Luke could never have foreseen the day when Christians would divide his two-volume work into two separate writings: a Gospel and an Acts of the Apostles. Luke regarded both volumes, taken together, as his Gospel.

The unfortunate split seems to have happened because once Mark, Matthew and John set up a "Gospel-format," Luke/Acts didn't fit. The instant scribes began to insert John's Gospel between Luke's two volumes, we lost much of the evangelist's unique insight.

For Luke, a Gospel was not only the proclamation of the good news of Jesus' public ministry, up to His dying and rising, but also the good news of how Jesus, through His Holy Spirit, continued to work and minister through the early Christian community even after His death and resurrection.

Shadow of hope
We find an indication of Luke's theology in Sunday's first reading (Acts 5:12-16). In one of the "summaries" for which Acts is famous, Luke mentions that "people carried the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mattresses, so that when Peter passed by at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them."

Though at first glance this passage doesn't seem special, it becomes significant when we remember that Luke had a copy of Mark's Gospel in front of him when he wrote. The above reading sounds very similar to Mark's summary in 6:53-56, especially the section in which Mark states, "People...began to bring the sick on mats to wherever He (Jesus) was. And wherever He went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might touch even the fringe of His cloak; and all who touched it were healed."

Luke, in his Gospel account of Jesus' ministry, leaves out Mark's summary. But he doesn't totally ignore it. Many Scripture scholars believe Luke simply moves it to Acts and makes Peter the healer in place of Jesus. What Jesus once did, Christians now do. Luke teaches that the ministry of Jesus continues on in the ministry of His disciples.

Luke's theology follows the pattern of basic early Christian belief. Jesus' first followers always thought He was living among them, empowering them to carry on His work. But they differed on how they explained His presence and the power it gave them.

John, the author of Revelation, speaks in the second reading about sharing "with you the distress and the kingly reign and the endurance we have in Jesus" (Rev. 1:9-11,12-13,17-19). As an apocalyptic writer, this particular John speaks of Jesus in other-worldly terms, yet still as someone very close, someone who assures him that His followers will survive a persecution-filled existence.

"He (Jesus) touched me with His right hand," John writes, "and said, `There is nothing to fear. I am the First and the Last and the One who lives. Once I was dead but now I live -- forever and ever. I hold the keys of death and the nether world.'" In other words, "Don't worry! I've gone through death and reached life. And I'm here with you right now, strengthening you as you go through your own deaths."

Still with us
Persecution isn't the major theme of John's Gospel, yet the author still looks at the risen Jesus as being among His followers (Jn 20:19-31). Thomas' doubts are the basis for the famous statement, "Blest are they who have not seen and have believed." We believe Jesus is alive among us, even if we can't physically touch Him as Thomas did.

John teaches that we come in contact with the risen Jesus frequently -- every time we forgive and are forgiven. "As the Father has sent me," Jesus proclaims, "so I send you....If you forgiven anyone's sins, they are forgive them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound." (Of course, John's community always believed the Father sent Jesus to forgive sins, not to hold anyone bound to them.)

No matter how we express it, to have faith in Jesus' Resurrection is to have faith that Jesus is among us now. Yet, if we buy into Luke's expression, the Gospel never ends. We're actually living a part of it right now, actually doing what Jesus did, in our own everyday lives.

(04-16-98)