One of the sweet things about having followed the table of Psalms and lessons in the Prayer Book for a few years is that you start to look forward to certain seasons because of the appointed daily readings. For example, I look forward to the beginning of Trinity season (which commenced Sunday) because, on the Monday following Trinity Sunday, I start a twelve-week course of daily morning readings from the Gospel according to St Luke.
Since writing about something is a fine aid to reading it, it occurred to me to start posting regularly about Luke’s gospel in this space, in the hope that I (and anyone else who might happen to drop by) might read Luke better. “Regularly” is the key word. It isn’t realistic to think I’ll have time to write lengthy essays on every daily reading. But it is realistic to set out to post something on every daily reading, and so to blog my way through the entirety of the first volume of Luke’s two-part magnum opus.
The readings started on Monday, so I’m starting two days behind. So today’s post will cover the readings appointed for Monday and Tuesday — St Luke 1:1-38 — and tomorrow’s post (DV) will cover the readings for today and tomorrow (St Luke 1:39-66).
II. The nature and structure of Luke’s work
A word, then, about the nature and structure of Luke’s gospel.
The first thirty-eight verses of Luke tell us much of what we need to know about how to read the whole.
Luke’s prologue (vv. 1-4) tells us he’s writing an historical account, in the Greek historiographical style. It is a narrative account of “the things that have been accomplished” — or fulfilled — “among us.” In other words, Luke’s prologue tells us that he is not writing a kind of spiritual treatise or parable, nor is he writing a sort of intellectual history. Luke’s genre is history. His work relates the history of certain men of action, not teachers or quietist mystics.
And what agenda did these men fulfill?
Luke’s answer, while retaining the form and following the methods of Greek historiography, narrates the fulfillment of a specifically Israelite agenda. Writing his gospel, Luke has a Bible at his right hand and a newspaper at his left. We begin to see this in Gabriel’s visits to Zechariah and Mary, and in the startling conceptions that follow those two visits. To Zechariah (vv. 8-20), Gabriel says “Elizabeth will bear you a son.” To explain the significance of this son, he refers to two biblical types, Samuel (implicitly) and Elijah. When Gabriel visits Mary (vv. 26-38), he tells her, first, that she will bear a son, and then, that this son will be the king of whom David was just a type. In short, Luke tells the story of the fulfillment of Israel’s agenda, which was (and is) a royal agenda.