For those into Myers-Briggs personality stuff, I have already suggested that Matthew was a dominant T and Mark an S. Luke, our third gospel writer, is definitely an F, and you can see this pastoral and personal flavour throughout his book.
We know that by profession he was a doctor, but that he was also no mean historian. In the intro to the gospel, in 1:4 he addresses ‘Theophilus’, who may be a personal friend, or may be a way of saying that the book is for the ‘Lover of God’ (which is what Theophilus means), in other words for the whole Christian community. He tells us, here, and at the start of his volume 2, Acts, that his desire is to check his sources carefully and to record an orderly account of Jesus’ life. Passages such as 3:1-2 show us how important it is to him to root his stories in real history, a real contrast to the vague ‘Once upon a time …’ with which folk tales begin. Those tempted to refer to the Bible as ‘just a fairy story’ take note!
But Luke has other fish to fry too, and his account of Jesus’ ministry emphasises medical details (as you might expect), women and children, outcasts and the oppressed. He loves the human interest stories, and virtually all we know of Jesus’ early life comes from him, which suggests a close friendship with Mary. Mark, of course, has no time for these family details, and launches Jesus from nowhere at the start of his public ministry, but Luke wants us to know the background. Like Matthew, Luke gives us Jesus’ genealogy, but begins with Adam, rather than Abraham. Matthew, we have noted, wants to show that Jesus is the Messiah for the Jews: Luke goes right back to the common humanity we all share in Adam, thus demonstrating that Jesus is for everyone. He is also something of a gourmet: there are loads of accounts of shared meals in his gospel, and the promise that the Last Supper is merely a prefiguring of the banquet in heaven.
Structurally, although Luke uses a lot of material common with Matthew, he distributes it differently. Matthew, for example, has the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ as a large wodge of teaching, sandwiched between narrative section about Jesus’ actions. But Luke chops the sermon up and distributes different bits of teaching among the miracles. The question as to whether Matthew has collected disparate teachings together, or Luke has split up one long sermon is one to which we will find the answer one day!
Luke includes a few details in the passion narratives which are unique to him. Jesus heals the ear of the servant whom one of the disciples has attacked, he dialogues with the weeping women of Jerusalem as he is being crucified, and he speaks words of salvation to the penitent criminal beside him. Luke emphasises the fact that it is the women who bring the news of Jesus’ resurrection to the rest.
Luke takes the time to present Jesus accurately, and as the friend of women, children and sinners. Luke’s Jesus is an attractive figure, very different from our fourth gospel-writing next week.
Image: By Deutsch: Auftraggeber: Otto III. oder Heinrich II. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons