Jesus calls his twelve disciples and commissions them to "proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick." The gospel of Luke follows the account of the gospel of Matthew rather than the gospel of Mark, for the disciples are told not to take even a stick (staff) with them. Before we read of their return, we hear that Herod has heard about Jesus and "is anxious to see him." There is no comment like this in the other gospels. Moreover, the gospel of Luke omits the story of the death of John the Baptist, although it acknowledges that Herod beheaded him. This, plus the reference to the wife of a servant of Herod who is following and caring for Jesus, suggests a somewhat different attitude toward Herod than we find in the gospels of Mark and Matthew.
The gospel of Luke follows the gospel of Mark in reporting the miracle of feeding five thousand men, the conversation between Jesus and his disciples about his identity, and the transfiguration of Jesus in the presence of Moses and Elijah. But the author makes changes in the narrative of the gospel of Mark. The gospel of Luke only relates the feeding of the five thousand men (Lu. 9:10-17, Mk. 6:30-44, Mt. 14:13-21) and omits the feeding of the four thousand men (Mk. 8:1-10, Mt. 15:32-39). Moreover, in the conversation with his disciples Peter does not question what Jesus says about the Son of Man having to die, and thus Jesus has no need to rebuke him. (Lu. 9:18-22, Mk. 8:27-33)
The author also does not report the statements by Jesus in the gospel of Matthew about how Peter will receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven. (Mt. 16:13-23) Therefore, if we consider how this story portrays the identity of Jesus and the understanding of his disciples, we see three different perspectives. All three gospels report that Peter identifies Jesus as the Messiah (Christ), but the view of Peter is different in each of the three accounts. The gospel of Mark harshly judges Peter for challenging Jesus. The gospel of Matthew relates the story of Peter's challenge to Jesus and the rebuke that follows, but nonetheless singles Peter out for authority and leadership. The gospel of Luke omits the reason for judging Peter, which is contained in the gospels of Mark and Matthew, but does not praise him as does the gospel of Matthew.
Clearly, Peter was very important to the Jewish Christian community of the author of the gospel of Matthew. Just the opposite is true, however, for the author of the gospel of Mark. He does not direct his community to look to Peter for apostolic leadership, nor to any of the other disciples for that matter, implying that Paul is the apostle authorized by the risen Lord to lead the church. The gospel of Luke, on the other hand, neither judges nor praises Peter, but takes a position between the other two gospels. The relationship between Peter and Paul is worked out in more detail in the Acts of the Apostles, which was written by the author of the gospel of Luke.
The gospel of Luke continues to follow the account in the gospel of Mark by relating the healing of an epileptic boy that the disciples of Jesus could not heal. Again, Jesus explains that the Son of Man has "to be given up into the power of men," but the disciples do not understand and are afraid to ask, as they were in the gospel of Mark. (In the gospel of Matthew the disciples seem to understand, because they are "filled with grief.") Jesus then settles an argument among his disciples about who among them is the greatest by explaining that they will be receiving him, if they receive a child in his name. (In the gospel of Matthew the disciples do not themselves argue about this but merely raise the question to Jesus, and thus they are not tainted by it. Again, the author of the gospel of Matthew seems to be protecting the reputation of the disciples.)
Then the gospel of Luke tells us that the disciples come to Jesus with a problem. It seems that someone has been using the name of Jesus to cast out demons without permission. The disciples told him to stop, but Jesus tells them to leave him alone and says, "he who is not against you is on your side." The gospel of Mark contains exactly the same statement following this story. (Mk. 9:40) The gospel of Matthew, however, does not tell the story.
Now the gospel of Luke reports that "as the time approached when he was to be taken up to heaven," Jesus set out for Jerusalem. He sends messengers to a Samaritan village to make arrangements for him, but they refuse to receive him because he is on his way to Jerusalem. We may recall that the Jesus of the gospel of Matthew said to his disciples, "do not enter any Samaritan town." (Mt. 10:5) Jews were not to associate with Samaritans, because Samaritans worshipped the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob on Mount Gerasim in Samaria rather than at the temple in Jerusalem. Samaritans, quite understandably, resented the Jews for discriminating against the Samaritan form of worship. James and John ask Jesus to call down fire from heaven upon the town, perhaps thinking that it is high time for the fire that Jesus had said he will bring to the earth. Jesus, however, rebukes them.
How are we to understand the apparent contradiction between the teaching of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew and this story in the gospel of Luke? The answer is straightforward, if we consider the gospels as accounts written for different audiences. The gospel of Matthew was written for Jewish Christians who are battling with Jews that have rejected them. The gospel of Matthew affirms Jewish law and, therefore, would not want to present Jesus or his disciples as being polluted by visiting a Samaritan town. On the other hand, the gospel of Luke is written for Gentile and Jewish Christians who, following the teaching of Paul, do not observe the dictates of the Jewish law. The author of the gospel of Luke knows that Samaritans have become Christians and wants to emphasize the ministry of Paul to the Gentiles. Therefore, the gospel of Luke presents Jesus as intending to visit Samaria, and it will soon tell a story about a good Samaritan. In Acts, written by the author of the gospel of Luke, Samaritans are converted and become members of the church.
The gospel of Luke relates two teachings found in the gospel of Matthew concerning the choices facing a disciple. A man (scribe in the gospel of Matthew) who asks to follow Jesus is told that "the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Another man (disciple in the gospel of Matthew), who asks to bury his dead father, is told, "Leave the dead to bury their dead." Then the author of the gospel of Luke adds a third teaching. When a man asks to say goodbye to his family, Jesus answers: "No one who sets his hand to the plough and then looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." All of these teachings are harsh and imply that the Christian life means leaving family and security behind.
Chapter 10 of the gospel of Luke begins with the appointment of seventy (some translations say seventy-two) disciples. (This number seems to be related to the number of rabbis that were said to have translated the Jewish scriptures into Greek. Although the Greek translation was called the Septuagint, which refers to seventy, some of the accounts attribute the translation to seventy-two rabbis.) Jesus now tells these followers of his: "Carry no purse or pack, and travel barefoot." We quickly see that the instructions Jesus gives them follow those that Jesus gave his twelve disciples in the gospel of Matthew (10:9-40) but differ somewhat from the instructions attributed to Jesus in the gospel of Mark (6:7-13).
The author of the gospel of Luke omits much that is in this passage from the gospel of Matthew but also adds teachings from later in the gospel (Mt. 11:21-24) that imply a ministry to the Gentiles. The judgment of Jewish cities is contrasted with the repentance that would have followed similar miracles in Gentile cities such as Tyre and Sidon. When the seventy (or seventy-two) return and report their success, Jesus in the gospel of Luke exclaims, "I saw Satan fall, like lightning, from heaven." He says snakes, scorpions "and all the forces of the enemy" will submit to them and, even more importantly, their names will be "enrolled in heaven." This material is not found elsewhere in the gospels of the New Testament.
Then Jesus prays, full of the Holy Spirit, in words that appear in the gospel of Matthew (11:25-27), and he tells his disciples that they are blessed to be able to see what the prophets foretold. This teaching also is recorded in the gospel of Matthew (13:16-17). None of these teachings are, however, in the gospel of Mark.
We see once again that the gospels of Matthew and Luke share material that either was not available to the author of the gospel of Mark or was not used by him. In addition, the author of the gospel of Luke is using materials in his account in a different order than these same materials appear in the gospel of Matthew. These comparisons show that the authors of these gospels composed their accounts. They were not merely recording events and teachings, as if they were simply writing a factual account, but each is telling a story in order to communicate the gospel message to his intended readers.
The gospel of Luke then relates the teaching of the great commandments, which we have already seen in the gospels of Mark and Matthew. In this account Jesus is not asked what is the greatest commandment but what must be done to "inherit eternal life?" The change in the question makes it less Jewish in focus. But Jesus responds by asking the lawyer what is written in the (Jewish) law. The lawyer answers by reciting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, which command that we love God and our neighbor. (In the gospels of Mark and Matthew, Jesus recites these passages to sum up the law.) Jesus confirms the lawyer's answer and says, "do that and you will have life."
The story thus far clarifies that loving God and one's neighbor is the way to eternal life. We should recall that Paul earlier summed up Jewish law as loving your neighbor. (Gal. 5:14, Rom. 13:9-10). Jesus in the gospel of Mark says these are the greatest commandments, (Mk. 12:31) and Jesus in the gospel of Matthew says, "Everything in the law and the prophets hangs on these two commandments." (Mt. 22:40) However, the emphasis in the gospel of Matthew is slightly different than in the gospel of Mark.
In the gospel of Luke, the teaching is even further removed from Jewish law by the formulation of the question and answer and the story that follows. When the lawyer asks Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" the gospel of Luke relates the parable of the good Samaritan, which is not recorded in any other gospel of the New Testament. Jesus tells of a man traveling between Jerusalem and Jericho who is robbed and beaten. Because a Jew is telling a story to other Jews, and this man is not identified as not a Jew, we know he is a Jew. A (Jewish) priest and then a Levite (Jewish teacher) passing by ignore the injured man, who is helped instead by a Samaritan. "Which of these three do you think was neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" Jesus asks the lawyer. After the lawyer answers, "The one who showed him kindness," Jesus replies, "Go and do as he did." This parable not only portrays Samaritans in a favorable light but also implicitly criticizes the Jews for not living up to the commandments of the Jewish law. It is additional evidence that the gospel of Luke was written for Gentiles.
We need to remember that Paul appears to have no knowledge of these parables. If they were circulating during the time of Paul's ministry, it seems odd that he ignored them, as they would have helped to shore up his arguments with the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. There is no way to know, of course, if Jesus actually told these parables. (Perhaps Jesus told a story about three men on the road to Jericho, one of whom stopped to help a traveler who had been robbed, and later the parable was remembered to involve three Jews and a Samaritan.) But whether he told the parables (in some form) or not, these parables represented to the Gentiles of the early churches the good news that with faith they, too, might be saved. In particular, the parables in the gospel of Luke verify the teaching of Paul that the love of God manifested in the life of Jesus was for all people — for Gentiles, as well as for Jews.
Then Jesus enters a village and visits a woman named Martha. The gospel of Luke relates a story about Martha and her sister Mary in which Jesus praises Mary for wanting to sit and listen to him while Martha cooks dinner. Our first impression may be that Jesus is being hard on Martha, but that is to misunderstand the story. The gospel of John will relate another story about Martha and Mary, and their brother Lazarus, but the gospels of Mark and Matthew do not have any information about this family. What purpose does this story serve in the gospel of Luke? It shows us that women cared for Jesus, but more importantly it praises a woman who wants to understand the teachings of Jesus. We saw in Paul's letters that women were leaders in the early churches. This story affirms that women are not merely able to cook and help care for Jesus and his disciples, but are also called to listen and learn (presumably so they can be leaders in the church and teach others).