Rembrandt's Painting The Return of the Prodigal Son [Public domain]
In Core I, Journey of Transformation classes, students are reading the Gospel of Luke this year, following the liturgical calendar, but the Signature Core Curriculum Committee recently decided to keep Luke the Gospel for every year. Why Luke? Though there are many similarities among all the Gospels, particularly the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), there are certain specific aspects of Luke's Gospel that make it particularly appropriate for the Core.
For one thing Luke's Gospel focuses on the role of Jesus as the Suffering Servant and Sacrificial Victim. For this reason, the symbol of the Gospel of Luke is an ox, the humble beast of burden, also used as a sacrifice in the Temple. This Gospel is the only one to include the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32), where the younger of two sons gets his inheritance and leaves the family, wasting his wealth on a sinful and extravagant lifestyle, only to return home to his father in repentance. The father forgives the son and welcomes him joyously, but the elder son, the "good son," is angry. The father pleads with him to come into the house and join the feast celebrating his lost brother's return, saying "Your brother was dead but has come to life again; he was lost but now is found." This parable was told in response to those who criticized Jesus for socializing with open sinners; "this man eats and drinks with sinners." This focus on mercy links to the emphasis on being a servant found in many Core classes with our service learning initiatives and also the emphasis on mercy in some of the other writings, such as the optional text of Pope Francis, Evangelium Gaudi.
Mercy is also the theme of the parable of the Good Samaritan, also found only in the Gospel of Luke. This famous story tells of a man beaten and robbed and left "half dead" on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. Ignored by a priest and then by a Levite, the man is helped by the Samaritan man, who pours oil and wine on the man's wounds and takes him to an inn, offering to pay for whatever is spent on him. The interesting thing about the story is that the one who helps the victim, presumably Jewish as was Jesus and his audience, is that he is a Samaritan, considered an enemy of the Jews. He, of all people, is used by Jesus as an example of what it means to be a "neighbor" to another. In another Core I text, Martin Luther King, Jr., makes reference to this beautiful story. King suggests that the priest and Levite may have not stopped out of fear for what might happen to them if they did, as the road between Jerusalem and Jericho was dangerous, called, as King says, "the bloody pass." He goes on to say, "so the first question that the priest asked -- the first question that the Levite asked was, 'if I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?'"
Luke's Gospel is also the only one to include the reference to Jesus' words on the cross to "the good thief," the one who turns to him and says, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom," and Jesus says, "Today you will be with me in Paradise." Pope Francis has made reference to this excerpt from Luke, noting that this thief, this condemned prisoner guilty of a crime, was the first canonized saint in church history because Jesus himself proclaimed that he would be in heaven "today." And after the resurrection, only Luke tells the full story of Jesus' appearance to the disciples at Emmaus, as he is "revealed to them in the breaking of the bread."
J. R. R. Tolkien wrote that Luke's was his favorite Gospel because it included more details about women. Certainly, it includes the most about Mary in the early chapters. Luke tells about the annunciation of the angel to Mary (also told about in Matthew's Gospel). And it alone tells about Mary's visit to her pregnant cousin, Elizabeth and the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, where Mary is told that a sword will pierce her heart. Various healings of women are mentioned in this gospel, as are other references to women.
Core faculty have been given the commentary on Luke's Gospel written by Fr. Pablo Gadenz, of Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology, who has also done training sessions for our faculty development. With this new and positive change of focusing on Luke's Gospel, faculty can use this text to delve more deeply into the New Testament portion of the Core. Luke's Gospel offers a wonderful insight into Jesus Christ and his early followers.