“And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant…
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
Luke 1:46-52

You only need to be familiar with the Christmas story to realize you know the Gospel of Luke. Many other well-known stories come exclusively from the third gospel— the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, the story of the repentant woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, the appearance of the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

Considered the best-told story of the four gospels, Luke’s account begins almost a year before Jesus’ birth; runs chronologically through his childhood, ministry and death; and ends after his resurrection and ascension to heaven. Luke uses lots of parallel stories (like the births of John the Baptist and Jesus); the Old Testament idea of promise and fulfillment (as with John the Baptist being the desert prophet foretold by the old prophets). Luke also gives the reader a sense of the history of Jesus’ time, telling who was ruler of what land, which Roman ruler put Jesus to death, who called the census that sent Joseph and a very pregnant Mary packing to Bethlehem.

The Magnificat, quoted above, marks several elements that are distinctive in the Gospel of Luke. It speaks of joy, of God’s special mercy for the lowly and poor, and of the judgment reserved for the rich and powerful. Throughout the gospel, Luke makes it clear that salvation is offered to all, but especially the lowly and poor. Luke portrays Jesus’ outreach to the most outcast people. In Luke, Jesus’ parents are humble, his mother a pregnant unmarried girl; his first visitors dirty, lowly shepherds (2:8-18).

Luke has also been called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit, for in this gospel alone the Spirit appears throughout.

The Gospel of Luke is thought to have been written by a Greek-speaking follower or admirer of St. Paul around 80-85 AD. The gospel and its “sequel,” the Acts of the Apostles, were likely written as one account for the financially comfortable Gentile Christian community in Antioch, in present-day Syria. The two books have heavily influenced Christian perception of the life of Jesus and the early Christian church since together they make up nearly a quarter of the New Testament. As with Matthew, much of Luke borrows from the Gospel of Mark.