The Gospel of Luke: Good News to the Underprivileged
For the background of Luke, the Evangelist please read: Luke, the Evangelist, Physician, Historian and Close Companion
Luke’s work has two volumes, the first volume is the Gospel which is the most lengthy and orderly account of the life and works of Jesus Christ; the second one is the Acts of the Apostle which traces the development of Christianity from the ascension of Jesus to the arrival of Paul in Rome.
Luke explicitly stated that he wrote to give Theophilus “an orderly account” concerning the things that have been accomplished among them so that, as Luke put it, “you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1: 1, 4 NIV). The purpose was to offer an orderly account and to prove the “firmness or stability” (ασφάλεια, Strong-Lite) of these accounts (“so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” NIV). One way to ensure the certainty of the “things that have been accomplished” among them, Luke used the records he had received from those who were eyewitnesses. Since the accounts being referred to here were not from a distant past, it is possible that Luke had an actual interview with these eyewitnesses. These may include Mary, the mother of Jesus, and some of Jesus’ brothers and disciples.
The name Theophilus is derived from two Greek words θεός (theos) which means “God” and φίλος (philos [feelos]) which means “a friend.” Thus, the name Theophilus means “friend of God.” (Strong-Lite) He was also a person of rank in the Roman government, hence it is probable that he had a hand in the publication and distribution of Luke’s two-volume work. It is also apparent that he was a new convert to Christianity. (Gundry)
Luke’s purpose however, goes beyond that. His message is for all humanity (3:6) (Stott). He structured his Gospel in a manner that Jesus’ plan to teach and train his disciples who in turn will be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NIV) will be manifested. This means that God’s love and salvation is available to all regardless of nationality and race. But many of the society’s privileged people will not appreciate it while on the other hand, many underprivileged will receive it. (Bridgeway) Luke is particularly concerned with such sector of his society. He presented this at the launch of Jesus’ ministry in 4:18-19, which was a quote from Isa. 61:1, 2:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” (KJV)
It happened on his return to Galilee after his temptation by the devil (4:1-12). He proceeded to Nazareth and entered the Synagogue. He was brought up in this town and have developed the discipline of going to the Synagogue. This declaration is further strengthened by v. 21, where he said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (NIV).
Here Luke outlined Jesus’ Galilean ministry and at the same time highlighted his concern for the underprivileged.
Jesus was anointed to preach the gospel to the poor. In 4:27, Luke recorded that the birth of Jesus was announced to the lowly shepherds. Then he presented Jesus and his family as among those who are poor based on the type of sacrifice his parents offered when he was brought to the Temple to be presented to the Lord, as mandated by the Law of Moses Exo. 13:2; Num. 18:15-16; Lev. 12:1-8). In 6:20, we see Jesus declaring blessing to the poor, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (NIV).
Jesus was sent to heal the brokenhearted. The Greek συντρίβω – suntribō (soon-tree’-bo) means to break in pieces or to tear down one’s body and shatter one’s strength, and καρδία (kar-dee’-ah) kardia for heart denotes both physical and spiritual vigor (Strong-Lite). Thus, it means as Barnes put it, “to console those who are deeply afflicted, or whose hearts are broken by external calamities or by a sense of their sinfulness.” This pertains to the numerous instances in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus healed the sick and perform miracles to cure those who are afflicted.
Jesus was sent to preach deliverance to the captives. The Greek word αφεσιϛ (aphesis) is “to release from bondage” (Strong-Lite). It transcends that of the deliverance from captivity. It is a form of favor given to those who are under bondage or those who are in prison. As Barnes suggests, the gospel imparts favor.”
Those who were granted favor were the following:
- The poor, the sick and the brokenhearted mentioned above.
- The slaves. In 7:2-7, a Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal one of his servants. However, he was stunned to realize that Jesus was willing to come to his residence to personally see and cure his servant. Being a military officer, he was accustomed to the system of authority where he only needs to give an order or command to his men and whatever it is the he commands will be carried out. He was aware that Jesus possessed the authority of God and he needed only to say the words and his servant will get cured. His faith was highly appreciated by Jesus. Furthermore, in 12:35-36, Jesus talks about being prepared for whatever eventualities his followers may encounter. They are compared to household servants who are always ready to serve their master anytime of the day. Though they may have merely performed their usual duty, their master may grant them an unexpected reward for the kind of service they rendered.
- The sinners such as the tax collectors Levi (Matthew) in 5:27-28 and Zacchaeus (19:1-11). Also, the repentant criminal who died alongside with Jesus at the cross (23:39-43). (Gundry)
- The Samaritans. They were in bondage to the culture of hate due to racial, political and religious differences with the Jews. They were a “hybrid people, half Jew, half Gentile, descended from the mixed population of the eight century BC.” (Stott) As such, Jews did not associate with Samaritans (John 4:9). In 17:11-19, Luke presents the story of the ten lepers who raised their voice and asked Jesus to have pity and heal them. Jesus responded and told them to show themselves to the priest and as they were going they noticed that they were cleansed. Out of the ten, only one returned to give thanks to Jesus and he was a Samaritan. Luke obviously, wanted to show that there is something good in the Samaritans which Jesus deeply treasured. Next passage is found in 10: 25-37, known as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Luke once again, presents the Samaritan as a people of good intentions. Though the central message here is knowing who your true neighbors are, no doubt that Samaritans received an excellent depiction in this story. Jesus therefore broke the yoke of hatred of the Samaritans.
- The women. In ancient times, women were generally derided and oppressed. However, Luke presented them as persons loved by Jesus Christ. Luke talked about the three women of chapters 1 &2, Elizabeth, Mary and Anna, the widow of Nain whose only son died (7:11-17), Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42), the women who supported Jesus’ ministry (8:3), and those who watched at the foot of the cross and visited Jesus’ grave early the following day (23:49, 55-56; 24:1).
- The children. The synoptic gospel mention Jesus’ invitation “Let the little children come to me…” However, Luke adds that Jesus ‘took a little child and had him stand beside him’ (9:47; 18:15-17). (Stott)
Jesus was sent to preach the “recovering of sight to the blind.” As you read the Gospel of Luke and the synoptic gospel, for that matter, you will notice that this was literally fulfilled time and again.
Jesus was sent to “set at liberty them that are bruised.” The Greek word for bruised is θραύω (throw’-o) ‘thrauo’ which means ‘to break in pieces’. It has the same essence as that of the “brokenhearted” and the granting of favor or deliverance to the captives.
To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. There is a reference here to the year of Jubilee or the fiftieth year in Israel when the Hebrew slaves are set free and debts are canceled (Lev. 25:8-13). Some translation render it, “the year of the Lord’s favor” (ESV, NIV).
This is indeed Good News for the underprivileged, a time that God will reach out and grant his favor.
Finally, one should not overlook the significance of the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the ministry of Jesus Christ – a theme that runs through the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”
Fee, Gordon D and Stuart, Douglas. How to Read the Bible Book by Book. A Guided Tour. Manila, Philippines: OMF Literature, Inc., 2006.
Fleming, Don. Bridgeway Bible Commentary. The Word App., 2004
Gundry, Robert H. A Survey of the New Testament. Third Edition. Manila, Philippines: OMF Literature, Inc., 2002.
MySword for Android Bible App for Strong-Lite, King James Version of the Bible and Barnes Commentary of the Bible.
Stott, John. The Incomparable Christ. Manila, Philippines: OMF Literature, Inc., 2012.
Bible Gateway: www.biblegateway.com