The Gospel of Luke: Good News for the Poor
Ancient Faith Radio · January 28, 2011
Bobby Maddex interviews Fr. Lawrence Farley, pastor of Saint Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church in British Columbia, the host of the AFR podcast Coffee Cup Commentaries, and the author of The Gospel of Luke: Good News for the Poor, published by Conciliar Press.
Bobby Maddex: Today I will be talking with Fr. Lawrence Farley, pastor of St. Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church in British Columbia, the host of the AFR podcast Coffee Cup Commentaries, and the author of numerous books on Holy Scripture. The latest of these books, The Gospel of Luke: Good News for the Poor, is coming soon from Conciliar Press, which is why I have asked Fr. Lawrence to join me today. Welcome, Father.
Fr. Lawrence Farley: Thank you very much. It is very good to be here.
Bobby Maddex: The Gospel of Luke: Good News for the Poor is part of the Conciliar Press Orthodox Bible Study Companion Series. I am wondering what you can tell us about that series, and how it came about.
Fr. Lawrence: It came about, oddly enough, because I got tired of doing Bible studies, which is an odd thing to say to someone who does a podcast every week. I did a Bible study on the Book of Revelation in my parish, and then a couple of months later someone asked me, “Father, can you do a Bible study on the Book of Revelation?” So I did it again. And then, a few months later, someone asked, “Father?” You guessed it: “Can you do a Bible study on the Book of Revelation?”
I thought, what would be good? Maybe I could type out what I would say in the Bible study for the Book of Revelation, and pass that along, which became the first draft, as it were, of what will be my commentary on the Book of Revelation when it’s finally published.
That was very popular, and then someone in the parish said, “This is great, could you do the rest of the New Testament?” And instead of saying, “Absolutely not, do you think I am crazy?” I said, “Absolutely! I would love to do the New Testament.” So I started to do the commentaries and passed them around, and there was a number of requests for them outside the parish, and, to be honest, I got tired of xeroxing them and sending them away. And I talked to my good friends at Conciliar Press, and said, “Do you want to publish them? Maybe this should be published by somebody who is not me.” And they said ‘yes.’
The commentary series has its genesis in [my] trying to meet the pastoral needs of my flock and provide them with commentaries on the New Testament, which they couldn’t easily get hold of in stores.
Bobby Maddex: Working very closely with Conciliar Press, I know that your books are quite popular and sell very well. What are some of the other books in the series? What other Gospels, or other books of the New Testament, have you covered so far?
Fr. Lawrence: We are plowing through at a fairly good pace, because we have been at it for a while now. We have the Gospel of Matthew, of Mark, of John; Romans and I and II Corinthians, all in one volume; the so-called “early epistles,” which is to say, I and II Thessalonians, and I count Galatians with an early date; the prison epistles, ones that St. Paul wrote from his Roman imprisonment, which is to say: Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon; the pastoral epistles: I and II Timothy and Titus; and the so-called “universal” or “catholic” epistles, that is to say, James, Peter, Jude, and the three epistles of John. So we’re steaming along, and still a few more to go.
Bobby Maddex: Of course there is no shortage of books about various books in the Bible that go through the New Testament in order, or go through the Old Testament, and provide some sort of Bible study, so I’m wondering, how are your books different from other Bible study books?
Fr. Lawrence: If you walk into your normal Christian bookstore, whether it be Protestant or Roman Catholic, there’s lots of wonderful commentaries out there. They tend to be written from a Protestant or a Roman Catholic view, and/or they are very academic, which is to say they are not from an Orthodox point of view, and they are not necessarily consistent with, and sometimes quite alien to, the approach and the phronema, the mindset, of the Fathers.
I wanted to produce a set of commentaries which was written from the Orthodox perspective, that the Fathers could look at and say, “Yeah, we can live with this,” and not say, “What is this?!” That is what I thought would be the reaction of the Fathers to some of the more liberal books that are out there.
I also wanted something to put into the hands of my flock, so that if they wanted to find out what St. Paul said and they would read Galatians and then say, “I don’t get it”—I wanted them to get it. But they don’t care about source criticism. They don’t want to see a whole lot of Greek text which they can’t necessarily read. They don’t need a 35-page bibliography.
I wanted to give them something that is short enough and popular enough that they could understand it and that would appeal to their heart. At the end of the day: “Why should I care? On reading Galatians, how does this affect how I live when I close the book and get up and try to live as a disciple of Jesus?” I tried to write the books in a way that would be consistent with the approach of the Fathers, but that was short and popular enough that a non-specialist could be able to read it and carry something away from it.
Bobby Maddex: Is there any method to the order in which you pick the books? You are doing the Gospel of Luke next. Why is that next, and how does it fit in with the overall series?
Fr. Lawrence: I’m not sure that it does. All of these wonderful decisions are made by the good people at Conciliar Press. I am more or less was whanging away at them and doing them with no particular order, and the people at Conciliar Press, I guess, go into their inner sanctum, far from the eyes of us mortals without, and make these decisions. (laughter) My guess is that they are made on the basis of something like, “Well, we published a Gospel last time, let’s do an epistle this time.” Or, “Well, we did a really thick one last time, let’s do a rather thinner volume this time.” That’s my guess.
Bobby Maddex: The subtitle of this particular book, the one on the Gospel of Luke, is Good News for the Poor. Why is that the subtitle of this particular book?
Fr. Lawrence: I was trying to find a title which encapsulated and described a particular approach in the over-arching concerns of St. Luke in writing the Gospel. All of the Gospels, of course, have a particular approach. In Matthew’s Gospel, obviously, it is Jesus as the divine Messiah, Jesus as the hope of Israel, Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures.
Luke’s concern, I thought—to kind of sum of all of the things that were particularly characteristic to Luke’s Gospel—was his concern for the poor. At the very beginning of our Lord’s ministry—and this is recorded in Luke’s Gospel and not in the others—and we know the passage well, of course, when he goes into the synagogue in Nazareth and opens the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah. He finds the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.” There is the title. “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
And you get this concern— I think Luke is quoting this, not just because our Lord said it—that, too—but because it sums up the basic approach that Luke wants to take. Luke, as the physician, is concerned for healing the sick; he is concerned for the downtrodden, for the oppressed, for the marginalized. As a physician, he knows that, to quote, I think it was St. Gregory Nazianzus, St. Gregory the Theologian: “Men are fish swimming in a sea of misery,” he says.
This is the condition of the poor. The Gospel comes to the poor as a way of giving hope, as a way of lifting their spirits, as a way of giving supernatural, unforeseen joy unto the world that the world has never seen before. Luke concentrates on the poor, the oppressed, sinners, the fish swimming, indeed, in the sea of misery. He says, “Your misery is over. We can proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” This is the people who receive the Gospel: the poor, the oppressed, and the forgotten. They are not forgotten by God. Jesus has come.
I thought that if you wanted to sum up the human condition, I thought Luke was quoting our Lord and saying, “The human condition is summed up by saying, ‘We are the poor, we are the needy, and God has come to our rescue.’ ”
Bobby Maddex: I noticed on the Conciliar website it says that, “The Gospel of St. Luke has been described as ‘the loveliest book in the world.’ ” I am wondering if the reason for that has to do with what you are talking about right now. If you think people describe it this way because of the way that it reaches out to the poor, both monetarily [poor] and the poor in spirit.
Fr. Lawrence: I think it does, and especially because, in talking about God reaching out to the poor, you can find certain stories in Luke’s Gospel that are very precious to us that are only found in Luke’s Gospel. For example, the parable of the lost sheep is only in Luke’s Gospel. The parable of the prodigal son is only in Luke’s Gospel. Our Lord’s words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” [are] only in Luke’s Gospel. A number of these things are lovely and precious and lift the human spirit.
Do not get me wrong, all the Gospels are wonderful, but in terms of a lovely word to the poor, a lot of them seem to be found only in Luke’s Gospel, which is why I suspect that is the source of the aphorism that it is “the loveliest book in the world.” That is, I suspect, the source of [our] finding it particularly lovely.
Bobby Maddex: What do we know, Father, about Luke, as the author of this wonderful Gospel?
Fr. Lawrence: We know that he was a Gentile. In Colossians, St. Paul is talking about a number of his brethren of the circumcision, and he says, “These are with me.” Luke is not mentioned. Luke is mentioned to him, but Luke was not of the circumcision, so Luke was a Gentile. Ancient tradition, quoted by Eusebius, that first writer of the Church history, says that he was born in Antioch. We know that he accompanied St. Paul, because when you look at the Acts of the Apostles, a lot of the passages are the so-called “we” passages. Paul was doing this, and Paul was doing that, and then we were doing this, so Paul was joined by St. Luke for a lot of his apostolic voyages.
According to tradition, he spent a lot of time in the land of Egypt. We don’t know quite how he met his end. If you look at the synaxarion, with all of the lives of the saints, it records a number of various traditions. Some say that he died a martyr; this was Gregory the Theologian. Nikephoros Kallistos [Xanthopoulos], being in the 14th century, says that he died as a martyr on the cross. Elias of Crete and Nikephoros Gregoras say that he died in peace. So there seems to be no consensus as to how he actually met his end.
But the main thing is that, whether he died in peace or whether he died a martyr in some way, he gave us this Gospel; he had apostolic journeys. He didn’t just talk the talk, he walked the walk, if you want to say it like that. He lived out the Gospel that he wrote about, and, as physician, strove to bring healing to the souls as well as the bodies of men, preaching to them the Gospel, not just because he was a friend of St. Paul, but because he was the disciple of Jesus.
Bobby Maddex: A book by a Gentile, for the Gentiles.
Fr. Lawrence: Yes, that’s right, and that is why one of the themes of Luke’s Gospel is this great universalism, that the Gospel is not just for the Jews. Matthew knows that, too, and all Christians know that, especially the Gentile ones, but Luke makes a point of saying that Jesus is the savior of all men.
Bobby Maddex: What do you hope, Father, that readers take away from your particular book? What do you hope they learn from Luke through you?
Fr. Lawrence: I hope that they will learn to love the Gospel of Luke more than they do. I hope that the more they read, the more they love it; the more they read, the more they want to read, because it’s ultimately not about my book; it’s about the Gospel. It’s not about Fr. Lawrence; it’s about them drawing closer to Jesus.
I hope that they will have renewed appreciation for the Gospel of Luke, and after they read, mark, and inwardly digest my volume, that they will close the book and still continue to read the Gospel of Luke, feed on the Gospel of Luke, open their hearts to what the Lord would say [through] the Gospel.
The Fathers are real clear that the Gospels are not just human literature. It is human literature, but it is also divine literature, in the sense that, as Holy Scripture, it is Spirit-breathed, and as St. John Chrysostom said, “All of the Scripture is an abyss which can never be plumbed.” It’s a gold mine that will never give out. There is always more truth, more wonderful things to be gathered from the Scriptures. So you can read the Gospel of Luke—you can read any of the Scriptures—your whole life, and never come to the end of what God can teach you through it.
Bobby Maddex: What is next for the Orthodox Bible Study Companion Series? Do you know what book you are going to do next yet?
Fr. Lawrence: If memory serves, they would like to produce the Letter to the Hebrews next. I think that, having finished a fairly length Gospel of Luke, the Letter to the Hebrews is a little shorter, and it’s an epistle, having already done a Gospel.
Bobby Maddex: How can someone get a copy of the Gospel of Luke? Is it available for advanced sales over there at Conciliar?
Fr. Lawrence: I believe if you log on to the Conciliar [Press website]—I think it would be www.conciliarpress.com—I believe it’s available for advance order now.
Bobby Maddex: Excellent. Thank you so much for joining me today, Fr. Lawrence.
Fr. Lawrence: It’s my very great pleasure. Thank you.
Bobby Maddex: Again, I have been talking with Fr. Lawrence Farley, the author of the Gospel of Luke: Good News for the Poor, published by Conciliar Press.