I love the Gospel of Luke. Though similar to Matthew and Mark, Luke’s distinct portrait of Jesus comes into focus. Among the four portraits of Jesus we have in the New Testament, Luke portrays a Christ that is for all people. While Matthew often seeks to quote Old Testament Scriptures to show that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, Luke isn’t really interested in that.
Instead, Luke paints Jesus as the Great Friend of Sinners and lover of outcasts. Only Luke, among the four Gospels, writes of the woman who annointed Jesus feet with oil and then washed them with her tears in the house of Simon the Pharisee. Only Luke tells of Zachaeus, the swindling tax collector, the thief on the cross next to Jesus, and the legendary story of the Prodigal Son.
Luke’s Jesus is a lover of the unlovely, a pursuer of outcasts, and a friend of the friendless. Luke’s Gospel is a Gospel for all people, young and old, men and women. Over and over again, Luke shows Jesus loving and gentle contact with women…whether it is Martha & Mary, Mary Magdalene, Elizabeth, Anna, or the widow of Nain. It has been called the Gospel of all Humanity, The Gospel to the Gentiles, and the Universal Gospel, but my favorite name for it is the Gospel of the Road.
Because most of Luke is filled with what’s called the Travel Narrative.
What for Mark is only one chapter, the journey to Jerusalem, Luke takes up ten chapters. Scholars have called it the “travel narrative.” It begins with Jesus “resolutely setting out for Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51) and continues all the way until 19:41, where Jesus “draws near to Jerusalem and weeps.”
To be sure, Jesus didn’t really travel in a straight line from Galilee to Jerusalem. These chapters highlight all sorts of conversations he had and miracles he performed with different people at seemingly random locations. But much of his teachings and ministry, several of the famously immortal stories that have been passed to us, and some of the greatest parables ever told, all happened … on the road.
Luke seems to be placing emphasis on the journey. Sure, the destination is important. For Jesus, his destination was always Jerusalem, to fulfill his role as the Suffering Servant for all humanity. But much of the greatest things happened on the way there.
Life’s like that too. We are all travelers. Life is mostly lived on the road. In between destinations. In between the already and the not-yet. We move, as the Psalmist writes, “from strength to strength,” from one season of life to the next. And part of the joy is in the turns that the road takes, the detours, the random exits, the chance encounters, and the spontaneous stops along the way.
And Luke ends with maybe one of my favorite Gospel stories of two disciples on their way to Emmaus, after the crucifixion, who strike up a conversation with a random traveling companion they met along the way. Later they learn that their mysterious companion was Jesus himself.
Luke’s Gospel is the Gospel of the Road. No matter what turns the road may take, there is joy in the journey, there is a certainty in the destination if you travel with God, and perhaps the most wondrous thought of all: that the Risen Jesus is always with us, especially in the people he gives us as companions on the way…