Bringing Luke to Life

As part of its reviewer program, the Catholic Company sent me a copy of George Martin’s Bringing the Gospel of Luke to Life: Insight and Inspiration. It is a book I am glad to have.

Martin’s aim, as his book title suggests, is to “bring the Gospel of Luke to life for its readers.” Dividing each chapter of the Gospel into manageable segments, Martin provides a commentary to the passages that is much less academic and more accessible than are many scriptural commentaries.

Even more valuable in my view is that each segment has one or more questions for reflection that invite the reader to pause and give seriously consideration to what the passage means in one’s own life. The fact that the questions are interspersed throughout the commentary encourages stopping and reflecting as one is going through (rather than putting questions for reflection at the end of a long chapter, where they are far too easy to ignore).

Martin also includes throughout background paragraphs, useful for readers who might not be familiar with certain terms or historical facts. I appreciated that these were set off from the rest of the commentary, thus not bogging down those readers not in need of the background material.

There are several features of the commentary Martin provides that I particularly appreciated. First, it includes cross-references that are helpful in reflecting on the Gospel. As one example, in talking about Peter’s denial of Christ (Luke 22:54-620, Martin talks about “denied” having the sense of repudiation or disowning, and cross-references Luke 12:9, where Jesus says that “whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.” For me, this magnifies not only what Peter has done, but Jesus’ forgiveness of an act that Jesus has already characterized as a damning one.

Second, it includes Old Testament references that are helpful in elucidating the text. For example, in the parable of the mustard seed (Luke 13:19), Jesus says that the planted mustard seed grows into a large bush and that the “birds of the sky dwelt in its branches.” For me, the passage is enormously enriched by the knowledge that Jesus is here echoing “Old Testament prophesies that use a tree as an image for peoples finding security within the empire.” (And here, Martin quotes Ezechial and Daniel.)

Finally, I appreciated the commentaries because they in a number of instances (as does a good sermon) pointed out something about a particular passage that helped me to think about it in a new way. To give one example, in talking about the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-36), the commentary points out, not only that the amount the Samaritan gave the innkeeper represented two days wages and would pay for the injured man’s lodging for a week or more, but that the Samaritan’s promise that if the innkeeper spent more he would repay it was an open-ended commitment. That stopped me in my tracks – so often our own promises, if not conditioned, have some limits on them, yet, we are called to precisely the kind of open-ended commitment of the Samaritan.

I look back at what I have written and realize it is impossible to capture the richness of this book in a few paragraphs. So let me just end by saying that, in his preface, Martin expresses the hope that his book will prove useful as an aid to sacred reading. At least for this reader, I believe he has succeeded. And I’m confident that will be true for others as well.