Gems From Luke’s Gospel
JEHOVAH’S Son, Jesus Christ, is well-known for being compassionate. How fitting, then, that the Gospel writer Luke should stress compassion, mercy, and fellow feeling! For Jews and Gentiles alike, he wrote a truly heartwarming account of Jesus’ earthly life.
Certain aspects of this Gospel indicate that a scholarly person wrote it. For example, it has a classical introduction and an extensive vocabulary. Such points fit the fact that Luke was a well-educated physician. (Colossians 4:14) Though he did not become a believer until after Jesus’ death, he accompanied Paul to Jerusalem after the apostle’s third missionary trip. Therefore, following Paul’s arrest there and imprisonment at Caesarea, this careful researcher was able to gather material by interviewing eyewitnesses and by consulting public records. (1:1-4; 3:1, 2) His Gospel may have been written at Caesarea sometime during the apostle’s two-year confinement there, about 56-58 C.E.
Some Unique Features
At least six of Jesus’ miracles are unique to Luke’s Gospel. These are: a miraculous catch of fish (5:1-6); raising a widow’s son at Nain (7:11-15); healing a woman bent double (13:11-13); curing a man of dropsy (14:1-4); cleansing ten lepers (17:12-14); and restoring the ear of the high priest’s slave.—22:50, 51.
Also unique to Luke’s account are some of Jesus’ parables. These include: the two debtors (7:41-47); the neighborly Samaritan (10:30-35); the barren fig tree (13:6-9); the grand evening meal (14:16-24); the prodigal son (15:11-32); the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31); and the widow and the unrighteous judge.—18:1-8.
The physician Luke showed concern for women, children, and the elderly. He alone mentioned Elizabeth’s barrenness, her conception, and the birth of John. Only his Gospel reported the angel Gabriel’s appearance to Mary. Luke was moved to say that Elizabeth’s baby leaped in her womb as Mary spoke to her. He alone told of Jesus’ circumcision and his presentation at the temple, where He was seen by aged Simeon and Anna. And we owe to Luke’s Gospel our knowledge of the childhood of Jesus and of John the Baptizer.—1:1–2:52.
When Luke wrote about the grief-stricken widow of Nain who lost her only son in death, he said that Jesus “was moved with pity for her” and then restored the young man to life. (7:11-15) Reported only in Luke’s Gospel, and heartwarming too, is the incident involving Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector. Being of short stature, he climbed a tree to see Jesus. What a surprise when Jesus said that he would stay at the house of Zacchaeus! Luke shows that the visit was a great blessing to the happy host.—19:1-10.
From a Physician’s Pen
This Gospel contains many terms or words with medical meanings or significance. These words were not used at all or not in a medical sense by other writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures. But we might expect medical language from a physician’s pen.
For example, only Luke said that Peter’s mother-in-law had “a high fever.” (4:38) He also wrote: “Look! a man full of leprosy!” (5:12) To other Gospel writers, it was enough to mention leprosy. But not so with the physician Luke, who indicated that the man’s disease was in an advanced stage.
Insight Into Customs
Luke said that after Jesus’ birth, Mary “bound him with cloth bands.” (2:7) Customarily, a newborn infant was washed and rubbed with salt, perhaps to dry the skin and make it firm. Then the baby was wrapped in swaddling bands, nearly like a mummy. The bands kept the body straight and warm, and running them under the chin and over the head may have trained the child to breathe through the nose. A 19th-century report on similar swaddling customs quoted a visitor to Bethlehem as saying: “I took the little creature in my arms. His body was stiff and unyielding, so tightly was it swathed with white and purple linen. His hands and feet were quite confined, and his head was bound with a small, soft red shawl, which passed under his chin and across his forehead in small folds.”
Luke’s Gospel also gives us insight into first-century funeral customs. Jesus was near the gate of Nain when he saw “a dead man being carried out, the only-begotten son of his [widowed] mother,” and “a considerable crowd from the city was also with her.” (7:11, 12) Burial generally took place outside a city, and friends of the deceased accompanied the body to the tomb. The bier was a litter possibly made of wickerwork and having poles projecting from its corners that allowed four men to bear it on their shoulders as the procession walked to the burial site.
In another illustration recorded by Luke, Jesus spoke of a man beaten by robbers. A neighborly Samaritan “bound up his wounds, pouring oil and wine upon them.” (10:34) This was a customary way to care for injuries. Olive oil would soften and soothe the wounds. (Isaiah 1:6) But what about wine? The Journal of the American Medical Association said: “Wine was a principal medicine in Greece. . . . Hippocrates of Cos (460-370 BC) . . . made extensive use of wine, prescribing it as a wound dressing, a cooling agent for fevers, a purgative, and a diuretic.” Jesus’ illustration alluded to the antiseptic and disinfectant properties of wine, as well as the effectiveness of olive oil in helping to heal wounds. Of course, the point of the parable is that a true neighbor acts mercifully. That is how we should deal with others.—10:36, 37.
Lessons in Humility
Luke alone related an illustration that Jesus gave upon seeing guests choose the most prominent places at a meal. During feasts, guests reclined on couches placed along three sides of a table. Servers had access to it on the fourth side. Customarily, a couch was occupied by three people, each facing the table while resting on the left elbow and taking food with the right hand. The three positions indicated that a person had the high, middle, or low place on the couch. One having the low position on the third couch had the lowest place at the meal. Jesus said: ‘When invited to a feast, choose the lowest place and the host will tell you, “Go up higher.” Then you will have honor before your fellow guests.’ (14:7-10) Yes, let us humbly put others ahead of ourselves. In fact, in applying the illustration, Jesus said: “Everyone that exalts himself will be humbled and he that humbles himself will be exalted.”—14:11.
Also stressing humility, and unique with Luke’s Gospel, was Jesus’ illustration about a tax collector and a Pharisee praying in the temple. Among other things, the Pharisee said, “I fast twice a week.” (18:9-14) The Law required only one annual fast. (Leviticus 16:29) But the Pharisees carried fasting to an extreme. The one in the illustration fasted on the second day of the week because that was thought to be the time when Moses went up into Mount Sinai, where he received the two tablets of the Testimony. He is said to have descended from the mountain on the fifth day of the week. (Exodus 31:18; 32:15-20) The Pharisee cited his semiweekly fasting as a proof of his piety. But this illustration should move us to be humble, not self-righteous.
These gems from Luke’s Gospel prove that it is unique and instructive. Incidents related in the account help us to relive touching events in Jesus’ earthly life. We also benefit from background information on certain customs. But especially will we be blessed if we apply such lessons as those on mercy and humility so well taught in this Gospel by Luke, the beloved physician.