Luke is the third book of the New Testament and the third gospel of Jesus. Like Matthew and Mark, he tells the story of Jesus yet again through yet another lens. Matthew told the story of the divine who had been prophesied to come save us. Mark told the story of the divine who came to love us. I’m interested in seeing who it is that Luke sees in these stories.
For the full text of Luke 1, click here.
Luke begins with a bit of a dedication:
1In as much as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.Luke 1:1-4
Unfortunately, there’s no clear record of who Theophilus was or why it was that he inspired Luke to write down these stories. There are some theories on this Wikipedia page that’s the best I have on it. Of Luke, we know much more. We’re pretty sure that he was one of Paul’s disciples passing on the information that he had gathered from Paul about where everything began. I find it interesting that his idea of where this story begins is quite different from the two writers before him.
Matthew began the story of Jesus with his geneaology, proving from the beginning that Jesus had the right lineage to be the Son of David and therefore the Messiah that was prophesied.
Mark began the story of Jesus with His baptism and moving immediately to a place where he can begin showcasing Jesus’ relationship to the people of Israel.
Luke begins with a piece of the story that neither felt the need to cover at all. He begins with the foretelling of John the Baptist. I had never heard of this actual story before. I knew that the birth of John the Baptist had been special because Elizabeth had been older and barren for so long beforehand, but I don’t think I had ever heard of his father. It’s a fun story because it is yet another instance of someone who is visited by an angel, given good news, can’t even believe it, and then given some sort of consequence for their disbelief. What makes it a little entertaining is the constant experience of something similar in my own life. I tell the people that work for me something will happen and they don’t believe me, and sometimes I have to get a little bossy with it like Gabriel does. I wish I could just make someone silent until the thing happened. Especially if they couldn’t speak until they admitted that I was right. It’s not so much about being right as being constantly confronted with people who don’t believe I can at all predict what’s going to happen at a job I’ve had for roughly 20 years. And then here is Gabriel, an angel of the Lord in the temple talking to Zechariah, one of the righteous among them, “walking blameless in the commandments and statutes of the Lord” who still can’t help but talk back to him.
So Gabriel says Zechariah will be silent until what he’s said comes to pass. My first thought was honestly “good for you.” That’s probably not the right response, but I get it and how much more annoying that has to be for an angel, especially Gabriel who delivers God’s messages. At the same time, I do understand Zechariah’s resistance to believe that after so many years, he will definitely have a son. I can’t imagine the heartache they must have had leading up to this moment. I understand why Elizabeth would then want to keep herself hidden. I’m sure miscarriage was no less common in those days then they are now and it can be heartbreaking and triggering to be asked by people who saw you pregnant how the baby is once it’s been lost. I’d be terrified to go anywhere and trip or something after all that time too.
From here we have our first parallel to Matthew, sort of. As in the gospel of Matthew, Luke discusses the foretelling of Jesus’ birth. Unlike Matthew, Luke begins with Gabriel, the very same angel, coming to see Mary first. Luke shows Mary’s piety by showing that Gabriel obtained consent for this pregnancy from the mother first. She agreed to it, likely knowing full well what it should have cost her. There’s nothing in the conversation between Gabriel and Mary that suggests otherwise. He doesn’t say that she is guaranteed to still marry Joseph or anyone else. He doesn’t say that anyone else will even know who the biological father is and therefore excuse this pregnancy. She is given that it will happen because of her favor from God, that she will name Him Jesus, and HE will be great. Nothing at all that saves her from the social pressures or norms of the day and yet she consents. Of course, she isn’t exactly given an out either, but perhaps even this is implied.
Honestly, I found even the greeting interesting on this read.
“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”Luke 1:28
I have known plenty of contexts where a greeting like this could be unnerving. It reeks of obligation. It’s very “my favorite daughter” right before a parent asks for something that they know you hate. What makes me feel like this was not one of those unnerving greetings that set up for a horrible ask is Gabriel’s response when she points out that she is a virgin. On it’s own, it’s insignificant. Paired with his reaction to Zechariah, we see that Gabriel was being much more gentle with Mary, as the situation would have required. There’s a chance that instead of the greeting that reeked of obligation that this could have been, perhaps Gabriel had a touch of wonder in his voice or maybe tenderness, that maybe understood the fear of a young betrothed girl over the disbelief of an older married man. Still, that she was troubled by the greeting and “tried to discern” what it meant, means that I’m probably not the only one that feels that way about it.
She points out that she is a virgin and he tells her how it’s going to go down and that she will not be alone in this. Her cousin is also pregnant when it shouldn’t be possible. Of course, she has to know that people will be happy for her cousin while giving her the side eye about her own pregnancy but that’s not the point. She will have one person, a woman especially, who can hold her hand and understand that this is magnificent, unpredictable, not entirely of their control, and who will know that she did nothing wrong. Maybe one woman to stand by her while the others turn her out in shame is enough. He doesn’t even mention her betrothed. Gabriel gives her another woman to take comfort in, who is further along, sure, but also having a prophesied birth.
So Mary consents with these words: “Behold, I am the servantf of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
I’m not sure consent was required for this particular thing, but I appreciated the addition of it in this story. I don’t know why Luke felt the need to include it, except perhaps that Mary knew what she was getting into and that it elevates her piety.
She goes to Elizabeth “with haste” and is given a greeting that I imagine to be VERY comforting in such a time.
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would beg a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”Luke 1:42-45
Mary didn’t even have to explain it to her. She definitely had one person on her side right away, before she was even showing, before she even told Joseph. She had one solid friend to share this experience with, no matter how bad the rest of society took it. She had one immediate line of support with Elizabeth and that’s a beautiful part of this story that I find lacking in the first two accounts.
The next section continues her visit with Elizabeth but is a song that she says in response to Elizabeth’s greeting. Mary is excited about what’s to come, excited about who her son is supposed to be and who his father is. After the song, there is a mention that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months. With Elizabeth in her sixth month at that point, I wish it specified if Mary stayed until John was born or left just before.
As it is, the next section begins with John’s birth. It seems to go well, as the story of this section actually centers on his naming more than the birth itself. Everyone was happy for her and visited on the appropriate day after she was considered clean again, to circumcise him, and asked what the name should be. Again, this is a part of the story I’ve never heard before. She insists that he be named John, despite no one else in the family having that name. Then she signs to her husband what he wants the name to be, indicating that he was still silent from his conversation with Gabriel. A quick review of that section reminded me that he was to be mute until “all” had passed. Zechariah regains his voice only once he has confirmed that the name should be John. This made everyone wonder about the child, to which it sounds like Zechariah’s following prophecy was a response:
68“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
69and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
70as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
72to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
78because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit ush from on high
79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”