Luke's narrative has a clear purpose
Luke's gospel presents events of Jesus' life in a way that supports his case
January 21, 2007 -- Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Michael Stubbs
In recent years, a number of documentary films have appeared which take a strong position on controversial issues. For example, in his film, "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore deals with the theme of global warming. There are many others.
These films base themselves on facts, while at the same time arranging those facts in such a way as to argue a strongly-held position. They do not claim to be neutral.
Interestingly enough, Luke's gospel takes the same approach. It reports various events of
Jesus' life, but in such a way as to support its viewpoint that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. It is a strong advocate of faith in Jesus Christ.
Luke's gospel outlines this approach in its prologue, which we hear as the beginning of Sunday's gospel reading, Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21. Luke first announces what he is doing, "compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us." In other words, Luke is writing a narrative made up of events from Jesus' life.
Luke also alerts us to the purpose for this narrative, "so that you may realize the certainty of the teaching you have received." Luke is not neutral on the subject of Jesus Christ. He has a case to present.
Luke also reveals how he intends to go about doing this. "I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you." In other words, Luke will arrange his materials in such a way as to support his case. That is the orderly sequence. It is an order which intends to persuade.
This approach, fact-based but strongly opinionated, is not what we would expect from a modern historian. On the contrary, we would expect an historian to strive for objectivity and neutrality.
But a Greek historian writing two thousand years ago would have adopted much the same approach as Luke's gospel. That is no accident. It appears that Luke deliberately followed the model of contemporary historians in writing his gospel.
We may reach that conclusion by a careful analysis of the entire gospel. Every part of the gospel reflects that model. But if we do not wish to go to that extreme, we need only examine the prologue to Luke's gospel. It reveals, by its structure and content, Luke's decision to take his contemporary historians as a model.
Specifically, we can compare the prologue to Luke's gospel to the prologue of other historical writings of the time. That comparison reveals several similarities: 1. The author writes in the first person singular. (After the prologue, Luke will shift to the third person for the remainder of the gospel.) 2. The author announces the subject matter ("the events that have been fulfilled among us"). 3. The author names his sources of information ("eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word"). 4. The author dedicates his work to a specific person (Theophilus, possibly a wealthy patron who paid to have the gospel copied for wide distribution).
Luke sets out to write a history based on facts, but with a clear interpretation of those facts. That interpretation leads to faith in Jesus Christ, which Luke wishes to share with us.
(Fr. Stubbs, a priest of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, has a master's degree in theology from Harvard.)