Luke, The Great Reconciler (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-4)
The first century followers of Jesus were a diverse group – Palestinian and Hellenistic Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles; rich, middle class and poor; educated and uneducated; with allegiances to John the Baptist, the family of Jesus, and the Twelve. Different social and religious backgrounds inevitably led to different ideas and approaches to following Jesus and often resulted in controversies as can be seen from New Testament writings and other early Christian writings.
One of the primary aims of the author of Luke/Acts is to reconcile all these competing groups and to provide a unified story of Jesus and the first generation of disciples as a basis for discipleship in his day in the late 1st century and beyond.
In Acts 1, the author tells Theophilus that in the former treatise, that is the Gospel of Luke, he related all that Jesus did and taught. In summary statements that follow in Acts, the message of Acts becomes clear - what Jesus did and taught is the basis for disciples do and teach. To be a disciple, regardless of ethnicity or economic or social class or religious background, is to be one who follows all that Jesus did and taught.
For many Churches of Christ in the 20th and 21st centuries, the essence of Christianity is to follow the pattern of the first century church (primarily organizational structure, qualification for church offices, and worship practices), constructed from hints in Acts and the Epistles, and it is on this basis, it is believed, that unity among Christians must be sought. For Luke, the essence of discipleship is to follow “all that Jesus did and taught,” and it is on this basis that Luke seeks to reconcile all the diverse groups of first century followers.
The Essence of Discipleship – Eating, Praying, Loving
Eating. Eating with others is a recurring theme in Luke/Acts. Jesus “comes eating and drinking,” eats with sinners and tax collectors, with scribes and Pharisees (three times in the Gospel), with Mary and Martha, and with the Twelve. The risen Jesus breaks bread for the two disciples he joins on the road to Emmaus and eats broiled fish and a piece of honeycomb with the disciples. In Acts, the disciples break bread together from house to house, controversies arise over eating together, and while traveling by ship Paul breaks bread for the sailors and his fellow travelers. Eating is about physical nourishment and Jesus and the disciples provide for the physical needs of others. But eating is also about community and breaking down barriers to community; meals are a time when acceptance, forgiveness and love are shown; and, as in a Greek symposia or a Jewish meal with a prominent rabbi, meals are a time when teaching takes place.
Praying. One way to identify the specific aims of a gospel writer is to compare the same accounts in the other gospels and see what is different. In many cases, the difference between Luke’s and Mark/Matthew’s telling of an event is that Luke adds that Jesus is praying before or during the event. It is prayer and the closely connected gift of the Holy Spirit that drives the narrative forward in the Gospel of Luke and this pattern continues in Acts. Prayer is central to Jesus’ spiritual development (he grew “in favor with God” Luke 2:52) and to discipleship (“they continued in the prayers” Acts 2:42).
Loving. Love of God is the demonstrated in the Gospel of Luke through listening to and following Jesus and the Spirit. Love of others is demonstrated in the Gospel of Luke through welcoming, including, healing and forgiving, and through giving and giving up.