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Jesus in the Gospel of Luke | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn | Introduction to Behold, God's Son!

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A few years ago, within the framework of an ecumenical celebration and dedication, I was able to visit the new operational center of the Workers' Samaritan Association in Vienna.

The Workers' Samaritan Association (no connection with the British Samaritans) is a kind of local Red Cross with a clear commitment to social democracy. For a long time, Austrian Socialists were reputed to be-and many of them were-critical of the Church, or even opposed to her. That was part of the sad heritage of the division in our country [Austria] that led in 1934 to a brief but violent civil war. The tragic division of the country into "blacks" and "reds" played no small part in the illegal rise of the "browns", the National Socialists [Nazis], which ended with the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria [to Germany]. The picture of the crucifixion that hung in the archbishop's palace in Vienna (shown on the cover of this book) and that was vandalized by fanatical Hitler Youth members is a symbol of the way that only the common suffering under the Nazi persecution brought "reds" and "blacks" together again. Against this background, the dedication to which I just referred was moving and symbolic.

Why am I mentioning this in the introduction to the Gospel readings of the "year of Luke"? On account of the name Workers' Samaritan Association! The image of the good Samaritan comes from the Gospel. It is among the best known of Jesus' parables. It has become the standard example of loving one's neighbor, far beyond the circles of Church "insiders"—so much so, that a completely "red" organization sees its work in helping the victims of accidents, needy people, and the sick as "Samaritan work", without its having any connection with the Church. It is simply a matter of helping one's neighbor who is in need, irrespective of his race, religion, or political views.

The parable of the good Samaritan, however, is found only in Luke's Gospel. It is about Luke and his Gospel that we are now talking, and, in the following pages, that Gospel will be our guide through all the Sundays of the Church's year (Lectionary year C).

Each of the four Gospel writers has his own style, his own sources, his own emphases, and things that only he tells us about. Only all four together produce the whole and unmistakable picture of Jesus. Each of the Gospels adds its own particular note, so that we are quite right in talking about the picture of Christ in the Gospel of Matthew or the picture of Christ in the Gospel of John-and certainly also the picture of Christ in the Gospel of Luke.

It is only in the four canonical Gospels that the Church has recognized the canonical picture of Christ, the true and original picture. It is certainly not by chance that these are also the four oldest accounts of Jesus that we have. The many other gospels, which without exception are clearly later, were not recognized by the Church as being genuine, even if there may be one or another original saying of Jesus in them. Almost every year, one of these numerous so-called apocryphal gospels is brought forward as a new sensation, as happened just recently with the gospel of Judas. Usually it is not mentioned that people have known about them for a long time and that the works have been studied by specialists. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, for instance, talks about the gospel of Judas at the end of the second century and demonstrates that it is a late forgery.

But what argues far more strongly in favor of the genuineness of the four oldest Gospels is their incomparable spiritual power. Jesus himself is speaking in them. His spirit, his heart, and his transforming power can be felt at work in them. They are not just human discourse and human wisdom. They are also that; but, shot through with the fire of the Holy Spirit, they are truly God's word.

What picture would we have of Jesus without the parable of the good Samaritan? How much, altogether, would be missing from our picture of Jesus if we had no Gospel of Luke! I myself was almost horrified when I discovered, with the help of a synopsis (that is, a parallel edition of the four Gospels), how much of what is quite essential in our picture of Jesus is owed to Luke's alertness in bringing it all together.

Only he tells us the three parables about the way that God's love patiently seeks for us men: the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost penny, and above all—perhaps Jesus' best-known parable—the parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15). What a marvelous picture of God Jesus offers us in this parable!

Only Luke has passed on to us the disturbing parable of the gluttonous rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31). And the parable of the Pharisee who praises himself before God and the tax collector who is sorrowfully aware of his sins (Lk 18:9-4)—how it speaks to us! That, too, is found only in Luke.

Thanks to Luke, we know a great deal about the life and the suffering of Jesus, such as is presented in the precious and impressive story about the wealthy little man Zacchaeus, who was not ashamed to climb a tree in order to be able to see Jesus, even though Zacchaeus was a despised "bloodsucker" (Lk 19:1-10).

Thanks to Luke, we know some important things about Jesus' Passion. Only Luke tells us about Jesus sweating blood during his sorrow unto death, about his agony, and about the angel sent to strengthen him (Lk 22:43-44). Only Luke has preserved the deeply disturbing little scene in which Jesus, after Peter's betrayal, turns around and looks at him. "And {he] wept bitterly", it says about Peter. That is how it is for everyone who meets that gaze in his heart-that gaze, free of all accusation, which brings tears of repentance for the betrayal of love (Lk 22:61-62).

Only Luke refers to the way that Jesus forgives not only Peter, his disciple who betrayed him, but also those who crucified him: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34).

Only Luke is able to tell us of the marvelous transformation brought about in the righteous thief by Jesus' loving forgiveness: "Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power"—"Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Lk 23:42-43).

All these examples from the material peculiar to Luke show that the author has emphasized in a particular way Jesus' turning toward sinners, as well as his love for the poor, the sick, and those who have lost their way. Luke did not invent all that; he discovered it. This is because Luke, who was a doctor by profession and whom Paul calls "beloved" (Col 4:14), undertook thorough researches for his Gospel and thereby obviously uncovered many sources (oral and perhaps also written) concerning Jesus. We can understand how for Luke, the doctor, Jesus' concern for every kind of suffering was especially important. It may also be connected with his calling as a doctor that Luke is such an accurate and reliable historian who went into everything carefully, so as to be able to talk about Jesus and his activity as reliably as possible.

Only Luke prefaced his Gospel with a foreword: "Inasmuch 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" (Lk 1:1-4).

Starting from the basics, from the first beginnings, Luke intends to look at all that has happened. What would we know about the beginnings without the Gospel of Luke? It is to him that we owe the first two chapters, about the conception and birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus himself, which lay the foundations for the story. The Gospel for Christmas is found in Luke, and only there, just as it is only through him that we know about the Presentation of Jesus in the temple, forty days after his birth, and about his visit to the temple at the age of twelve.

Where did Luke get his information about the beginning of Jesus' life on earth? An old tradition saw Luke as being very close to Mary, the Mother of our Lord. Who else but Mary could, in the end, be the source for reports about the Annunciation by the angel and about Jesus' being conceived by the Holy Spirit? Although in their literary form these accounts may well have been strongly influenced by examples from the Old Testament, nonetheless, the "infancy Gospel" of Saint Luke is essentially an account about real and miraculous events: things that really happened in history, "in the days of Herod" (Lk 1: 5), in the days of Caesar Augustus (see Lk 2:1), just as Luke sets John's public ministry (see Lk 3:1-3) and that of Jesus himself within the framework of world history; and miraculous, since this account embodies God's sovereign activity in the world. Not in all-powerful Rome, whence the Emperor Augustus rules over all peoples, but in the manger in Bethlehem, there is born the one called "Son of the Most High" [Lk 1:3 2], and that indeed is who he is. The poet Virgil had sung of Rome, "imperium sine fine dedi" (I have given you a rule without end). Yet only of that child in Bethlehem is it indeed true, that "of his kingdom there will be no end" (Lk 1:33).


Thus it is only logical that Luke brings his second book, the "Gospel of Church history", the Acts of the Apostles, to an end in Rome, where Paul, as a prisoner, is spreading the teaching about Jesus "quite openly and unhindered" (Acts 28:3 i) in the power of the Spirit of Jesus. For the Apostles' task was to bear witness "to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8), to what was at the beginning of the Good News: "To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11).

Christ the Savior! That, quite simply, is the message of Saint Luke the doctor.

Let us return to the blessing of the Workers' Samaritan Association operational center that we mentioned at the beginning. At the close of the celebration, the manager of the center invited me into his office. He had an icon there, he said, and would I please bless that, too? He had had it painted specially. It represents the good Samaritan-an appropriate subject for this place. Yet the manager pointed out to me something particularly interesting about this icon. He explained to me that in the tradition of the Eastern Church, Christ himself is portrayed as the good Samaritan. The badly wounded man lying beside the highway is mankind, all of us. Christ did not pass us by in our hour of need. He bound up our wounds and brought us home to the Father's inn. This marvelous parable is talking about Christ himself. Anyone who takes the good Samaritan for his example is imitating Christ.

These few brief remarks, about this and that, certainly mention only a small part of what could be said about Luke. One really ought to make a special point of the central role played in his Gospel by the prayers of Jesus and those close to him. Every day, the Church throughout the world prays the three great prayers from the "infancy narratives": the Benedictus of Zechariah in the morning (Lk 1:68-79), Mary's Magnficat in the evening (Lk 1:46-55), and Simeon's Nunc Dimittis at night (Lk 2:29-32).

It is also important to mention the particular role of women in the Gospel of Luke, beginning with Mary, then Elizabeth and Anna, and then the women who accompany Jesus and give him financial support (Lk 8:1-3), right up to Mary and Martha, in whose home he found friends (Lk 10:38-42).

Many things barely mentioned here will have their say when it comes to the individual Gospel readings, however brief and concise. There is a lot else that deserves thinking about in every Gospel read on a Sunday.

Thus, there is one thing I dearly hope: may it be, for all those who read these commentaries on the Gospel readings, a little bit as it was for the disciples at Emmaus. That, too, is a story that only Luke tells. How thankful we should be that he has given it to us!

As they are walking, Jesus explains Holy Scripture to the two stunned disciples (who have not yet recognized him)—above all, he explains what has been written about him, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. They invite their unrecognized fellow traveler to be their guest, and when he comes in with them and they find how he prays and breaks the bread, then they recognize him, and they return with hearts afire to the others in Jerusalem (Lk 24:13-3 5).

My greatest reward will be if the brief expositions in this book, of parts of the Gospel of Luke, do a little to help as many people as possible to have the same experience as the disciples at Emmaus. I must again thank the Kroner Zeitung for this third volume, which completes a trilogy of commentaries on the Sunday Gospel readings from all three years of the liturgical lectionary; and also thank its legendary editor Hans Dichand. He has made it possible for me to publish most of the material here in his newspaper, Sunday by Sunday, in the year 2003-2004. My thanks to the team from the Krone Bunt, who patiently dealt with the layout of my text for the German edition. Thanks also to our team in publishing, who always copy out my handwritten texts (I can still not make up my mind to use a computer for this), illustrate them, and, where necessary, abbreviate them. Finally, I thank all those who have helped to make this book out of the articles. My thanks to them all for their excellent teamwork.

And now, lastly, the most important thing of all: Luke's words are God's word in human speech. It is worthwhile, and essential, first of all to read the words of his Gospel carefully, and to meditate on them. My explanations and my reflections on them are simply meant to help. The power of God is there in the Gospel. May it work powerfully!

Vienna, The Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ
August 6, 2006

Behold, God's Son! Encountering Christ in the Gospel of Mark

by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn

Who is Jesus Christ? How can we really know him? People have been asking that important question for 2,000 years. The best answers are found in the four Gospels, but how are they to be understood, and applied to our modern lives and faith?

Cardinal Schönborn, a renowned spiritual writer and teacher, presents this third book in his series of meditations on the Gospels, in which he seeks to help readers have a deep personal encounter with Jesus Christ as seen in the Sacred Scriptures. His first two books focused on the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, and this book covers Luke. Sunday after Sunday, he uses the Church's Year C, mainly readings from Luke to explain the beauty of the Gospel in clear and understandable words.

The Cardinal shows how many of the most famous and important events in Christ's life, and some of his greatest parables, are only related in the Gospel of Luke. The powerful parables of the Prodigal Son, of the Good Samaritan, and of the Lost Sheep are told only in Luke's Gospel. Also told only in Luke is the famous story of the tax collector, Zaccheus, so short he climbed a tree to be able to see Jesus, as well as the moving story of the disciples' encounter with Christ on the road to Emmaus after the Resurrection. It is in Luke's Gospel that important roles of women are given particular mention. Finally, it is thanks to Luke especially that we know some of the important details about the Passion of the Savior.

"This book is not merely an aid to the Gospel of Luke, it is an inspiration. It reveals the practical eye of a pastor and the penetrating insights of a great scholar." - James V. Schall, S.J. Author, The Order of Things

"Cardinal Schönborn convincingly brings home the truth and power of the Gospel image of Jesus. If you have lost touch with Christ, you will find him again. Those who want to be disciples of Christ will discover new strength, conviction, and joy in this fresh expression of the reality of your Jesus and mine." - Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R., Author, Arise from Darkness

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Excerpts:

A Shepherd Like No Other | Excerpt from Behold, God's Son! Encountering Christ in the Gospel of Mark | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
Encountering Christ in the Gospel | Excerpt from My Jesus | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
The Church Is the Goal of All Things | Excerpt from Loving The Church | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
Excerpts from Chance or Purpose? | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
Reincarnation: The Answer of Faith | Excerpt from From Death to Life: The Christian Journey | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
The Truth of the Resurrection | Excerpts from Introduction to Christianity | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Seeing Jesus in the Gospel of John | Excerpts from On The Way to Jesus Christ | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
A Jesus Worth Dying For | A Review of On The Way to Jesus Christ | Justin Nickelsen
The Divinity of Christ | Peter Kreeft
Jesus Is Catholic | Hans Urs von Balthasar
The Religion of Jesus | Blessed Columba Marmion | From Christ, The Ideal of the Priest

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn
is the Archbishop of Vienna, Austria. He was the general editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, co-author (with Cardinal Ratzinger) of Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the author of God's Human Face and Living the Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Creed (Vol. 1), The Sacraments (Vol. 2), Life in Christ (Vol. 3), and Paths of Prayer (Vol. 4). He is also the author of last year's Chance or Purpose? Creation, Evolution, and a Rational Faith.

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