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A sower went out to sow his seed; and
as he sowed, some fell on the path, and was trampled on, and the birds
of the air ate it up.
See Important Quotations Explained
A sower went out to sow his seed; and
as he sowed, some fell on the path, and was trampled on, and the birds
of the air ate it up.
The final editors of the New Testament separated the Gospel According
to Luke and Acts of the Apostles, which were originally written
by the same author in a single two-volume work. The Gospel of Luke
is the unit’s first half and narrates the birth, ministry, death,
and resurrection of Jesus. The second half, which contains Acts
of the Apostles, is one of the first works to chronicle church history,
tracing events from the resurrection of Jesus to the time when the
apostle Paul is traveling and proclaiming the Gospel “with all boldness
and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31). Luke’s Gospel features an introductory
prologue typical of a historian in antiquity. He writes, “I too,
decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very
first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,
so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which
you have been instructed” (1:3–4). Luke’s orderly account relies
on eyewitnesses of Jesus and the earliest disciples, though he could
not have been an eyewitness himself. The Gospel of Luke dates from
between 75 and 85 a.d., around the same time
as Matthew. The author relies most likely on the Gospel of Mark
and other stories circulating orally during his lifetime. Luke’s
Greek is the polished work of a gifted literary artist, indicating
that Luke was a cultivated, well-educated man.
After his introduction, Luke lays out, in two chapters,
the parallel miraculous births of Jesus of Nazareth and the man
who becomes his prophet, John the Baptist. The angel Gabriel appears
to Zechariah, telling him that his wife Elizabeth, formerly barren,
is pregnant. Soon afterward, Gabriel appears to Elizabeth’s relative,
the virgin Mary, who is betrothed to Joseph, telling her that she
too is going to give birth to a child by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Mary visits Elizabeth, and Elizabeth prophesies that Mary will be
“the mother of my Lord” (1:43).
Mary, rejoicing, utters the prayer now known as the Magnificat:
“My soul magnifies the Lord” (1:46). John
is born, and his father, Zechariah—who had been struck mute for
the duration of the pregnancy as a punishment for his lack of belief
in Gabriel’s prophecy—utters a prayer, the Benedictus: “Blessed
be the Lord, God of Israel . . .” (1:68).
Mary and Joseph travel from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem
to partake in a census, and there, in a manger, Jesus is born. When
Jesus is presented at the temple, where all firstborn males are
brought, two Jewish prophets, Simeon and Anna, recognize the sanctity
of the child. As yet, however, nobody realizes his true significance.
When Mary finds the adolescent Jesus sitting in the temple among
the sages, she does not understand his remark, “Why were you searching
for me? Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” (2:49).
Jesus grows to maturity and is baptized in the desert
of Judea by John the Baptist, who has begun his advocacy of baptismal
repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and prophesies the advent
of Jesus. John, however, is soon imprisoned by Herod Antipas, the
ruler of the northern Galilee region. After Jesus’s baptism, Luke
gives Jesus’s genealogy, stretching back to the first man, Adam,
who is said to be “son of God” (3:38).
We are told of Satan unsuccessfully testing Jesus for forty days
in the wilderness. Returning from the wilderness, Jesus begins his
ministry. He is rejected in his hometown of Nazareth and takes to
wandering throughout Galilee, where he works many miracles, including
the exorcism of a demoniac and many other cures. He works a miracle
enabling Simon Peter, a fisherman, to catch many fish, and thereby
attracts Simon Peter, as well as James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
as his first apostles. Later, these three apostles are joined by
nine others. In this first stage of his ministry, Jesus also begins
to encounter opposition from the Pharisees, who question his adherence
to traditional Jewish laws governing Sabbath observance, fasting,
and consorting with sinners. Despite this opposition, his fame grows,
and he attracts a great crowd to whom he delivers a shorter version
of Matthew’s great Sermon on the Mount, telling his followers to
“love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (6:27).
Jesus goes to Capernaum, where he cures the servant of
a Roman centurion and restores the son of a widow to life. When
John the Baptist, imprisoned, sends messengers to ask Jesus who
he is, Jesus responds only by pointing out the many miracles he
has worked. Jesus commends John the Baptist’s ministry and laments
the fact that his contemporaries have refused to listen to John
and to Jesus himself. Jesus’s travels continue as he preaches and
works miracles. Accepting the ministrations of a wicked woman, Jesus
shows that he forgives even the most wretched of sinners. He explains
in a parable that the seed of the word of God will only sprout in
noble and generous hearts, and that the true family of Jesus is
not his mother and siblings, but those who hear the word of God.
Among his miracles, he calms a storm; cures a man possessed by a
demon, and a woman with a hemorrhage; and revives the daughter of
Jairus. Jesus sends the Twelve Apostles out to preach the Gospel
and to cure illness. On their return, Jesus is swarmed by people
eager to hear his preaching. He works the miracle of the loaves
and fish for them, multiplying scant food to feed 5,000 people.
When he questions the faith of his apostles, asking, “Who do you
say that I am?”, Peter replies, “The Messiah of God” (9:20).
Immediately after this event, Jesus gives the first of his three
prophecies of the Passion, during which he predicts that he will
be executed and resurrected. A set of brief spiritual messages ensues:
following Christ means a total abnegation of the self; the kingdom
of God is imminent; and humility is crucial, as “the least among
all of you is the greatest” (9:48).
Jesus begins to travel toward Jerusalem. His journey is
punctuated by a number of brief episodes. He appoints seventy missionaries
to spread his word among all the nations, reminds a lawyer that love
toward God and one’s neighbors is the most important virtue, and
explains that all those who act kindly, regardless of whether they
are Jew or Gentile, are neighbors. He tells his disciples how they
should pray, teaching them the Lord’s Prayer and telling them that
any sincere request will be granted by God. Jesus says, “Ask, and
it will be given you” (11:9).
He cautions extensively against ostentation and against the accumulation
of wealth. Responding to attacks from the Pharisees, he accuses
them of hypocrisy, for caring more about the letter of the law than
about “justice and the love of God” (11:42).
Perhaps anticipating further attacks by disbelievers, he tells his
followers to be bold in asserting the Gospel’s truth, and to be
prepared for the unexpected final judgment. He works his way toward
Jerusalem, delivering parables and lessons whose morals center around
faith in God: the importance of repentance; the virtues of humility
and kindness; the dangers of riches; the reward of total renunciation
of the worldly in favor of the divine; and the ruin that will come
to those who fail to listen to God’s word.
Arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus foresees the destruction
of the great city as a punishment for its failure to recognize him.
Driving away the merchants, Jesus begins to preach in the temple
and wins the allegiance of the common people. He refuses to justify
his authority to the chief priests and elders who oppose him. Chastising
them, he compares them to wicked tenants, who will be evicted and
punished by the Lord, the true owner of the temple. The Jewish leaders attempt
to entrap Jesus verbally, but he subverts them while asserting the
importance of obedience to secular authority and belief in the resurrection
of the dead. Jesus prophesies that the mighty temple will be destroyed
and speaks of the great torment that will accompany the Apocalypse,
preceding the End of Days and the return of the Son of man, one
of Christ’s titles.
Passover arrives, and Jesus celebrates the traditional
Seder meal with his disciples. At the Seder, he institutes the Eucharist,
the ritual consumption of wine and bread as symbols of Jesus’s blood
and body, signs of the new covenant. Jesus cautions his disciples
not to fight about who among them is greatest, and reminds them
that serving is greater than being served. He promises them rewards
for their faithfulness. He also foretells that Simon Peter will
falter in his faith. This prophecy proves true when, soon afterward,
the chief priests and elders arrest Jesus, who has been betrayed
by Judas Iscariot, one of the apostles. Peter, frightened, thrice
denies all knowledge of Jesus. Brought before the Sanhedrin, the
Jewish court, Jesus neither affirms nor denies his identity as God’s
son, answering questions with the simple statement, “You say that
I am” (22:70). The
court considers this statement a confession and brings him before
the Roman prefect, Pilate. Pilate hesitates to convict Jesus, but
the chief priests and elders eventually convince Pilate to sentence Jesus
to death. Jesus is crucified, going to his death with the words, “Father,
forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing,” and is viciously
mocked by the Roman guards (23:34).
Joseph of Arimathea buries him.
On Sunday, the third day after Jesus’s Friday crucifixion,
some female followers of Jesus, including Mary Magdalene, go to
his gravesite but find him gone. Angels appear and tell them that
Jesus has been resurrected from the dead. The women tell the apostles what
they have seen, but the apostles do not believe them. Peter goes to
check the grave himself, and is amazed at not finding Jesus’s body. Finally,
Jesus appears to the dumbfounded disciples and gives them his last
instructions: “in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things” (24:47–48).
Although the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell basically
the same story, there are important differences between the Gospels that
help identify the special interests of each author. A comparison of
the different genealogies of Jesus offers a good example. In Matthew’s
Gospel, Jesus’s family lineage is traced back through important Jewish
families, culminating with Abraham, the father of the Jewish people.
This line of descent fits well with Matthew’s emphasis on Jesus’s
continuity with the Old Testament and the Jewish people. In contrast,
Luke’s genealogy downplays Judaic roots and traces Jesus’s parentage
to Adam, the universal man of the Old Testament. Luke’s emphasis
on Jesus’s common humanity gives scholars reason to think that Luke
could have been a learned Gentile speaking to a largely Gentile
audience. Although he may have been in a non-Jewish community, Luke
was a meticulous historian and a learned man, who would have known
some of the more widely circulating stories of the Jews, such as
the story of Adam and Eve. Luke had to make sense of the fact that
Jesus was indeed a Jew, and he would have been compelled to take
into account some kind of Jewish heritage, so he chose to emphasize
that which would be the most universal and inclusive of Gentiles.
Likewise, other characteristics of Luke’s account make comparatively
few references to the Old Testament, which would have been strange
and perhaps even unknown to his largely Gentile audience.
In the earliest parts of his Gospel, Luke tells many of
the same miracle and healing stories contained in Mark, describing
Jesus healing a leper, announcing the forgiveness of sins, and restoring
life to the widow’s son. Like Matthew, Luke deviates from Mark’s
Gospel and includes what he calls the Sermon on the Plain, which
is Luke’s equivalent to Matthew’s description of the Sermon on the Mount.
Luke is persistently concerned for the poor and the outcast, and
his description of Jesus’s sermon includes a series of warnings to the
rich, fat, and mirthful (6:24–26).
Chapter 7 introduces further incidents of
Jesus’s ministry in Galilee that are distinct from both Matthew and
Mark and give us an indication of Luke’s special interests: the
faith of the Centurion’s slave emphasizes and encourages the faith
of a Gentile (7:1–10);
the healing of the Widow’s Son demonstrates Jesus’s concern for a
the Ministering Woman in Chapter 8 stresses
Jesus readiness to help and be helped by women. Luke returns to
Mark’s Gospel for the subsequent miracles and healing stories.
The next Lucan section, “The Journey to Jerusalem,” is
the Gospel’s longest, most loosely organized section (9.51–19:27).
In this section, the narrative begins to move toward Jerusalem for
the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension—the ascension being
the central event of Luke’s Gospel. Contained in this section are
some of the most well known parables in the entire New Testament,
found only in Luke. These include the story of the Good Samaritan,
a parable that reflects Luke’s interest in Jesus’s boundary-breaking
behavior in associating with outcasts such as the Samaritans, a
community once despised by Jews. Luke also includes a unique parable
about Mary and Martha in which Jesus praises Mary, the female disciple
who neglects her chores to listen to Jesus, and gently reproaches
Martha, who is preoccupied by the traditional domestic duties of
a woman. Also included are other well-known parables, such as those
about the mustard seed and the rich fool storing his excess grain,
and lessons on prayer, discipleship, and devotion—all of which stress
the dangers of wealth and the importance of devotion to Jesus’s way.
Chapter 15 is considered one of
the greatest chapters of the New Testament. In it, Luke depicts
three separate parables about being lost. The parable about the
lost sheep among the ninety-nine found shows God’s unending concern
for the lost. The parable of the lost coin is similar, as is the
famous story of the prodigal son, who is lost from his family and
the standards of his father. The sheep, coin, and son are all found
and returned to loving hands in their rightful places, which Luke
uses to represent God’s love and concern for the lost and forgotten.
The loving concern exhibited toward these characters reflects the
concern shown by Jesus, which the disciple must strive to emulate.
At a time in which most women were excluded from participating
in public life in Rome, and were considered ritually impure for a
substantial portion of their life according to Jewish custom, Luke’s special
concern for women and other outcasts of society is truly remarkable.
His concern gives historians reason to think that there must have
been a significant number of prominent female converts in Luke’s
community. Luke praises the courage of Mary, who rejoices over her
fate to conceive the Son of God. From Luke, we also learn a bit
more about Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’s closest disciples, who
follows him to the tomb and is among the first to see that Jesus’s
body is missing. Luke tells us that Mary Magdalene was just one
of many woman who travels with Jesus and his male disciples in an
age when the mixing of sexes was virtually unheard of. Luke also
tells us that these courageous women “provided for them out of their
In other words, women in the Gospel of Luke are largely responsible
for the finances of Jesus’s followers. In Acts, Luke describes Lydia,
the wealthy merchant who provides for Paul, along with Pricilla,
Aquila, and Philip’s four daughters, who are prophetesses (21:9).
Along with his concern and esteem for women, Luke also
shows preferential concern for the poor and the outcast. He repeatedly insists
on the dangers of wealth and “abundance of possessions,” but blesses
and esteems those who are in fact impoverished (12:15). These
words must have been shocking to urban Gentile ears in a society
in which the overwhelming majority of the population was destitute,
impoverished, and enslaved—but now, suddenly, according to Jesus,
blessed. While Luke takes great risks in his patriarchal, hierarchical,
and divisive society with his shocking words of inclusion and universalism,
he also makes concessions. Luke’s Gospel and Acts of the Apostles
are the most pro-Roman works of the New Testament. Luke is insistent
on maintaining Pontius Pilate’s innocence in the crucifixion of
the Jews and places all guilt in the hands of the Jewish leaders.
In Acts, during the stoning of Stephen, Stephen says to a violent
Jewish mob in Jerusalem, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised
in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just
as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors
not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the
Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers”
Such loaded rhetoric is generally viewed as Luke’s attempt
to persuade the Roman officials that the Christian Church, rapidly
growing in Gentile converts, was no threat to the Roman Empire.
This minority community wanted to appear on the side of the Romans
so as to give the empire, whose disregard for human life has been nearly
unrivaled in world history, no reason to pay them any heed or to
regard them as a threat. The stories in Luke and Acts are politically structured
to put all blame on the Jews, who were already a suspicious group
with an alternative lifestyle to that of the Greco-Roman Empire, with
its Greek philosophy and Roman Gods. This finger-pointing has indicated
to historians that by the time of Luke, Christianity had become
much more Gentile and less Jewish in its identity.