is still more: as long as God does not take the initiative and reveal himself to us, we cannot think of freedom other than in terms of becoming independent of him.
God is not surprised by our wickedness since, in creating us free, he accepted the risk that we might fall. God is with all of us in our experience of good and evil, until he can call us his sons and daughters, thanks to his only Son, Jesus. Note this marvelous phrase: I have sinned against God and before you. Sin goes against Heaven, that is, against God who it truth and holiness. But God is also the Father concerned for his son; the son has sinned before the one who draws good from evil.
Such is our God and Father, the one who creates us day after day, without our being aware of it, while we go on our way; the one who seeks sinners whom he can fill with his treasures.
The older son, the one who obeys, though with a closed heart, understands none of this. He has served with the hope of being rewarded, or at least, the hope of being seen as superior to others; and he is incapable to welcome sinners or to participate in the feast of Christ, because, in fact, he does not know how to love.
• 16.1 Jesus is not concerned about condemning the improper actions of the administrator, but rather points out his cleverness in providing for his future: this man was able to discover in time that friends last longer than money. In the same way, in promoting a new way of living, the people of light must strip money of its halo as Supreme Good. It seems that putting money in a safe place is the best way to assure our existence and our future. On the contrary, Jesus tells us to use it and to exchange it without hesitation for something much more valuable such as bonds of mutual appreciation.
We are not owners but administrators of our wealth and we must administer it for the good of all. Money is not a bad thing as long as we use it as a means to facilitate exchanges. Jesus, however, calls it “unjust” (we use the word filthy) because money is not a true good (it is not money that makes us just before God); and because it is impossible to accumulate money without failing in trust in the Father and without hurting our neighbors.
Money is something that people acquire and lose; it does not make anyone greater. Therefore, money is not part of the goods that are our own (v. 12).
• 13. The Pharisees, heard all this and sneered at Jesus (v. 14). More than the other evangelists, Luke notes the incompatibility between true religion and love of money. The Pharisees could justify their love of money by quoting some sayings from the Bible. In fact, in the beginning the Jews saw wealth as a blessing from God. It seemed just to them that God should reward in this way those who are faithful to him when they know how to deal with the riches of this world. Then, with the passing of time, they came to see that money was more of a danger and that, often, it was the privilege of those without faith (Ps 49, Job).
Nevertheless, as soon as someone has money he is convinced that he possesses truth, and thus the Pharisees felt authorized to judge and decide on things of God. After them, many Christians belonging to influential circles have wished to use money and power for the service of the kingdom of God and quickly established themselves as managers. Money in turn possesses those who possess it. Very soon one is ready to approve a moral order that justifies one’s own privileges and forgets the Gospel values of justice, humility and poverty. In the end, it is the Church itself that is despised by those who seek God.
Why have so many people of humble origin felt inferior to the rich in the church? They got used to seeing the rich heading church organizations and accustomed to receiving the word of God from them, in spite of Jesus’ warnings.
• 16. We are about to read three of Jesus’ sayings whose only connection is their reference to the Law. The Law meant the laws that God had given to the Jews. Besides, the Law and the Prophets was a way the Jews used to refer to their Holy Writings that we call the Old Testament. Jesus uses this expression here to point to Old Testament times, to all that prepared for his own coming.
For a single letter of Scripture not to be fulfilled (v. 17): that means that everything in it had its significance even though Jesus states that the decisive point has come with him. The Law was needed to prepare for his coming, but it will no longer be observed in the same way as before (see Mt 5:17-20).
For Jews who observed the Law and in particular for those who had followed John the Baptist, another step was needed: faith in Jesus and, by this, to conquer the kingdom of God (Lk 7:24). Despite appearances, it is much easier to follow religious practices, to observe laws and to fast, than it is to believe and to risk the unknown by following the crucified Jesus.
• 19. This parable deals with the worldwide gap between the rich and the inhumanly poor. There is a deadly law of money which makes the rich live separately: housing, transportation, recreation, medical care. The wall the rich man willingly built in this life becomes, after his death, an abyss that no one will be able to bridge. The one who accepts this separation will find himself on the other side forever.
A poor man named Lazarus: Jesus names the poor man, but not the rich one, thus reversing the order of the present society that treats the well to do as a person but not the ordinary worker. We also see that, on dying, Lazarus finds many friends: the angels, Abraham, the father of believers. The rich man finds neither friends nor lawyers to relieve his situation: hell is isolation.
Some people would like to know what was the rich man’s sin for which he was condemned to hell. Was it that he denied some crumbs from his table to Lazarus? The Gospel does not say this. Instead it shows that the rich man did not even see Lazarus lying at his door: Remember that in your lifetime you were well off.
The Lazarus of today are legion and are already at our door; they are known as third or fourth world. On a world scale it is the more advanced countries and the privileged minorities that have taken possession of the table to which all were invited: the real power, and the culture imposed by the media. The national industries and sources of employment have been destroyed by a free exchange unimpeded by any social or moral restraint. Hundreds of millions of “Lazarus” people are marginalized and rejected until they die in misery, or through violence arising from a dehumanized life.
Modern-day Lazarus are kept at a distance from the residential areas by police, dogs and barbed wires. They would like to get their fill of the crumbs that are left over from the feast, but there are few scraps falling back to the homeland, after everything is wasted on imported products or deposited in foreign banks. Lazarus lives among dogs and rubbish: he becomes a prostitute, or a pickpocket, until a premature death enables him to find someone who loves him: at the side of Abraham and the angels.
Meanwhile, the rich person works hard, not so much to enjoy life as to convince himself that he is right: even the Church should justify him and the separation. It is this perversion of his mind that takes him to hell, after having inspired in him hatred or contempt for all those who proclaim the demands of justice taught by Moses and the prophets, that is to say, by the Bible.
The Gospel, in its desire to save the rich as well as the poor, asks us to work with a view to removing the abyss that separates them. The time for breaking down the barrier is in this life.
• 17.11 The ten lepers were cured but only one of them was told: Your faith has saved you. He was the one who responded straight from the heart. While the others were concerned about fulfilling the legal requirements, he only thought about giving thanks to God right where the grace of God found him: such is the faith which saves and transforms us.
Among the many people asking God for healing and favors, how many will really come to love God?
• 20. When will the kingdom of God come? It does not come as a revolution or the change of the seasons each year: it is at work in people who have received the Good News. Those who believe already enjoy the Kingdom.
Then come the words of Jesus concerning the end of Jerusalem and his second coming (Mk 13:14). We should not speak about the end of the world in every time of anxiety. Jesus gives us two comparisons: the lightning (v. 24) which is seen everywhere and the vultures (v. 37) which gather without fail wherever there is a corpse. In the same way, everyone, without fail, will be aware of Christ’s return.
Yet his return will catch off guard those who are not expecting it (just as in the days of Noah). Judgment will separate the elect from the condemned – nothing separated them in daily life – from two people working side by side, one will be taken, the other left behind.
In Matthew 24:17 the reference to someone outside his house is connected with the end of Jerusalem, and here it means it will be necessary to escape quickly. In the present text this has another meaning: when the end of the world comes it will be too late to worry about saving one’s life or possessions.
Where will this take place? (v. 37): foolish question as in Luke 17:20, because the Lord will not come to take his people to a geographic location. On that day, the good will be taken into the presence of God as infallibly as vultures gather around a corpse.
• 18.1 If there is a just God, why does he not do justice? (Ps 44:24, Heb 1; Zec 1:12; Rev 6:10). Jesus answers: Do you desire and ask for the justice of God with enough faith? He will undoubtedly do justice, but you will have to wait.
A judge who neither feared God nor people: many people upon seeing what is unjust and absurd in life, view God this way. If we pray with perseverance, we will gradually discover that things are not as absurd as they seem, and we will come to recognize the face of the God who loves us in what happens.
Who cry to him day and night (v. 7). Jesus, who so insists on our responsibility to the world, is the one who also urges us to call on God day and night. Why are people so readily divided (or why do we divide them) into prayers and doers?
Will he find faith on earth? (v. 8). Jesus confirms an opinion already found among the Jews of his days. In the last days before Judgment, the power of evil will be so great that in many love will grow cold (Mt 24:12).
In fact, with the first coming of Jesus, the Old Testament ended in seeming failure; few had believed in him and, later, most were influenced by the confusion, the false saviors and the violence which precipitated the fall of the nation forty years after the death of Jesus.
• 9. The Pharisees were very determined to fulfill God’s law; they fasted often and did many works of mercy. Unfortunately, many of them took the credit for such a model life: they thought they no longer needed God’s mercy because their good deeds would force him to reward them.
On the other hand the publican recognizes he is a sinner towards God and people: all he can do is to ask pardon. He is in the truth and in the grace of God when he goes home.
Jesus speaks for those who are fully convinced of their own righteousness (v. 9). The text says precisely: “their justice” which contrasts with “he was justified” in verse 14. The Bible calls just those whose life is in order before God because they observe his law; so in Mt 1:19 and Lk 1:6 Joseph and Zachary are called just. In many places, however, great importance is given to the exterior acts of the just man, and for the Pharisees as for any religious group that is at the same time a party or a social group, the members of the group considered themselves as good people.
Jesus invites us to humility if we want to acquire the only righteousness which counts in God’s eyes, for it is not a matter of acquiring it by means of merit and religious practices, but receiving it rather as a gift from God destined for those who want his pardon and holiness. It is not by chance that this parable is in the Gospel of Luke, disciple of Paul; for Paul, the converted Pharisee, constantly dwells on what is the true justice of a Christian. What God wants for us is so great that we could never buy it with religious practices or good works: but to those who trust him God gives all (see Rom 4).
Neither is it by chance that Jesus offers us a Pharisee who only knows how to compare himself with another person in order to find himself better than the other. It is there that the devil waits for all, and for all Christian groups, who pride themselves on having discovered a way to conversion. Wherever we see a divided Church, whether because of political or religious causes, it is a good guess that people favor such a situation because it allows comparison with others. It is difficult to belong to a group of “the converted” without looking with charitable compassion on those Christian brethren who have not taken the same road.
THE POWER OF JESUS
• 19.1 Everyone in Jericho was pointing a finger at Zaccheus: how could a man involved in dirty deals, (like he was) be converted? What punishment would God send to him? Instead of punishing him, God comes to his home.
Jesus shows that he is guided by the Spirit when he spots Zaccheus among so many people, and when he understands at that very moment, that on that day he has come to Jericho, above all, to save a rich man.
Zaccheus knows that he is the object of envy and hatred. He is not all bad: although his hands are dirty, he has not lost the sense of what is good and he admires the prophet Jesus secretly. God is able to save him because of his good desires. The favor Jesus does to him compels him to manifest the human and good qualities hidden in him.
It is said that he received Jesus joyfully: a joy that shows the transformation that has taken place in him. After that, he will have no trouble in rectifying his evil deeds. Then he will share and reestablish justice.
The people are indignant, and in that they imitate the Pharisees; they believe that the prophet Jesus should share their prejudice and even their resentments. Jesus is not a demagogue; the crowd’s lack of understanding does not matter to him any more than that of the Pharisees. Once again, Jesus shows his power; he destroys evil by saving the sinner.
• 11. Galileans go to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and Jesus goes with them. He knows that death awaits him: they, nonetheless, are convinced that he will be proclaimed king and liberator of Israel.
In his parable Jesus invites them to hold onto another hope. He will rule on his return from a faraway land (his own death) at the end of history. Meanwhile, his people are in charge of riches, which he has given them and which they must multiply. They should not wait in idleness for his return, since his enemies will take advantage of his absence to struggle against his influence. Jesus’ servants will participate in his triumph to the degree that they have worked.
This page is closely connected with the parable of the talents (Mk 25:14). Two differences are pointed out in what follows.
For one thing, in the introduction and in the conclusion Jesus refers to his country’s political life. The country depended on the Roman Empire and its kings had to be acceptable to the Roman government that protected them.
On the other hand, the parable insists on God’s justice: everyone receives according to his merit. Heavenly happiness is not something that can be distributed equally. Everyone will know God and will share his riches to the degree that one has been able to love throughout life. Every step we take by way of obedience, sacrifice and humility, develops our capacity to receive God and to be transformed by him.
• 20.9 How many confrontations between Jesus and the leaders of Jerusalem. In 20:19, Luke says: They feared the people. Is it a fact that the Jews of that time, their teachers of the Law and their priests were any worse than we are today? Or are we mistaken when we dream of a Church without persecutions and controversies?
Not all of us must experience the oppositions Jesus met. He chose for himself this crucifying way because it is the highway to God.
• 27. See commentary on Mark 12:18.
Luke has his own expressions in speaking of the resurrection in verses 34-36. It is because in those countries of Greek culture (Luke wrote for them) many people believed in the immortality of the soul as something natural. Luke clarified for them that the other life is not something natural; it is a gift of God for those who are considered worthy to enter it.
They too are sons and daughters of God. Using a Hebrew expression, the text says: they too are sons of God (at that time the sons of God were the angels) because they are sons of the resurrection. This resurrection is not like coming back to the life we know, it is the work of the Holy Spirit, who transforms and sanctifies those he resurrects. Therefore the resurrected are sons and daughters of God in a much more authentic way than those of this world: delivered from sin, they are reborn of God.
All live for him. They started to become alive when God knew them and called them, and they will not disappear, since God called them from this world to bring them into his own.
Faith in the resurrection contrasts with the doctrine of transmigration that says that souls come back to life in a body and social condition that befits their merits. The cycle will continue as long as purification has not been completed. It is a powerful theory capable of enticing many people in the West.
It could be said that it is convenient and leads to irresponsibility since all could be settled. Actually, however, this is not the case with the Hindus: their moral concern is often greater than ours, for they are keen to escape from these recurring beginnings. The difference is elsewhere. There are two conceptions of a human. In one, the soul is imprisoned in a body, in the second God saves the indivisible person. The body is not a clothing for the soul, which may pass from an old person to a newly born.
That is why Christian hope awaits a resurrection, that is to say, the possibility for each one to be reborn of God in God and express oneself fully in a “glorified body.”
The Bible teaches us that this present life is our only opportunity. People die only once and are judged (Heb 9:27).
• 45. They even devour the property of widows. This may refer to teachers of the law lodging in the home of some pious widow and then living at her expense.
• 21.5 See commentary on Mark 13:1 and Matthew 24:1.
For a great calamity will come upon the land (v. 23). Luke foretells the destruction of the Jewish nation more clearly than Matthew and Mark do.
Until the time of the non-Jewish nations is fulfilled (v. 24). Luke divides history into two ages. One corresponds to the Old Testament: that was the time when Sacred History was almost the same as the history of Israel. Then, after Jesus, came the time of the nations. The destruction of the Jewish nation and the dispersal of its people inaugurated a new era, which would be mostly the history of the evangelization and education of the nations by the Church. We could call that period the times of the New Testament, which will end with the great crisis concluding human history.
• 34. Be on your guard. After speaking about the imminent end of Jerusalem (vv. 28-32), Luke speaks of that day which will conclude human history with the coming of Christ, the Judge (vv. 34-36).
Be on your guard. This invitation is not only addressed to those who will know that day, but it is for everyone, throughout the history of the Church. Once more he invites us to watch and pray while the world is asleep (see Eph 6:18).
That you may be able to stand: to avoid errors and deceit (2 Thes 2:9; 1 Thes 3:13) during the trials preceding Christ’s coming. The Our Father expresses the same concern. Those who are expecting the coming of the Kingdom pray: do not put us to the test.
In fact, vigils and prayers serve not only to prevent possible falls. When the believer and the Church are more awake, they cooperate more in the development of the divine plan and hasten the coming of the Lord.
• 22.7. Where do you want us to prepare it? This was the first preoccupation of pilgrims to Jerusalem: finding a house where they could eat the sacrificed lamb.
A man will come to you. Usually women carry the water jars, and so it would be easy to identify a man with a water jar. Jesus knew that Judas was betraying him, and did not want to indicate the place of the supper ahead of time: he could have been apprehended there. So he trusted a prophetic intuition: the Father had designated the place for the last supper. It was, in fact, the home of a rich man, a disciple of Jesus in Jerusalem. This may have been the house where the apostles gathered after Jesus’ death and where the Church started.
• 14. See commentary on Mark 14:12.
Jesus took his place at table, or rather as the Gospel says, “he reclined,” as was the custom at banquets of the well to do: guests would recline on sofas around the table.
It is very difficult to know whether this last supper of Jesus started with the meal of the passover lamb and concluded with the eucharist, or whether Jesus only celebrated the eucharist, without having shared the passover meal. In any case, the Gospel intends to teach us that the eucharist will be for the Church what the passover meal was for the people of Israel.
They passed him a cup. The person presiding at the passover meal would take four cups which he would bless and which the participants would pass around.
I will not drink of the grape of the vine (v. 18). Jesus recalled that, for the Jews, the passover meal was already an anticipated figure of the banquet of the Kingdom of God. On that night, the celebration took place for Jesus in a very special way.
This is my body. Is the consecrated bread the symbol of the body of Christ, or is it the body of Christ in fact? There have been great controversies between Catholics and Protestants about this. Catholics understand that the bread is really the body of Christ; Protestants maintain that the bread does not contain the physical presence of the body of Christ and look upon it as a mere symbol. Both have tried to come to a mutual understanding.
The faith of the Church states that the consecrated bread is symbol and reality at the same time. The presence of the body of Christ is not symbolic but real, though not a material presence, as if we could say: “Jesus is here on the table.” The body of Christ is present, but through the sacramental sign of bread and wine, and it is present inasmuch as it is signified. In communion we receive the body of the “risen” Christ (it is another reason to think that it is not a material presence, but rather of another type, no less real, but different) in order to receive from him strength and life. Though his presence to the believer in communion is a mysterious and intimate reality, the objective of the Eucharist is not to make Jesus more present, but to renew and strengthen the communion (fellowship) between Jesus and those who share in the table of the Lord, making us at the same time more conscious of his divine overwhelming presence.
My blood which is poured out for you. Jesus gives us the meaning of his death: he will be the Servant of Yahweh promised by Isaiah (53:12), who takes upon himself the sins of a multitude. That is why in Matthew and Mark Jesus says: My blood poured out for a multitude. Let us say that, for the Jews, a multitude, or the many, does not exclude anyone. However, this multitude refers first to the chosen people of Jesus: that is why we read here poured out for you, the same as in 1 Cor 11:24; Eph 5:25; Jn 17:19.
The new covenant: see commentary on Mark 14:12.
Do this in remembrance of me. With these words Jesus institutes the Eucharist as the church will celebrate it. In remembrance of me: not to remember a dead man. At the Passover the Jews remembered the intervention of God who had delivered them from Egypt; in the Eucharist, we remember the intervention of God who saved us through the sacrifice of his Son.
The parenthesis of vv. 19-20 includes words which are not in many ancient manuscripts and perhaps do not belong to Luke’s gospel.
• 24. After the narrative of the Last Supper (Mk 14:12), Luke brings out some memories of the conversation with which Jesus took leave of his apostles. Here he shows Jesus as alone and misunderstood by his own apostles on the eve of his death. They have not learned anything in so many months and at the end of the Last Supper, they only express their all-too-human concerns.
The apostles were vying for the first place in the Kingdom: what concept, then, did they still have of the Kingdom? During the supper Jesus had acted as the servant of the house (Jn 13:1).
Jesus does not get discouraged when he sees that the apostles are out of touch with his thoughts and desires, even when time is coming to an end for him. He has surrendered his life and his work to the Father: if he has seemingly failed, he knows that after his death his work will rise to new life along with him, and so he confirms his promises to his apostles.
You will sit… (v. 30). How hard it is for us to understand Jesus’ faithfulness to his own people. All that is his, he shares with those who have committed themselves to his work. The twelve tribes of Israel means the entire people of God. With this, Jesus designates all of us who come from many nations to accept the faith of the apostles.
Peter believes that since he is the head, he will be stronger than the others. Jesus, on the other hand, sees Peter’s future mission, and in spite of his fall, wills to give him a special grace, so that he will be able to strengthen the rest. Such is Jesus’ way of doing things: he saves what was lost and, having seen the incurable weakness of human nature in Peter, he uses him to give the Church a stability to which no other human society can aspire. Indeed, the continuity of the Church through the centuries is, in part, due to the popes, Peter’s successors.
At the end, Jesus uses some images to indicate that the crisis foretold so many times is at hand: the apostles do not really understand and they look for swords.
• 39. It appears that Jesus celebrated the Passover in a house at the southwest of the old town of Jerusalem. He went down the stepped street to what had been the stream of Tyropeon, went up the Ophel area, the old city of David, to go down to the Kidron torrent, almost always devoid of water. From there he must have taken a path to go up to the Mount of Olives. It was called that because its western slopes were covered with olive trees. Jesus went to a garden called Gethsemane, or “olive press.” This land may have belonged to one of the disciples of Jesus, since he went there many times (Jn 18:2).
He was in agony. Jesus certainly has felt, just as we have – and perhaps even more acutely – the horror of death. But he must also have been assailed by a despairing vision of the world of sin due to the presence of the all-holy Father. Should we want to understand something of what took place in those moments, we must learn about the testimonies of the great saints who, in their own way, also experienced this extremely difficult test.
Some of the ancient manuscripts of the Gospel do not have verses 43 and 44: probably they were taken out because many people were scandalized by this “weakness” of Christ.
An angel from heaven. At times the Bible speaks of an angel to indicate that God intervened in a mysterious way, by encouraging, teaching or punishing…This angel reminds us of the one who came to encourage Elijah (1 K 19:4). We must understand that God wished to give Jesus a special help to be able to endure this exceptional trial. There again we need the witness of the saints to understand better.
Drops of blood formed like sweat. This is a symptom understood by doctors, due both to anxiety and suffering.
The hour and the form of Jesus’ arrest were suited to evildoers driven by the Power of darkness. There are times when all hope and justice have apparently disappeared from the earth.
• 54. WHY DID THEY KILL HIM?
Regarding the two trials of Jesus, one religious, the other political, see commentary on Mark 14:53.
Jesus’ trial and condemnation to death were not very different from what happens to many Christian militants and martyrs. Merely preferring relationships with the poor and educating simple people so they can be free and responsible does not constitute a crime in any country, and yet, throughout the centuries, it has been enough to bring persecution onto many persons. We have already mentioned that Jesus preached in extremely difficult circumstances, since his nation was under the law of the Roman occupants, and any liberating message smacked of subversion.
Undoubtedly, those who condemned Jesus had plenty of reasons to hate him. However, the Gospel records that the accusations focused on the key points of his teaching. They condemned Jesus because he claimed to be divine: the Christ, the Son of God, the one who will sit at the right hand of God.
The chief priests of the time belonged to wealthy families who fought for their positions because it gave access to temple money. Annas and his sons (and his son-in-law Caiaphas) are known to have acted with utter shamelessness, silencing protests with the sticks of their guards, who formed an illegal militia. Here, they appear with the leaders of the Jews, or the Elders, who belong to the richest families.
• 23.1 Pilate does not want to condemn Jesus, partly because he hates Jewish priests, and so he sends Jesus to Herod. By putting a white robe on Jesus, Herod treats him as a madman pretending to be a king.
They became friends from that day on, because, in spite of the fact that they were so different, they realized that they belonged to the same class of people with power to play with the lives of common people.
• 18. Barabbas may have been one of those terrorists harassing the Roman oppressors. The chief priests who wanted to have peace with the Romans hated these people. Yet the chief priests persuaded the people to ask for the release of Barabbas. Even though they hated those priests, the people listened to them. With that, Pilate’s plan (he wanted to release Jesus) failed.
• 27. What will happen to the dry wood? (v. 31). Jesus taught that the sacrifice which is accepted is fruitful: but at the same time he mourns the unnecessary sufferings of a people who have let the opportunity pass them by, and who will be destroyed through their own fault.
These words are also meant for all those who make the blood of Christ useless for themselves.
A large crowd followed him, especially women… Luke is the only evangelist reflecting this compassionate attitude. Contrary to Matthew who insists on the guilt of the Jewish people, Luke wants to point out that Jesus’ condemnation moved many people. Jesus’ words recall what he already said about the destruction of the Jewish nation (Mk 13).
• 39. The leaders of the Jews have put Jesus where he belongs, since he decided to take our sins upon himself. The two men look at the one who has come to share their destiny.
You will be in paradise (v. 43). What is paradise? We lack adequate words to express what lies beyond. In Jesus’ time, the Jews used to compare the Place of the Dead to a huge country divided up into regions separated by insurmountable barriers. Hell was one of the regions; it was reserved for the wicked, from there no one could escape. Another region was Paradise where the good people would be with the first ancestors of holy people, awaiting the moment of resurrection.
You will be with me, says Jesus, that is with the Savior, who for a day and a half was in the peace and joy of God, before the resurrection. This statement puts us at ease as to our own destiny at death, although we cannot know what will become of us before the Resurrection. We will not be anesthetized, nor will we cease to exist, as some claim, but we will rather possess everything, being with Jesus who came to share death and his brothers’ and sisters’ rest (see Phil 1:23 and Rev 14:13).
• 24.1 The Lord Jesus: with this expression, not found in the rest of the Gospel but very much in use in the early church, Luke shows us that the Risen Jesus has entered a kind of existence which is different from that of his mortal life. Let us remember the following:
1) None of the Gospels describe the Resurrection of Jesus: it was an event that could not be seen.
2) The apostles’ preaching about the risen Jesus is based on two facts: the empty tomb and the appearances (see commentary on Mt 28:1).
3) Before the Gospels were written, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in the year 57, gave a list of Jesus’ appearances (1 Cor 15:3).
4) Although the four Gospels agree on the essentials, there are, nevertheless, differences as to the order of the appearances and the place where they occurred. Luke does not mention appearances in Galilee. Matthew gives the impression that all that was important took place in Galilee, and that the Ascension took place there as well. Paul speaks first of an appearance to Peter and does not mention the appearance to Mary Magdalen. An in-depth study of the texts sheds some light on these discrepancies: they did not want to reveal everything, and at times preferred to modify details of the place or the chronology to fit the demands of their book and for the purpose of teaching.
5) As for Jesus’ ascension, it was not a “trip” to heaven; he was already “in heaven,” in the sense that he shared the glory of God from the moment of his Resurrection. The Ascension is simply the last of his appearances (see commentary on Acts 1:9).
• 13. We notice on this page of the Gospel how carefully Luke uses in turn the verbs: see and recognize. The evangelist, in fact, wishes to show us that after his resurrection Jesus can no longer be “seen” with the eyes of the body; he had gone from this world to the Father, and this new world evades our senses. It is only with new vision, this light of faith that we “recognize” him present and active in us and around us. If the history of the Church records a number of exceptional apparitions of the risen Jesus, the faithful are invited to “recognize” him through faith.
These two disciples were merely going home to return to their work, after their hopes had been crushed. We are accustomed to call them the pilgrims of Emmaus.
The Jewish people, the people of Israel, were pilgrim people because they never had the possibility of lingering on the way. The departure from Egypt, the conquest of the Land, the fights against invaders, the development of religious culture were many stages along the way. Each time they thought that in reaching their goal, their problems would be solved, and each time they had to realize that the road was taking them still further.
Cleophas and his companion were pilgrims since they followed Jesus, thinking that he would redeem Israel. In the end, there was only the death of Jesus. This is the moment when Jesus becomes present and teaches them that one does not enter the Kingdom without passing through death.
They recognized him (v. 31). Perhaps Jesus looked different as we see in John 20:14. This is what Mark says in 16:12. Luke also wants us to understand that the same people, whose eyes could not recognize Jesus, will see him when they come to believe.
Starting with Moses and going through the prophets (v. 27). Remember that “Moses and the prophets” is a way of designating Scripture. Jesus invites them to pass from Israel’s faith or hope in a happy future for the whole nation, to faith in his very person, accepting the mystery of his rejection and of his Passion.
Everything in Scripture concerning himself (v. 27). In his first biblical lesson, Jesus taught them that the Messiah had to suffer. Jesus not only found all the texts which foretold his Passion and Resurrection such as Is 50; Is 52:13; Zec 12:11; Ps 22; Ps 69; but also those texts showing that God’s plan filters human history.
Something similar happens to believers now when we often complain and show our impatience. Yet Jesus did not leave us alone. He has not risen in order to sit in heaven; he is ahead of humanity on pilgrimage and draws us toward that final day when he will come to meet us.
At the same time he walks with us, and when our hopes are dashed, it is the moment when we discover the meaning of the Resurrection.
Thus the Church does for us what Jesus did for the two disciples. First, it gives us the ‘interpretation of Scripture’: what matters in our efforts to understand the Bible is not to know many passages by heart, but to discover the thread connecting various events and to understand God’s plan concerning people.
Then, the Church also celebrates the Eucharist. Notice how Luke says: he took bread, said a blessing, broke it and gave it; these same four words were used among believers to speak of the Eucharist. We can come close to Jesus in conversation and meditating on his word; we find him present in our fraternal meetings, but he makes himself known in a different way when we share the bread that is his body.
Cleophas (v. 18): the husband of Mary, mother of James and Joset (see Jn 19:25 and Mk 15:40).
• 36. Jesus was reborn to a glorious life from the day of his resurrection. He was already ‘in the Father’s glory,’ but wanted to be with his disciples on various occasions in order to convince them that his new condition was not a lesser life, or something ghostly, but rather a super life.
In this chapter we put in parentheses some words or sentences that do not appear in many ancient manuscripts and which perhaps have been added later.
• 44. Jesus uses these encounters to clarify the meaning of his brief and intense mission for his apostles. He saves us from sin, which means nothing less than reordering history to resurrect humankind.
Everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms had to be fulfilled. What the prophets announced, about a savior who would be rejected by his people and take the sin of his people upon himself, had to be fulfilled. What sin? Everyone’s sins, of course, but also the violence of the whole Jewish society at the time of Jesus. This was the sin that brought him to the cross.
As a matter of fact, this way of death and resurrection was not reserved only for Jesus, but for his people also. In that precise period, Israel, subject to the Roman Empire, had to accept the death of its earthly ambitions: autonomy, national pride, the religious superiority of the Jews over other people… in order to rise as the people of God scattered among nations and to become the agent of salvation. A minority took the way Jesus pointed out and this was the beginning of the Church.
Repentance and forgiveness. Christian conversion is not passing from one party to another, from one religious group to another: it is a recasting of the person. Persons are part of a society, a world, a history. Therefore the preaching to the nations means also the education of the nations and even international society. This is something that takes longer than ten or a hundred years.
You shall be witnesses to this (v. 48). Jesus calls his apostles to be the official witnesses of his Gospel and those who judge authentic faith.
Remain in the city. The apostles are not able to begin immediately missionary work. They will first dedicate themselves to strengthening fellowship and the fervor of the community of the disciples, as they wait for the time chosen by the Father to give them the power coming from above.
I will send you what my Father promised. Jesus could not affirm his divine authority and the unity of the three divine persons more powerfully.
He withdrew: this was the last of Jesus’ appearances to the group of disciples.
And so concludes Luke’s first book. His second book, The Acts of the Apostles, follows the Gospels and it begins exactly where this Gospel ends.