By Sarah Cornwell
A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 1:1-4, 3:1-14
1 Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I, too, decided, as one having a grasp of everything from the start, to write a well-ordered account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may have a firm grasp of the words in which you have been instructed.
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”
7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Therefore, bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 And the crowds asked him, “What, then, should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none, and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
Besides the four canonical gospels, many other gospel accounts were written about Jesus’ life and ministry. It’s no secret, it’s right there in the beginning of St. Luke’s own gospel account. Many undertook the task of writing an orderly account before St. Luke wrote his own. It begs the question: if his account came after the fact — possibly decades after Jesus’ resurrection — why include Luke’s gospel and not one that was written much closer to the action?
This question seems particularly pressing in our current age, when whoever can report on or react first to an event gets to define it. We have all seen, however, how being too quick to write has led to a considerable amount of misinformation and confusion. In an age when reports and reactions are available within a second of something happening, we are becoming particularly cautious of what we take as “gospel truth.”
A proper account of events can take some time. As St. Luke writes, he had to investigate everything carefully. It takes time to gather information, vet it, and cross-reference it.
Additionally — and this is no small thing — inspiration from the Holy Spirit can take time. Like a hotshot veteran reporter, the Holy Spirit strolls on in with his copy whenever he darn well pleases. He will not be rushed.
It is true our day and age has led us to expect instant information, which might make us immediately skeptical of a gospel account that took its time in coming. Yet, when we pause to consider a moment, our day and age has also taught us to be wary of rushed reporting and instant reactions. We could afford to take a page out of St. Luke’s book, taking time to investigate carefully, and allowing the Holy Spirit to roll on in with the final copy.
Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have seven children and they live in Chicago.
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