A new liturgical year begins today, and with it a new set of Sunday readings. With only a few exceptions, this year’s Gospel readings will come from the Gospel of Luke. A very early Christian tradition held that the author was the physician and travel companion that Paul mentions in several letters.Writing around the year A.D. 80, Luke gave an account of two significant events—the destruction of Jerusalem and the rapid spread of belief in Christ. The former called into question God’s power and faithfulness, while the latter needed someone to place it into the wider narrative of salvation history. Luke explained both events with an elegant thesis: God’s promises to Israel were fulfilled in Jesus. The Temple was no longer necessary, since the divine Spirit now dwelt with the Christian community. People flocked to the Christian community to enjoy the beginning of life in God’s long-awaited kingdom.
‘Stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.’ (Lk 21:28)
Do the satisfactions of your life blind you to grace?
What would you have to leave behind to enjoy the
freedom of God’s kingdom?
In Luke’s Gospel, the kingdom appears gradually, like the gathering clouds of a storm. Like distant thunder, signs like angels, prophecies, miracles and dramatic conversions portend the arrival of God’s reign. The storm breaks on Pentecost, when the Spirit arrives amid wind and fire. But Pentecost is just the beginning of a season of grace that will continue until the definitive establishment of God’s kingdom at the end of time.
Not everyone was paying attention. Luke drew a sharp line between those who recognized the kingdom’s arrival and those who did not. His line did not separate as one might expect. Although the poor in general were quick to respond to the Gospel (Lk 7:22), there were also some rich and powerful people among those transformed by Jesus’ preaching (Lk 8:3; 19:1-10). Some of the poor, meanwhile, failed to understand their encounter with grace (Lk 17:11-19).
The difference among people lay in their self-satisfaction. Those who sought no more than they could grasp with their own efforts either failed to understand Jesus’ message or saw it as a threat. That their satisfaction came with a price to others was a matter of indifference. The poor and those few of high status who longed for something more, by contrast, heard in the Gospel a confirmation of their intuition. The enthusiasm with which they followed Jesus or left behind their possessions symbolized, for Luke, the authority of truth that Jesus’ message carried.
Luke speaks of three arrivals of Jesus: his nativity, his second coming and his daily arrival in the Spirit to his disciples. Luke’s hope is that when Christ comes again, those who had been living daily in the Spirit would have grown so accustomed to following Christ that they could enter without fear into the fullness of the kingdom. The world after Pentecost provided the fulfillment these disciples sought. The sharing of resources alleviated the poverty of many. Bonds of love assuaged disorders of body and spirit. No longer ground down or mesmerized by the world’s allurements, they could attend completely to the presence and action of the Spirit, which sent them out to preach, heal and advance the kingdom.