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Divine Mercy in the Gospel of Luke

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By Marian Friedrichs (Jul 20, 2015)
One Church teaching that completely awes me is that the Bible, though inspired by God, was written by people: really written by them, not passively scribed while the Holy Spirit whispered each word in their ears.

I imagine our Father brimming rapturously with the generation of ever more spirit and light. And unwilling to keep his overflow of creativity to himself, he placed the clay of truth into the hands of human artists who sculpted it into language and story.

I also imagine one of those artists, the writer we know as Luke, turning the clay about in his hands, absorbing its substance and its textures — the works of God's hands, the words of God's lips, and the thoughts of God's heart — and suddenly he is bursting to rhapsodize to the whole world about the mercy he sees there. Luke grasps the clay now with a clear and determined purpose: to mold the story of Jesus so that people will see the consuming and purifying love that radiates from His Sacred Heart.

All of the Gospels witness to Divine Mercy, but I've learned that if I want to read about Jesus from the point of view of an evangelist who particularly focused on "the greatest attribute of God" (see Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 301), I can turn to St. Luke.

Because God delights in our distinctiveness, and because he allowed the writers of Holy Scripture to express his Truth through their unique perspectives and styles, not every gospel is the same. Even the gospels we call synoptic — those of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which we categorize separately from John because of their similarities to each other — have variations that reflect the personal spirituality of each author, just as St. Faustina's Diary reflects hers.

The stories that only Luke tells are often the ones that fill me with trust and confidence in my Father's love, making me want to snuggle closer to him. Only in Luke, for instance, can I read the infancy narratives and meet God as a baby made vulnerable and poor by love. Luke shows us our Creator naked and fragile, while through the lips of the Blessed Mother he "magnifies the Lord" who has come in this humble way to bring "his mercy ... for those who fear him from generation to generation" (1:46, 50). How can I doubt the love of a God like that?

In the film The Nativity Story, Mary and Elizabeth are working in a field and suddenly feel their babies move. They lay their hands on each other's wombs, and their joy spills out through laughter. Watching the scene, I was struck by their small figures against the largeness of the landscape. The great big world keeps turning, absorbed with its struggles and strivings, never guessing that it is about to be changed forever because of what these two unnoticed peasant women are laughing about in a wheat field.

While the moment is fictional, it's exactly the kind St. Luke would love: an intimate experience of God's mercy by people who are overlooked by the world. Luke is, after all, the evangelist who gives us the story of Zacchaeus, the corrupt tax collector who climbs a tree to see Jesus and finds himself hosting the Savior for supper that night. Luke's gospel alone includes the parable of the Good Samaritan, the religious outsider who stops to show mercy while the Israelite priest and Levite hurry to the temple, and the parable of the sinful publican, whose plea for forgiveness is heard by God over the Pharisee's smug prayer of thanksgiving.

And when I picture Mary and Elizabeth grasping each other's hands — celebrating God's reconciliation with the children of Israel and the entire human family — I remember a father's command to rejoice in another parable that appears only in Luke's Gospel: the Prodigal Son being welcomed home.

Luke's version of the Passion is also woven through with threads of the Divine Mercy theme. During Jesus' agony in the garden, an angel comes only according to Luke; our Lord is comforted by a Father who cannot bear to let his Son feel forgotten. (In this Gospel, Jesus doesn't ask why God has abandoned him during his crucifixion.) And only Luke's Passion narrative includes Jesus' plea, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (23:34) and the repentance of the thief to whom Jesus promises eternal life.

It's not surprising to find that Jesus is concerned with these things as he dies, because in this gospel he is the same Jesus who paused on the road to Calvary to "instruct the ignorant" (one of the spiritual works of mercy) by warning the women of Jerusalem to weep for their sins, not his suffering.

Finally, Jesus' last words, according to Luke — "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (23:46) — teach us how to let go of our own lives and enter into his, guided by the faith of his evangelists and by the radiant beams of light from his merciful Heart.

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