Third Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
January 23, 2022
Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
One unique thing to Luke is that he addressed his Gospel [and his Acts of the Apostles] to the most excellent Theophilus. Who is this Theophilus? We are not entirely sure, and this name has been a subject of debates and discussions for centuries. However, there are several things we may extract from the Gospel’s texts.
The first thing is that he was honorably addressed as ‘the most excellent’ [in Greek, ‘kratiste’]. This is an honorific title for a high Roman government official or a high nobleman during those times. Thus, Theophilus was someone politically powerful and wealthy. But why did Luke have to mention this affluent man? Most probably, it is because Theophilus is the one who supported Luke in the effort of writing his Gospel and Acts. The production of writing in ancient times is an extremely costly undertaking. Unlike papers in our time, parchment [from the animal skins] and papyrus [imported from Egypt] were not cheap raw materials for writing. Quality ink was not easy to get as well. Sometimes, authors had to hire a professional scribe to write correctly on a papyrus. Luke also indicated that he researched reading earlier gospels [most probably Mark and Matthew] and interviewing the eyewitnesses [perhaps Blessed Virgin Mary]. These efforts could cost a fair amount of money as well. No wonder experts say that to produce one single copy of a gospel may cost more than 2,000 USD. Theophilus has been instrumental in the production of Luke’s Gospel.
The second information we have about him is that Theophilus was most probably a Christian or at least a Catechumen. Luke wrote the purpose of his Gospel is ‘so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed [Luk 1:4].’ The word ‘instructed’ in Greek is ‘katekeo,’ the root word of catechism and catechesis. Theophilus has received some sort of catechism or teaching concerning the Catholic faith, but he wanted to know more, especially the certainty of the foundation of his faith.
How did the Gospel of Luke impact Theophilus? We are never sure, but we are confident that the Gospel has influenced millions of people tremendously. One more interesting is that the name Theophilus means the friends of God [theos + philios]. This Gospel is not just addressed to the historical figure called Theophilus, but to all of us, who are friends and lovers of God. Thus, reading carefully and prayerfully this Gospel deepens our love and friendship with the Lord. Luke’s Gospel has been acclaimed as one of the most beautifully composed books. From the stories like the prodigal son and the lost sheep, we discover more about the unparalleled mercy of God to us. From Luke also, we got the heartwarming stories of Mary as the first and most faithful disciple.
We all are called to be a Theophilus. Someone who dares to spend our time, energy, and other resources to know the certainty of our faith. And from this certainty, we are invited into loving friendship with the Lord.
Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP