Luke 1

Prologue[a]

Chapter 1

1 Since many different individuals have undertaken the task to set down an account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 in accordance with their transmission to us by those who were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word from the beginning, 3 I too, after researching all the evidence anew with great care, have decided to write an orderly account for you, Theophilus, who are so greatly revered, 4 so that you may learn the unquestioned authenticity of the teachings you have received.

The Infancy Narrative[b]

Announcement of the Birth of John.[c] At the time of the reign of King Herod of Judea,[d] there was a priest named Zechariah, a member of the priestly order of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the eyes of God, observing blamelessly all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years.

8 On one occasion, when his division was on duty and he was exercising his priestly office before God, 9 he was designated by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense.[e] 10 At the hour of the offering of incense, all the people were outside, praying. 11 Then there appeared to him the angel of the Lord, standing to the right of the altar of incense.

12 When Zechariah beheld him, he was terrified and overcome with fear. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear for you a son, and you shall name him John. 14 He will be a source of joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.

“He will never imbibe wine or any strong drink. Even when he is still in his mother’s womb, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, 16 and he will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to reconcile fathers with their children and to convert the disobedient to the ways of the righteous, so that a prepared people might be made ready for the Lord.”

18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be assured of this? For I am an old man and my wife is well past the stage of giving birth.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to convey to you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their appointed time, you will lose your power of speech and will become mute until the day that these things take place.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and were surprised that he was delaying so long in the sanctuary. 22 When he did emerge, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision while he was in the sanctuary. He was only able to make signs to them, but he remained unable to speak.

23 When his term of service was completed, he returned home. 24 Shortly thereafter his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she remained in seclusion for five months, saying, 25 “The Lord has granted me this blessing, looking favorably upon me and removing from me the humiliation I have endured among my people.”[f]

26 Announcement of the Birth of Jesus.[g] In the sixth month,[h] the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin[i] betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

28 The angel came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace![j] The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was greatly troubled by his words and wondered in her heart what this salutation could mean.

30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”[k] 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 [l]And behold, your cousin Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month, 37 for nothing will be impossible for God.”

38 Then Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” After this, the angel departed from her.

39 Mary Visits Elizabeth.[m] In those days, Mary set out and journeyed in haste into the hill country to a town of Judah[n] 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb.

Then Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why am I so greatly favored that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 For behold, the moment that the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that what the Lord has said to her will be fulfilled.”

46 The Canticle of Mary.[o] And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
48 For he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant;
henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
49 The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is shown from age to age
to those who fear him.
51 He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has routed those who are arrogant in the desires of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has come to the aid of Israel his servant,
ever mindful of his merciful love,
55 according to the promises he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

56 Mary remained with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned to her home.

57 The Birth of John. When the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, she bore a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they shared in her rejoicing.

59 On the eighth day, when they came to circumcise the child, they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 However, his mother objected. “No,” she said. “He is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “There is no one in your family who has this name.” 62 They then made signs to his father to ask what name he wanted to be given to the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and he wrote: “His name is John.” They were all filled with wonder.

64 Immediately, his mouth was opened and his tongue was freed, and he began to speak, giving praise to God. 65 All their neighbors were overcome with awe, and all these things were related throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them were deeply impressed, and they wondered, “What then is this child going to be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.

67 The Canticle of Zechariah.[p] Then the child’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

68 “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
for he has visited his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
from the house of his servant David,
70 just as he proclaimed through the mouth of his holy prophets from age to age:
71 salvation from our enemies and from the hands of all who hate us,
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remain mindful of his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham,
and to grant us that, 74 delivered from the power of our enemies,
without fear we might worship him 75 in holiness and righteousness
in his presence all our days.
76 “And you, my child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give his people knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God
by which the dawn from on high will break upon us
79 to shine on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet along the path of peace.”

80 The Son of the Wilderness. The child grew and became strong in spirit. He lived in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

Footnotes

  1. Luke 1:1 Like the Greek historians of his time, Luke begins his book with a prologue. He dedicates the work to a distinguished person, Theophilus (otherwise unknown to us), who has already been taught the good news. Some scholars believe that the name is symbolic for it means “lover of God,” hence all Christians.
  2. Luke 1:5 The Gospel is first and foremost a proclamation of what Jesus did and taught and, above all, of his Death and Resurrection for the salvation of humankind; everything that the preachers of the mission and message of Jesus proclaimed led toward the mystery of Easter. But, like Matthew, Luke decided to preface all that with a description of the period preceding the public appearance of Jesus, because the Church wanted to know the mystery of Jesus back to its very beginnings.

    5
    The events described by Matthew, however, are not focused on the birth, which is recounted for us through the experiences of Joseph; Luke speaks directly of the birth through the experience of Mary. Regarding Mary, the opening pages of the third Gospel have provided the Church down the centuries with an abundant, and still flowing, wellspring for its faith (Marian teachings), its devotion (the “Hail, Mary”), and its art. Some points emerge with utter clarity: Mary is the Mother of Jesus; the birth took place at Bethlehem; and the newborn child was placed in a manger. The primary statement made is undoubtedly this: that Jesus was born not by the will of human beings but by the initiative of God, and that he was born of a virgin mother.

  3. Luke 1:5 The time is toward the end of the reign of Herod the Great (37–4 B.C.). A faithful and devout couple have been praying for the salvation of the people (v. 13). The husband belonged to the eighth class of priests (1 Chr 24:10) and had the joy of entering every so often into the sanctuary. In the midst of the service, an angel—Gabriel, the messenger of the time of salvation (Dan 9:21-27)—appears to him and tells him of an unexpected birth. Like Isaac (Gen 21:2), Samson (Jdg 13:3-7), and Samuel (1 Sam 1), this child will be the result of a miracle, and, even before his birth, he is destined for the service of God; he will live as an ascetic, a “Nazirite” (see Num 6:3-4; Jdg 13:4-5); he will be the mysterious forerunner of the last times, the new Elijah whom the people expected in accordance with an old tradition (Mal 3:23-24). His name will be John, which means: “The Lord is gracious.”
  4. Luke 1:5 Judea: meant here is the entire territory of Palestine.
  5. Luke 1:9 Incense was offered in the Holy Place, the room in front of the Holy of Holies or innermost part of the temple. The rite of incense was performed morning and evening at the time of sacrifice.
  6. Luke 1:25 The humiliation I have endured among my people: lack of children deprived the parents of personal happiness but also brought about social reproach (see Gen 16:2—Sarai; 25:21—Rebekah; 30:23—Rachel; 1 Sam 1:1-18—Hannah; see also Lev 20:20-21; Ps 128:3; Jer 22:30).
  7. Luke 1:26 Mary, a young girl, is betrothed, despite the fact that she has the unusual intention of remaining a virgin; “betrothed”: that is, according to the custom of the time, she was legally married but did not yet live with her husband. Confronted with this surprising message, she gives no sign of fear or doubt: she reflects, meditates, believes. This woman has the “grace,” that is, the favor of God; she is greeted as if Messianic joy were being proclaimed to the Daughter of Zion, the new Jerusalem (see Zep 3:14; Zec 9:9).
    The Bible has often spoken of promised sons; but this Jesus is the very Messiah of Israel, according to the mysterious prophecy of Isaiah on which Israel constantly and hopefully meditated (vv. 32-33; see Isa 7:14; 9:6); he is even far more: the Son of God (v. 35). The body of Jesus was to take form in the flesh of Mary, and this was to come about not through human planning but through the presence and action of God himself (see Ex 40:34-35; Num 9:15; 10:34), of the Spirit who creates and gives life (Gen 1:2; Ps 104:30; Isa 11:1-6).
  8. Luke 1:26 In the sixth month: i.e., after the time of John’s conception.
  9. Luke 1:27 Virgin: i.e., one who had not yet had sexual relations. Mary’s question in v. 34 and the reference in v. 27 that she was “betrothed” (pledged to be married) clearly make this point. Mary had just entered her teens, for betrothal usually took place after puberty, but intercourse was not allowed until marriage. The betrothal could be severed only by divorce or death.
  10. Luke 1:28 Hail, full of grace: this phrase may also be translated as “Hail, O highly favored one.” The Lord is with you: other ancient manuscripts add: “Blessed are you among women” (as in Lk 1:42).
  11. Luke 1:34 I am a virgin: literally, “I do not know man,” “know” referring to the conjugal relationship.
  12. Luke 1:36 In confirmation of what the angel has said to her, Mary is given word of the pregnancy of her aged relative Elizabeth. God has effected a pregnancy for a woman past childbearing years. Thus, he can effect a pregnancy for Mary also, because nothing is impossible for him.
  13. Luke 1:39 By the account of the Visitation, Luke establishes the connection between the traditions about John and those about Jesus. At first commonplace, this meeting of two expectant mothers goes beyond the ordinary. As conscious believers, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, they understand that the time of salvation is inaugurated by the young lives they bear within themselves. We are already made aware that John bears witness to Jesus. And the first Christian generations place on the lips of Elizabeth the praise of Mary the believer.
  14. Luke 1:39 A town of Judah: according to tradition, this was Ain Karim, 100 miles south of Nazareth and four miles west of Jerusalem.
  15. Luke 1:46 Mary’s splendid canticle, the Magnificat, proclaims a new course for history, the end of injustice, and the birth of a new world, that of the kingdom, in which everything is different from our habitual experience. Every people gives thanks to God; the joy of the poor bursts forth; hope is born for the salvation of the despised of this world.
    The Magnificat, which is very similar to the canticle of Hannah (see 1 Sam 2:1-10) and has become the Christian song of thanksgiving, lends itself to be the prayer of those who have suffered but have never lost their hope in God. The entire prayer of the Old Testament converges upon this one, but with a wholly renewed power; it is easy to see why the Church never tires of reciting it. It is one of the gems of the Church’s daily office of Evening Prayer (Vespers).
  16. Luke 1:67 The hour of light has come, and the Messiah is the star that rises (v. 78; see Num 24:17; Isa 60:1; Mal 3:20) or, again, the branch that springs from David (Jer 23:5; 33:15; Zec 3:8; 6:12). The Canticle of Zechariah, the Benedictus, rings out daily in the liturgical office of Morning Prayer (Lauds). The whole faith of the Old Testament is woven into its proclamation of peace, that is, fulfillment and joy for humanity, as a gift from God.

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