“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Luke shares with the other synoptic gospels an emphasis on the present reality of the Kingdom of God. However, Luke’s perspective on the central message of Jesus has a bit more of a social justice edge to it. It’s good news for some, but bad news for others.
The first chapter of Luke includes Mary’s song of praise to God, which includes such choice lines as “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” His version of the birth of Jesus differs from Matthew’s in that it includes details about Jesus’s manger birth “because there was no room in the inn” and angels appearing to shepherds “living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night’. When Mary and Joseph present the infant Jesus at the Temple, the sacrifice they offer is what was stipulated for a poor family. Jesus begins his ministry by proclaiming that he is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming reign of God, and when the imprisoned John the Baptist wonders if it’s really true, he responds by saying “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. The Lukan version of the Beatitudes contains not only the blessings mentioned in Matthew, but also parallel woes. Then there’s the story of the rich man and Lazarus, as well as the rich fool and many other examples. Luke’s version of the good news has a definite “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” slant to it.
It’s interesting to me to read Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s memories of the same teachings and events side by side, and see how they are alike and how they are different. I can imagine Matthew as a seminary teacher, Mark as a street preacher, and Luke off leading a protest march somewhere. Their basic message is the same, but the details and what is included or excluded vary according to the unique perspective of each writer. That makes sense to me, because I see the same kind of selectivity going on in today’s Christ-followers. We all see through our own lenses, and have difficulty seeing through the lenses of others. Different people have different understandings about what the Bible means and different ideas about what to prioritize. Too often this can lead to a false pride in one’s own interpretations, and disdain for those of others. Insisting that the Bible can only be understood in one “correct” way is deadly to its ability to be a living book, one which can speak to human beings at their point of deepest need, in all places and at all times.
Here’s what I see as the basic message of Matthew, Mark, and Luke: Jesus travels the countryside, preaching that the Kingdom of God has arrived. He doesn’t just talk; he does good wherever he goes, and he teaches his followers to do the same. Very quickly he comes into conflict with the religious authorities, who view him as heretical and dangerous, and are appalled by his growing popularity. Religious leaders conspire with political leaders, each for their own purposes, and kill him in order to put an end to his message and movement. On the third day following his crucifixion, Jesus’s tomb is empty and he appears to many of his followers, convincing them that he has been raised from the dead. He commissions his followers to continue his work, and assures them that he will be with them always.
The Kingdom of God has begun, and God invites us to join with him in working to make it a reality for everyone. Jesus has shown us the way. God is with us always. Death is not the end of life. And that’s good news!