We are all familiar with the opening words, the prologue, of St. John’s Gospel. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." This week we are introduced to the beginning of the Gospel of St. Luke, and only the Gospel of Luke opens with a literary prologue that clearly sets forth Luke’s motive for writing the narrative. Luke’s gospel is the first part of a two volume work that continues the biblical history of God’s dealing with humanity found in the Old Testament, showing how God’s promises to Israel have been fulfilled. In classic Hellenistic Greek, the prologue is a simple sentence. The author claims to have examined the many previous attempts to compose a Gospel narrative to ensure that his narrative will be complete.
And so, today Luke says "since many have undertaken to complete a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teaching you have received." Before getting to his main point, Luke uses a summary statement about what Jesus has been doing.
Here we are told that Jesus has returned to Galilee, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. The power of the Spirit is a strong theme running through Luke’s gospel. Luke bases his version of Jesus returning to Nazareth on Mark’s account. Luke, however, expands the story into a statement outlining the mission Jesus will undertake in his earthly ministry. The setting is a synagogue service and Jesus has been asked to read a lesson from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus chooses Isaiah’s chapter 6 which describes a prophet anointed by the Spirit to bring good news to the poor and embraces the corporal works of mercy. After Jesus finishes reading the passage from Isaiah, he hands the scroll back to the assistant and sits down. Everyone has their eyes glued on him, wondering what he is going to say. The expectation is that he will quote some famous rabbis who have interpreted this passage, thereby unfolding the rich tradition of Judaism. Jesus does not do this. Instead he utters one sentence: "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." Jesus is proclaiming that he is the prophet so designated in the sixty first chapter of Isaiah. He is the one who is to come. His ministry will demonstrate this claim.
Fr. John R. Mulvehill