By Fathers Glen Lewandowski, OSC, and Jerry Schik, OSC
Special to Catholic News Service
“Who can be saved?” This question was raised by the disciples in Chapter 10 of Mark’s Gospel. Each of the evangelists provides an answer based on his understanding of who God is. Let’s look at the answer that we find in the Gospel of Luke.
St. Luke says that God is a most generous gift-giver and his goal is to give the gift of salvation to everyone. Luke begins to paint this picture of God in Chapter 3, Verse 6: “All people shall see the salvation of God.” This verse is a direct quote of Isaiah 40:5 and Luke uses it to introduce the ministry of John the Baptist. And the very next verse says that the crowds came out to be baptized by him. John told them that they had to repent if they wanted to receive the gift of salvation. And they did. And that crowd included tax collectors and soldiers. Much to the chagrin of the Pharisees the gift of salvation was offered to “all” and John showed them how to repent (for example, if you have two coats you must share with the person who has none).
In Luke’s Gospel, the public ministry of Jesus is also introduced by a quote from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor” (Lk 4:18 and Is 61:1). In the first century A.D. the term “poor” was more than a financial term. It also referred to those who were ritually unclean — like sinners and tax collectors. Zachhaeus was a sinner and a tax collector and very rich. But he was poor in the moral and spiritual sense. He was saved because he repented and made restitution for his sins. He received the gift of salvation which Jesus extended to him on behalf of his most generous heavenly Father.
Those who were financially poor were doubly poor because they were also “poor” in the realm of ritual cleanliness. They were “poor” according to the Pharisees because they could not afford to purchase the ritual offerings for the temple sacrifices. In the mind of Christ, the Pharisees themselves were poor. They were ritually clean but “spiritually poor” because they “neglected justice and the love of the Lord” (Lk 11:42). Nevertheless, Jesus went to their homes for dinner and extended God’s gift of salvation to them. Then they had to decide if they would repent and accept the gift.
It’s time to return to our opening question: “Who can be saved?” Luke says that every person will be saved if they seek God with a sincere heart and accept God’s gift of salvation.
Synod note: The Gospel of Luke uses the word salvation more freely and more generously than the other Gospels. When Jesus starts off his inaugural preaching in his home synagogue, he assures his hearers — in gracious words — that he brings good news, the decisive year of God’s favor. His words and his person are anointed to do just that: spell out favor, freedom, release, decisive recovery.
Jesus, a capable Bible reader and bold interpreter of God’s Word, retrieved from the Prophet Isaiah the word ‘good news’ (Is 40:9, 41:27, 52:7, 61:1). While many other prophets might have been prophets of “woe,” “judgment” and “condemnation,” Jesus’ message was other: glad tidings, good news, eternally good news.
Cardinal J. Francis Stafford gave eloquent witness in the synod: “Forgiveness of sin has always been another word for Gospel.”