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The Gospel of Luke: A Light to the Gentiles

Fr. William C. Mills

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The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
And recovering of sight to the blind
To set at liberty those who are oppressed
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord
(Luke 4:18-19)

If you attend Church services regularly you will hear gospel lessons from each of the four gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Beginning with the feast of Pascha until the feast of Pentecost we read from the gospel of John, from Pentecost through the summer months we read from the gospel of Matthew, from mid-September until the Nativity Season we read from Luke, and then during the weekends of Great Lent we read from the gospel of Mark. Now that we are in September we will begin hearing gospel lessons from Luke. The gospel of Luke is also read at the feast of the Annunciation of the Theotokos on March 25 and most of the feast days that are dedicated in her honor; her Nativity on September 8, her Dormition or Falling Asleep on August 15, and her entrance into the Temple in Jerusalem on November 21. We also read the gospel of Luke at the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, during some of the services surrounding the feast of the Nativity of our Lord on December 25, at the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple on February 2, as well as on the feast of the birth of John the Baptist on June 24.

The gospel of Luke contains many parables and stories that are familiar to us: the parable of the Good Samaritan, the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, as well as Jesus' encounter with Zachaeus. Similarly, many of the liturgical hymns throughout the year are taken directly from Luke: the Magnificat also known as the Song of Mary which is sung during the Matins service, the Nunc Dimitis or also known as the Prayer of St. Simeon which is sung or read at Great Vespers, and the Gloria in Excelsis which is also sung at the Matins service as well as recited by the priest at in the introduction to the Divine Liturgy.

But who exactly was this person named "Luke?" While the name Luke is not directly mentioned in the gospel that is attributed to him, we know from the writings of the Apostle Paul that he was Paul's travel companion during missionary trips and was a physician, "For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hieropolis. Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you." (Colossians 4:14) and "Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you; for his is very useful in serving me" (2 Timothy 4:11). Finally, Luke is mentioned in Paul's epistle to Philemon, "Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers" (Philemon 24). Luke's memory is commemorated every year on October 18.

Most biblical scholars agree that the gospel of Luke was directed towards a predominately Greek speaking Gentile audience especially since the gospel is addressed to a certain "Theophilus" whose name means the lover of God whose name also appears at the beginning of the Book of Acts which is also attributed to Luke:

In as much as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed (Luke 1:1-4).

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during the forty days, and speaking of the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:1-3).

In the scriptures, the Gentiles are often referred to as the nations who were non-Jews. In the Old Testament we hear about Israel who are God's chosen people, but we also hear about the Gentiles or nations who are also under God's authority, but who are not part of Israel; the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Hittites. Sometimes God actually sends some of Israel's neighbors to attack them in order to bring Israel to repentance and contrition of heart. In other words, even the nations are under God's ultimate control and authority!

Furthermore, according to the scriptures, the good news of salvation and the invitation to accept Jesus Christ as the savior of the world was offered to both Jews and the Gentiles which is highlighted in the prayer of Symeon the Elder:

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of thy people Israel (Luke 2:29-32).

This passage from Luke actually echoes an earlier passage in the Book of Isaiah where he speaks about Israel being a light to the nations, "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6-7). However, Luke tell us that Mary's son Jesus will be the light to the Gentiles as he came preaching and teaching the Kingdom of God, healing the sick and the suffering, and restoring people to physical health. He welcomed the stranger, ate with sinners and prostitutes, and even raised the dead. In the gospel of John, Jesus tells the crowds that he is the "light of the world" (John 9:5). In Matthew Jesus teaches that one cannot put a light under a bushel but must put it on top of the table for everyone to see (Matthew 5:15-16). Thus, the gospel of Luke presents Jesus as the light to the Gentiles, or the nations, which is supposed to be proclaimed and affirmed in every generation. Hopefully we will embrace Luke's message of salvation and not only hear it, but also live and fulfill this message of joy and gladness.

Fr. William C. Mills, Ph.D., is the rector of the Nativity of the Holy Virgin Orthodox Church in Charlotte, NC, as well as an adjunct professor of religious studies at Queens University in Charlotte, NC. He is married to Taisia Mills and has two daugthers, Hannah and Emma.

Latest book by Fr. Mills:

A Light to the Gentiles is a collection of pastoral reflections on the Scripture readings from the gospel of Luke that are read in the Orthodox Church from mid-September until the feast of the Nativity of our Lord. The gospel of Luke is also read during the preparatory Sundays before Great Lent as well as at the feast of the Ascension and at the commemoration of various saints. The gospel also contains many familiar parables and teachings: the Good Samaritan, the Publican and the Pharisee, the Rich Man and Lazarus, and Zachaeus. Luke reminds us that the gospel is to be proclaimed to the entire world in order to bring the gospel to all peoples and nations. Thus, the gospel of Luke serves as a beacon of light that shines brightly in the world. A Light to the Gentiles is an invitation for everyone to read, accept, and obey the Word of God in their lives. This book is a resource for personal and group Bible study, adult education classes, and sermon preparation.

See more books by Fr. Mills.

Posted: 04-Oct-07

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Copyright 2001-2018 OrthodoxyToday.org. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article is subject to the policy of the individual copyright holder. See OrthodoxyToday.org for details.

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