LEXEGETE / Year C / Gospel of Luke
About Year C
An Introduction to the Pericopes from St. Luke
by Sherman E. Johnson, PhD, STD
Gospel readings for Year C are provided mainly from Luke. The exceptions are some of the great festivals and fasts and Sundays after Easter. Several pericopes parallel to passages read in Years A and B are omitted, and the scheme richly supplements the story in the other gospels. Congregations hear portions of Luke's Infancy, Passion and Resurrection
narratives, and may be able to appreciate the distinctive character of his
Thus about ten parables, not found elsewhere, appear in the post-Pentecost season, and the Prodigal Son is at Lent 4. [Note: In finding Propers in the Book of Common Prayer, add two numbers to the Pentecost numbering; thus Pentecost 2 equals Proper 4, et cetera.) Year C exhibits concern for:
the "least of these," i.e., outcasts, women, Samaritans and Gentiles in Pentecost 4, 6, 17, 23 and 24;
Luke's emphasis on prayer and personal religion (Pentecost 9 and 10); and his distinctive selection of traditions on wealth and holy
poverty (Epiphany 6, Pentecost 11, 15, 18 and perhaps 19).
Several of Luke's themes can be considered conveniently with pericopes from the second readings. (O.T. readings differ in the Lutheran Book of Worship,LBW, and Book of Common Prayer, BCP. Sometimes they harmonize with the gospel or with the epistle.)
The second readings consists mainly of parts of books not read in Years A and B, but are not a mere catch-all. For example parts of Revelation in the Sundays of Eastertide give visions of the glorified Christ, worship in heaven, and the new Jerusalem.
PROCLAMATION - The first business of the Church and its preachers is to proclaim Good News. Year C is rich in setting forth both parts of this, the message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and Jesus' message of the Reign of God.
The gospel ABOUT Christ appears in many forms throughout the year.
Luke's gospel implies it everywhere, but here (and in Acts) salvation comes through repentance and forgiveness of sins. Luke never says that the Cross itself is a saving event; this we find in the other gospels and in Paul. Early forms of the Church's proclamation are read on Palm Sunday (Phillipians 2:5-11); Easter (Acts 10:34-43; in the BCP only, Acts 5:29a, 30-32); January 1st (Romans 1:1-7). A more developed theology appears in part of Ephesians (Christmas); 3:1-12 (Epiphany); 2 Timothy 2:8-15 (Pentecost 21); Colossians 1:11-26 (Christ the King); and especially at Christmas, Titus 3:4-7; 2:11-14 (BCP only), pericopes that combine God's redeeming grace with the call to righteous living in eloquent words.
The gospel OF Jesus, the Reign of God, is supremely important in Luke's theology. The tone of Luke is set by Jesus' announcement in the Nazareth synagogue (4:14-32, Epiphany 3 and 4, LBW; 2 and 3, BCP). The canticles in Luke 1-2 are part of the background of this, but only the Magnificat is read (Advent 4). The primary task of Jesus' disciples is to be heralds of the Kingdom (10:1-20, Pentecost 7: cf., 9:60, Pentecost 6).
It is even more important that Jesus' actions exhibit God's Reign in action through his association with outcasts (7:34, 36-50; Pentecost 4),
Gentiles (Pentecost 2), Samaritans (Pentecost 6) and women (Pentecost 4, 9). This theme is also emphasize in the three parables of the lost in Chapter 15 (Pentecost 17, Lent 4) and that of the Good Samaritan (Pentecost 8).
In short, as F.E. Danker has said in his commentary on LUKE (1987), the gospel of Jesus in Luke is one of liberation from sin, sickness and death, from conventional religion and from the world's oppressivestructures,
This is seen in the BENEDICTUS (1:70-76) and especially in the Nazareth scene (4:18). Zacchaeus is restored to his dignity as a son of Abraham (19:1-10, Pentecost 245); cf. 13:16, where the crippled woman is a daughter of Abraham. The kings and potentates of the world lord is over their subjects and are given the title of BENEFACTOR (22:25, Maundy Thursday), but Jesus is the true benefactor.
JUSTIFICATION - appeared in Year A (Pentecost 2), and Year C affords another opportunity to expound it, for most of Galatians is read in Pentecost 2-7 (see especially Pentecost 4), and Phillipians 3:2-16 (Lent 5) also bears on the doctrine. Luke did not completely apprehend Paul's view of justification, but the parables of Chapter 15 and the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector (Pentecost 25) contain teachings of Jesus that support it.
Paul links justification intimately to the message of the Cross and Resurrection. It is significant that much of Colossians is read in Year C, especially in Pentecost 8-11, for this letter (whether written by the mature Paul or a very early disciple of his) supplements the Christology and doctrine of the new life in Romans and Galatians and relates the Incarnation to the Cross and creation (1:11-26, Christ the King). Another aspect of redemption through the Cross is disclosed in 2:6-15 (Pentecost 10); the Cross is triumph over the world's powers. Note also 3:1-4 (Easter; in the LBW, only in Year A).
ESCHATOLOGY pervades all the New Testament. The lectionary faithfully brings this out, and one can see that there is no single unified form of the future hope.
Luke's tradition of Jesus' words, especially with reference to his role as Son of Man, relates the last things to the problems of the believer. Thus the homilist has an opportunity to show that the true function of biblical eschatology is to give warning and to teach Christians to be alert and alive in hope, not to satisfy curiosity about when the end of the age will come (Luke 17:20f.).
No one can tell when the absentee master will return and therefore one must be on the watch (12:32-30, Pentecost 12). No one who prays should be discouraged; the question is whether the Son of Man when he comes will find faith on earth
(18:1-8a), Pentecost 22). Do not be led astray by those who claim that the time is near (21:5-19, Pentecost 26).
Actually the end of the world for the individual comes at the time of death. The rich man has forgotten this (Luke 12:13-21, Pentecost 11). Jesus himself lives in a time of crisis: he has come to cast fire on the earth (Luke 12:49-56, Pentecost 13), and therefore "business as usual" is inappropriate for anyone. The New Testament in most places teaches the general resurrection and the final judgment, but Luke puts alongside this an eschatology of space (not now/then, but here/there), relating to Hades, earth and heaven.
Thus Jesus assures the penitent bandit that he will be with him in paradise (23:35-43, Christ the King). Like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, all live to God (20:37, Pentecost 25). There is a similar picture in 16:19-31 (Pentecost 19), but the main point of that parable is that signs cannot compel belief.
Paul's letters also reflect more than one kind of future hope. A more primitive type of this is expressed in 1 Thess. 3:9-13 (Advent 1) and parts of 2 Thess. (Pentecost 24-26), and developed further in parts of 1 Cor. 15 read on Sundays after the Epiphany. Paul speaks of Christ's "appearing" in Colossians 3:1-4 (Easter) and of his hope that he will attain the resurrection from the dead in Phillipians 3:10 (Lent 5), yet in Phil. 1:23 he would now prefer to depart and to be with Christ, and it is not quite certain what he thinks about the future life in 2 Cor. 5:1-5.
THE NEW LIFE - Justification, redemption and reconciliation are aspects of a radical change into a new life. Paul's primary portrayals of this different existence in Romans 8 and 2 Corinthians 4-5, but these are related to the ethical passages, Romans 12:1-15:6 and 2 Corinthians 4:1-6:10. "Morals," "ethics," and " paraenesis" seem terms too cold to denote the style of life made possible by life in Christ, which Paul finds suffused with joy and triumph.
In Year C, as in A and B, there are abundant materials. Luke points to the New Life through his stories and parables of healing and forgiveness: it is opened up for the Prodigal Son and Zacchaeus.
Teaching on discipleship focuses on its radical demands, e.g., 9:51-62 (Pentecost 6); 12:49-56 (Pentecost 13); 13:22-30 (Pentecost 14); 14:25-33 (Pentecost 16): 17:1-10 (Pentecost 20, obedience brings no special credit). Yet the reward is very great (12:37f., Pentecost 12). One who gives also receives. The Seventy-two can accept hospitality (10:7, Pentecost 7) as Jesus does also (Pentecost 4,9,24; cf. also 11:37), and one has the impression that there is a friendly give-and-take in the gospel ministry among the villagers.
This style of life requires humility (14:1, 7-14, Pentecost 15) but one can read between the lines to see that truly humble person, like Jesus has an enhanced dignity. This pericope also exhibits Jesus' deep concern for the poor. Luke has a special love for holy poverty and distrust of wealth (12:13-21, Pentecost 11; 16:19-31, Pentecost 19; 16:9-13, Pentecost 18; cf. 6:20f., 24f.).
Examples of how Jesus dealt with individuals apply to all relationships, not merely those of pastors. He is sensitive to both Martha and Mary, and with gentle humor praises the one without putting down the other (10:38-42, Pentecost 9). He refuses to be a judge or divider (12:13 f., Pentecost 11). One perennial problem of God's justice is disposed of in 13:1-9 (Lent 3); the massacred Galileans and those on whom the tower of Siloam fell are not necessarily sinners more than anyone else.
The epistle readings contain much material on Christian attitudes and behavior but deal with quite different situations in the early Church. Luke (like Acts ) emphasizes the power of the Spirit, and Paul's discussion of spiritual gifts in I Cor. 12-14 (Epiphany 2,3,4 or 5) is of special importance. The author of the Pastoral Epistles, when compared with Paul, seems often to be a conventional sobersides, but he is living in a different social situation when the first excitement of the gospel has given way to a time when Christians in family units are living in the midst of outsiders and must not give offense to them. The lectionaries omit the stern patriarchal admonitions and concentrate on moral and spiritual advice to pastors (Pentecost 17-22) and at the end contain some farewell words from Paul which some scholars believe are fragments of actual lost letters but in any case exhibit his spirit (2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18, Pentecost 23). One should note also l Timothy 1:15; 2.5f.; 6:14-16; 2 Timothy 2:11-13 as examples of proclamation.
Finally, one remembers that the early Christians were always in danger of persecution, and warnings of this in the gospels are supplemented by some noble passages in Hebrews read in Pentecost 12-15.
PROCLAMATION : Aids for Interpreting the Lessons of the Church Year,
Series C, 8 volumes. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1973-4.
Danker, F.W. LUKE (Proclamation Commmentaries). Philadelphia:
Fortress, 1987, see esp. pp. 6-17.
Johnson, S.E. THE YEAR OF THE LORD'S FAVOR. New York: Seabury,
1986, esp. pp. 169-178,227-230,236-9,251-5.
Kaesemann, E. PERSPECTIVES ON PAUL. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971, pp.
70-78, on Justification.
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