Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)

A substantial commentary on one of the synoptic gospels can easily fill its pages by concentrating on questions about the composition of the text and about the details of the historical events themselves, with constant reference to the other gospel accounts.

Strikingly, and refreshingly, Joel Green in his lengthy (928-page) commentary on Luke's Gospel shows no concern whatsoever with these questions. Rather, his overriding aim is to hear what Luke is trying to communicate, within the context of the Old Testament scriptures, and within his own historical and social context.

I've been reading this commentary very slowly for almost a year, mainly for personal reading, but also for a couple of sermons and a few Bible studies. Sometimes it's felt like a lot of reading, but I've never found myself wading through irrelevant material. Instead, I've been repeatedly struck with how rich Luke's Gospel is in its portrayal of Jesus.

So what, for Green, is the message of Luke's Gospel? Throughout the commentary, our attention is drawn back to Jesus' inaugural speech, in which he stated his own mission, "To bring good news to the poor ... to proclaim release to the captives" (4:18). "Poor" is to be understood not simply in material terms, but as those who are socially poor, marginalised, oppressed, rejected, and weighed down by sickness or the guilt of sin, and "release" is to be understood not just as setting free from whatever might hold someone captive, but in terms of full inclusion in the community of God's people, often demonstrated by a communal meal.

This sets the tone for the rest of the gospel, in which Jesus' mission is seen to be diametrically opposed to the way his society was ordered. Those at the forefront of the culture were concerned simply with their own status, and had no room for someone who preached and lived a message that involved losing one's own status for the sake of those on the margins of society. The climax, of course, is Jesus foregoing any status by dying an ignominious death on the cross, in order to bring release, forgiveness and full inclusion to those who were bound by sin.

While reading the commentary, I've been challenged to think about how Jesus would speak to our society. Is his message as diametrically opposed to the way our society functions as it was to the society in which he lived on earth? I think it is. Our society is built not so much on social greed (status), but on economic and personal greed (money and pleasure). But Jesus' message is just as radical, calling us to a total rethink of our whole value system. Once we have received Jesus' welcome and forgiveness, we are to value our resources (including our money) as opportunities to benefit those in need, and thereby to gain true riches in the economy of the age to come, rather than as opportunities to advance our own position in the economy of the present age.