On this Labor Day, September 2, we begin our continuous reading of the Gospel of St. Luke. For me it is always a signal that we have entered the last few months of the liturgical year.
St. Luke's Gospel could be called the Gospel of the Outsiders as he himself was an outsider. A Gentile by birth, St. Luke was the only one of the four evangelists who did not experience Jesus personally. The very first lines of this Gospel tell us that he is recording what has been handed down to him by the eyewitnesses. Throughout the Gospel St. Luke will champion the outsiders, those left out, those looked down upon (the shepherds, the poor, the widow of Nain), and the sinners who ate and drank with Jesus.
It can also be called the Gospel of Prayer. All of the important events of the Gospel are preceded by periods of prayer; e.g. the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist, the presentation of the baby in the Temple, the choosing of the apostles, the Transfiguration, and the agony in the garden.
St. Luke's Gospel highlights the theme of table fellowship. In the course of this Gospel, St. Luke will write of nine different times that Jesus ate with others. He will include parables about banquets four times. He will refer to the table at least three other times. While Jesus and the disciples are gathered around the table, he will do some of his most important teaching.
Many of the decidedly Jewish references made by Saints Matthew, Mark and John will be omitted. For instance, while St. Matthew portrays Jesus teaching while seated atop a mountain like Moses of old, the same teaching will be delivered on a plain by St. Luke.
It is in St. Luke's Gospel that some of the most touching stories about mercy and compassion are found. St. Luke includes the parable of the prodigal, just one of several parables that are peculiar to this Gospel. Today's passage from the Gospel includes the famous quotation from the Prophet Isaiah in which God's concern for the poor and the lowly is proclaimed. Included in that quotation are the words "to let the oppressed go free." (Luke 4:18d) The only time Jesus releases anyone is while he is hanging on the cross and promises the thief crucified with him that he will "be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43b)
As we walk with Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, let us enter into this Gospel of the Little Ones with hearts and ears open so that we, like Luke himself, may experience a conversion through hearing what he has handed down to us.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.