Luke 3:1-20 John the Baptist was the prophet “crying in the wilderness,” foretold in Isaiah, who urged the people to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Is 40:3-5). He called everyone to repentance before the imminent appearance of the Savior since rejection of sin is the indispensable condition to have a relationship with Christ. (CCC 535)
Ch 3:6 All flesh: Christ would bring redemption to all people, not just the people of Israel.
Ch 3:8 Bear fruits...children to Abraham: It is not enough simply to live and keep the law as a member of the Chosen People of Israel; one must undergo an interior conversion that bears the fruit of holiness in order to find salvation. Abraham’s true descendants are not those who share his bloodline but those who lead a life of faith as he did. An essential element of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is the act of penance, i.e., prayers, acts of charity, sacrifices, or offerings that in some way compensate for the offense. The penance serves to unite us more closely to the suffering of Christ, who redeemed us from our sins in his one Sacrifice on the Cross. (CCC 1460)
Ch 3:11 Almsgiving, whether of money, of necessary goods, or in the form of improving social conditions, is always an act of justice and a manifestation of fraternal charity that pleases God. (CCC 1942, 2447)
Ch 3:15-16 John clarified that he was not the Messiah, who would have the divine capacity to forgive sin. He also noted that his own baptism was symbolic and, therefore, prefigured the Baptism instituted by Christ, which would involve the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit. (CCC 696)
Ch 3:17 Winnowing fork: A farm instrument used to toss grain into the air, which allowed the wind to scatter the chaff, the inedible waste. The grain could then be swept up and gathered. The practice provides an image for how God will separate the faithful from the unrepentant at the end of the world. (CCC 681)
Ch 3:19 John’s criticism of Herod was that he committed adultery by marrying Herodias, who was the divorced wife of his brother Philip (cf. Mk 6:17-20). Adultery is a grave sin against the Sixth Commandment and an act of injustice against marriage and the partners involved. (CCC 2380-2381)
Ch 3:21-22 Christ’s baptism confirmed his divinity and explicitly revealed the three Persons of the Trinity for the first time. It also inaugurated the reconciliation of God with humanity since his baptism demonstrated that he identified himself with sinful humanity though he was sinless. Christ, though sinless, would take upon himself the sins of the world for our salvation. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ is significant because he is accompanied by the Spirit whenever the Father sends him; the mission of the Son and the Spirit are always conjoined. In this passage we see another detail that Luke often points out: Christ frequently prayed in preparation for the important decisions and events of his mission. (CCC 535-536, 608, 743, 2600)
Ch 3:23-38 Luke’s genealogy of Christ, like Matthew’s shows him to be descended from David and Abraham. However, unlike Matthew’s genealogy that begins with Abraham, Luke traces his lineage back to Adam and ultimately to God. Genealogies are a prominent feature in the Old Testament historical books, illustrating how God unfolds his plan over the course of many generations. (CCC 437)
Ch 3:23 Thirty years of age: For the Jews, thirty was considered the age of maturity, and one generally did not become a rabbi or teacher until having attained that age. Thirty was also the age at which David is said to have become king (cf. 2 Sm 5:4). (CCC 535)
Ch 3:38 Son of God: Luke, in calling Adam a “son of God,” was implying that Christ is the New Adam who reversed the fall and redeemed humanity from sin. (CCC 441, 454)
Ch 4:1-13 The forty days Christ spent in the wilderness enduring the temptation by Satan reminds us of the forty years that Moses and the Israelites wandered in the desert. In both instances, the number forty is symbolic of a period of preparation, with Israel preparing to enter the Promised Land and Christ preparing for his public ministry. The temptations of Christ also parallel the experience of the Israelites. Whereas Israel gave in to temptation in the desert, worshiping the golden calf, Christ devoted himself completely to the fulfillment of his Father’s will, expressed in prayer and fasting, and thereby overcame the temptation of Satan in the wilderness. (CCC 538-540)
Ch 4:5-6 Satan claimed “all the kingdoms of the world” and “all this authority and their glory” for himself, but Christ resisted Satan and would reclaim the world for his Father. In the liturgy, the doxology that follows the Lord’s Prayer recognizes this restoration: “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever.” (CCC 2855)
Ch 4:8 As the First Commandment teaches, adoration, the first act of the virtue of religion, is to be given to God and God alone. (CCC 2084, 2096)
Ch 4:9 Throw yourself down from here: The temptation was to test God’s power and providence, i.e., asking God to prove his love and care by putting himself at risk. Rather than tempt God, the faithful should use all the means at their disposal to lead a moral life and to accomplish praiseworthy goals. (CCC 2119)
Ch 4:13 Until an opportune time: The Devil would find it in the Garden of Gethsemane, taking advantage of Christ’s natural fear of suffering to tempt him to avoid the divine plan to die on the Cross. (CCC 538)
Ch 4:16 Synagogue: A place of Jewish worship and religious instruction.
Ch 4:18-19 These words from Isaiah (cf. Is 61:1) were widely interpreted by first-century Jews to indicate that the Messiah would be a powerful leader who would liberate Israel from the Romans. Christ instead would offer his people liberation from sin and death. The words, “To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation, to prisoners, freedom, and to the sorrowful of heart, joy,” are repeated in the Eucharistic Prayer IV at Mass.
He has anointed me: The word christ, like the Hebrew messiah, means “anointed one.”
Jesus is God’s anointed one in that his humanity received the full anointing of the Holy Spirit; he was the Christ from his very conception, i.e., by reason of the hypostatic union, he received the fullness of grace. (CCC 695, 714, 2443, 453)
Ch 4:24 No prophet is acceptable in his own country: Many of the Old Testament prophets were spurned and even persecuted by their own people. (CCC 558)
Ch 4:25-30 In the days of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, the Israelites were so unfaithful that God gave his blessing instead to the Gentile peoples: Elijah took care of a Gentile widow in Sidon (cf. 1 Kgs 17:9), and Elisha healed a leper from Syria (cf 2 Kgs 5:10-14). Christ’s references are a criticism of those who lack faith and arrogantly demand external signs. (CCC 548, 1151)
Ch 4:31-37 Christ preached with compelling authority, even over unclean spirits. (CCC 1441, 2034)
Ch 4:38-44 Christ continued his mission of preaching and healing.
They besought him for her: Others sought out Christ to request that he heal Simon’s mother-in-law, a detail that speaks of the value of intercessory prayer.
You are the Son of God: Even if many of the people were not yet convinced, the demons themselves recognized the divinity of Christ. (CCC 581)
Ch 4:43 Kingdom of God: It was Christ’s mission to establish the kingdom on earth. “The mystery of the holy Church is manifest in her very foundation. The Lord Jesus set it on its course by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the Kingdom of God, which, for centuries, had been promised in the Scriptures...The Miracles of Jesus also confirm that the kingdom has already arrived on earth. While she slowly grows, the Church strains toward the completed kingdom and, with all her strength, hopes and desires to be united in glory with her King” (LG 5). (CCC 2046)
Ch 5:1-11 They left everything and followed him: Christ’s call of his first disciples shows the essence of vocation. True discipleship involves a radical detachment from the things of this world in order to give our heart totally to Christ and his work of evangelization. Here the special relationship with Peter is evident, and it is these first three-Peter, James, and John-who will form a kind of inner circle among the Apostles. (CCC 208, 1533)
Ch 5:8 I am a sinful man: Aware of the holiness of Christ, Peter became even more aware of his own faults and failures and exclaimed a prayer of unworthiness likened to the words of Isaiah (cf. Is 6:5). It is this profound contrition and humility that is vital for effective discipleship. (CCC 208)
Ch 5:10 You will be catching men: When Christ eventually sent forth his disciples to preach the Gospel, they would be winning souls for Christ. (CCC 848)
Ch 5:12-26 Leprosy was an infectious skin disease that rendered its victims ritually impure and social outcasts. According to Jewish Law, no one could ever touch a leper. Therefore, Christ’s act of touching and healing the leper was something extraordinary. In curing the leper and the paralyzed man, Christ continued to show his healing power and drew great crowds desirous of healing and consolation. In the latter case, he demonstrated another divine power-that of forgiving sins. (CCC 1503)
Ch 5:16 He withdrew: Christ frequently withdrew from the crowds of periods of private prayer. His prayer serves as a perfect example for all Christians. (CCC 2602)
Ch 5:17 Pharisees: Members of a Jewish sect that called for a strict observance of the Law. Christ often criticized the Pharisees for neglecting the spirit and intent of the Law, which is love of God and neighbor.
Ch 5:24 Christ shows compassion for the suffering-a compassion that is continued today in the various works of mercy recommended by the Church and practiced by committed Christians. However, Christ’s concern was for the entire person, both body and soul, and, therefore, his healing was accompanied by the forgiveness of sins. (CCC 1503)
Ch 5:27-32 The call of Levi, who was considered a great sinner because he was a tax collector, emphasized that Christ came not only for the just but also for the sinners. Especially for the Pharisees, who shunned sinners, Christ’s concern for sinners caused great consternation. (CCC 588)
Ch 5:33-39 Christ was not criticizing the practice of fasting. In fact, he himself fasted (cf. Lk 4:2). Rather, he was pointing out that his presence was a cause for great joy and the time for fasting would come later, in his absence. Fasting is a means for growth in sanctity through a self-imposed participation in Christ’s Cross. (CCC 1430, 1438, 1969)
Ch 5:36-39 These analogies indicate that the New Covenant will replace the Old Covenant. (CCC 581, 592)
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
Act 2: Jesus’ Public Ministry
A New Wilderness
The accounts of Jesus’ public ministry begin with a voice in the wilderness.
John the Baptist’s preaching of repentance brings God’s people out into the desert, where John baptizes them in the waters of the Jordan.
The echoes of the Old Testament are unmistakable.
God brought his people out of slavery into the desert through the waters of the Red Sea, and into the Promised Land through the waters of the Jordan.
John’s words and actions recall the Exodus and stir the prophetic hopes of the coming messiah, for Luke says, “The people were in expectation, and all men questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he were the Christ” (Lk 3:15).
Jesus, whose name recalls that of Joshua, is baptized by John, crossing the Jordan and entering the Promised Land like Joshua of old.
At his baptism, the Holy Spirit comes out of the heavens and descends upon Jesus in a bodily form like a dove, recalling Noah’s salvation through water and the dove’s return with a sign of the new creation after the flood.
Then a voice from heaven proclaims, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased” (Lk 3:22).
Jesus was not baptized because he needed to repent of sin; rather, as St. Peter says, Jesus’ baptism was his anointing (Acts 4:27; “anointed one” is the English translation of the Hebrew, messiah, and the Greek, christos).
When David was anointed king, he was filled with the Holy Spirit (1 Sam 16:13).
The descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus and the voice of God affirming that Jesus is his beloved Son recalls God’s words to David in 2 Samuel 7:14: “I will be his father, and he will be my son.”
Jesus’ baptism anoints him King over Israel; he is the new David who will reign forever.
After his baptism, Jesus sets off for a forty-day retreat in the Judean wilderness.
Led by the Spirit, Jesus fasts and prays, and at the end he is tested by the devil.
The number forty evokes Israel’s forty-year sojourn in the wilderness, where they also were led by the Spirit.
Jesus’ fasting is reminiscent of Moses’ forty-day fast on Mount Sinai.
But above all, the three tests Satan uses to tempt Jesus echo the testing of Israel in the wilderness.
In response to each of the devil’s temptations, the gospel of Matthew details Jesus quoting Deuteronomy, in which Moses recounts Israel’s failure in the wilderness and its spiritual lessons (Mt 4:4, 4:7, 4:10, and Dt 8:3, 6:16, and 6:13, respectively).
This points to the larger picture Matthew is painting: how Israel’s story and Jesus’ story share a profound parallel.
Matthew suggests that Jesus is not only a new Moses; he is the new Israel.
Precisely where God’s firstborn son Israel (Ex 4:22) stumbled in the wilderness, Jesus is faithful; the vocation and storyline of Israel finds its long-awaited fulfillment, in the person of Jesus, God’s faithful firstborn Son.
The prophet Isaiah foretold that when the good news of Israel’s restoration was announced, it would begin in the wilderness (Is 40:2-3).
The voice crying out in the wilderness is the herald of “good tidings” (in Greek, euangelion, which means “good news”; Is 40:9; 52:7).
What is the content of this “good news”?
Isaiah proclaims it is the return of the Lord God to Zion and his people (Is 52:7-8), which in turn means the restoration of God’s kingdom (Is 52:7) brought about by means of a new Exodus in which God delivers his people from bondage through the defeat of their enemies (Is 52:10-12).
The restoration announced with John the Baptist’s crying in the wilderness pushes forward with Jesus, the new Israel, proven faithful in the wilderness and now preaching the good news to God’s people.
(*Walking With God: A Journey Through The Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins)