Somewhere in the gospels, Jesus said “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there is an argument” – well, if he did not actually say that, he would probably endorse the sentiment! The Gospel according to St. Luke is often said to be – and rightly so – the Gospel of Mercy and Compassion: the Gospel of the Good Shepherd, the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. Everyone agrees up to that point.

Beyond that, however, things become more contentious. Luke has often been embraced by theological “liberals” as their favorite gospel, because it emphasizes the “inclusiveness” of Jesus, showing him reaching out to women, the poor, Gentiles, Samaritans, and other marginalized people of his time. Luke’s gospel also leans toward eternal inclusiveness, for in Luke Jesus says almost nothing explicitly about eternal damnation (with Lk 12:5 perhaps the only exception) – and this makes Luke vastly different in this regard than the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Some have argued that St. Luke’s nativity story is a thinly veiled attack on the pretensions of the Roman emperors, and that the story of the Galilean ministry of Jesus includes a renewal of the Jubilee Year tradition of economic justice. It all sounds very “progressive” by modern standards.

We need to sort out fact from fiction here. In my first workshop at the Applied Biblical Studies Conference, on “St. Luke, Divine Mercy and the Doctrine of Hell,” I will look at the recent debate in Catholic circles between Dr. Ralph Martin and Bishop Robert Barron concerning the Catholic doctrine of everlasting loss, and explore what light St. Luke’s Gospel, traditionally called the “Gospel of Mercy,” can bring to bear on this debate.

In my second workshop, on “St. Luke, Divine Mercy, and Social Justice” I will share some reflections on the points of connection between this gospel and the Catholic Tradition of Social Teaching. What can we properly “read-out” of Luke here (exegesis) without lapsing into a “reading-in” to his gospel (eisegesis) all of the ideological struggles of our own time.

My own principal academic field is “Theology” rather than “Biblical Studies,” so my main concern will be to explore how St. Luke’s gospel intersects with the normative teachings of the Catholic doctrinal Tradition. To what extent does Luke exhibit and harmonize with our Tradition concerning Social Justice and Hell – and to what extent does he challenge us to develop and deepen our grasp of these mysteries of the Faith?

Dr. Robert Stackpole will be speaking at the 2016 Applied Biblical Studies Conference this summer.  Hope to see you there!