For over 50 years, students of the Christian Scriptures have regarded the four evangelists more as "redactors" than authors. Authors usually start writing with just a blank page lying on the desk in front of them, and from their own imagination or memory create a unique work. Redactors start with one or more written sources in front of them, which they change, alter and rearrange, eventually producing a work which carries the message they're trying to convey.

Luke redacts Mark (and at least two other sources), changing words, altering sentences, rearranging passages, creating a Gospel which voices the theology he wants his community to hear and reflect on.

Evangelists engage in such cutting, pasting and editing in order to respond to problems in their churches. And all four Gospel churches had problems; otherwise, their authors would never have written. In Luke's case, his redactions point up several problems, one of which we hear addressed in Sunday's Gospel (Lk 1:39-45).

Being a disciple

Some in the Lucan community seemed to believe that being Jesus' disciple simply consisted of listening to the words of the preachers in their midst who proclaimed Jesus' death and resurrection -- nothing more. They didn't alter their lifestyles, change their actions, or view their experiences from a different perspective. They refused to grow into the person which the word of God called them to become.

That's why one of Luke's most important redactions is his definition of disciple, a definition he weaves into his text especially when Mary, the perfect disciple, is on the stage.

For Luke, discipleship consists in listening to God's word and then carrying it out. True followers of Jesus are dedicated to both dimensions, not just one. Mary becomes Luke's living definition of a disciple. To make certain the Gospel reader won't miss the point, he has someone proclaim the definition almost every time Mary appears or is referred to.

Remember how the young girl from Nazareth answers Gabriel during the annunciation? She tells the angel: "Let it be done to me according to your word." Remember also Jesus' response to the woman who yells from the crowd, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you."

"Blessed rather are those," He yells back, "who hear the word of God and obey it."

Now that you know the pattern of Luke's discipleship redactions, listen carefully to what Elizabeth tells her relative in the Gospel on Sunday. The mother of John ends her greetings with "Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord's words to her would be fulfilled." Elizabeth proclaims Mary to be a true disciple.

Hearing and doing

Luke's concern about putting God's word into action isn't unique. It's a constant theme for all who announce that word. Micah, in the first reading, conveys the same concept (Mic 5:1-4). Having experienced kings who heard and spoke Yahweh's word, but never did anything different because of it, the prophet speaks about a future, God-rooted king who "shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord."

In the second reading (Heb 10:5-10), the author explicitly mentions something which Luke takes for granted: those who strive to be Jesus' disciples must imitate Jesus' own discipleship. "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire," the author quotes Jesus as saying. "Holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight in."

Instead, Jesus announces, "I have come to do your will, O God." Those who follow Jesus are following a person of action, someone who heard and carried out God's word better than anyone else.

(12-18-97)