Beginning on the Monday after the Sunday following the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (Sept. 14), the Gospel readings for the Church’s services come from the Gospel according to Luke. This year we made this “Lukan Jump” on Monday, September 20; this Sunday, September 26, is the first Sunday of the year which has the appointed Gospel reading from Luke, chapter 5, verses 1 to 11. We will read from Luke from now until the beginning of Pre-Lent, with exceptions during the festal Christmas and Theophany season.
The four Gospels are appointed for various seasons throughout the Church year. The Gospel according to Mark is read during Great Lent prior to Holy Week and Pascha. The Gospel according to John begins at Pascha and continues until Pentecost. The Gospel according to Matthew follows Pentecost until the Lukan Jump. This way the Church reads publicly during its daily and weekly services the entire contents of the written Gospels. Together with the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper of His very Body and Blood), the Gospels define our new life in Christ, the Gospel Book physically kept on the Altar in the Church from which the Eucharist is likewise distributed, the tangible, incarnate Word of God in our midst (see John 1:14).
During the longer post-Pentecost time of the Church year (roughly June through February), we make this jump to the Gospel of Luke from that of Matthew, these two Gospels providing the broader outline of the entire life and ministry of Christ Jesus. Mark is the shortest, most succinct, and impactful of the Gospels, thus its use during Lenten season of repentance. John is the most contemplative and theological of the Gospels, thus its use during the Paschal season exploring the reality of the risen God-man for our salvation.
Matthew displays the promised Savior, the Jewish Messiah (Heb.; Gk., Christ – lit., “Anointed One”), as the bringer of the Kingdom of God, the New Covenant. Jesus Christ preaches the Kingdom, performs all the miraculous signs of the Kingdom, and teaches the fulfillment of the Torah (Heb.; Law) first delivered through Moses. In five great discourses given in the Gospel of Matthew – the Sermon on the Mount (chaps. 5-7), Apostolic Mission (chap. 10), the Parables (chap. 13), Those Gathered in the Kingdom (chap. 18), and Faithfulness to the End (chaps. 23-25) – Christian doctrine and practice is delivered whole as promised of old in the Savior who has come, born of the Virgin and crucified and risen.
Now complimenting the picture of Matthew, Luke demonstrates the Savior especially for the non-Jew, the Gentile. Matthew and Luke (also, Mark) share many of the same events and miracles of Christ in the same basic chronological order; for this reason scholars refer to these Gospels (in contrast to John) as “synoptic” Gospels, that is, they “see” the life of Christ “the same way.” Yet Luke has certain peculiarities emphasizing Christ’s mission to all people, especially those considered outsiders because of moral, ethnic, or religio-political taboos. This emphasis of Luke is especially apparent in his long section presenting unique events and parables (chaps. 10-19). Here we read of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Rich Man and Lazarus, the Ten Lepers, and Zacchaeus.
Making the “Lukan Jump” enables us once again this and every year to meditate on “the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God’ (Rom. 11:33). The Church purposefully practices the reading of the Gospel in this way to remind us both of the need we have of this basic knowledge, but also of the need to continue growing in this knowledge which can only be mastered, ultimately, by putting the words of the Gospel into action. The Gospel is Jesus Christ, and Christians are followers of the Gospel. The words of the Gospel form us from the inside out, just as to be truly Christian “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).