This book by Joseph Grassi seeks to situate the Gospel of Luke within its social context and to explore the implications of the Gospel for Christians today. Grassi is primarily concerned with the social ethic of Jesus as presented by Luke, highlighting especially the central themes of "nonviolence, love, compassionate justice, true repentance, and forgiveness." (ix-x) The book, while conversant with the scholarly literature, is intended for a popular audience. It contains, for example, no footnotes or endnotes. Direct reflection on the text of the Gospel is the primary method of the author. The book is organized thematically, rather than in the form of a chapter-by-chapter commentary.
Grassi takes the title of his book from the birth and infancy narrative in Luke, which he terms "Luke's Subversive Christmas Story." The author highlights the strong contrast that Luke develops between Jesus, the true bringer of peace, and the false peace of the 'Pax Romana,' which involved the use of brutal force and the constant threat of such force to maintain a situation of massive structural injustice. Grassi traces the central themes of peace and nonviolence in the birth and infancy stories, in Luke's account of the Passion, and throughout the public ministry of Jesus. Grassi also stresses the related theme of economic justice, showing its deep roots in the Hebrew Scriptures and its centrality in the actions and teachings of Jesus. Summarizing the biblical witness on this theme, Grassi argues that "for some to have less than enough, while others have more than enough, is regarded as evil in itself." (44-45)
The implications of concern for peace and justice (both embedded in the Hebrew concept of 'shalom') are explored by Grassi in multiple dimensions of Jesus' life. Much attention is given, for example, to Jesus' liberating relationships with women, his openness to the outcasts of his society, and his emphasis on the value of children. Grassi also creatively explores the theme of Jesus' compassion for animals and stresses the importance of concern for animals as part of an overall commitment to peace. "What we eat, our choices at table, and how animals are treated play an essential role in making us who we are meant to be—people of peace." (157)
Grassi emphasizes the integral relationship between inner peace and outer peace, showing the centrality of inner conversion ('metanoia') in the teachings of Jesus, which gives rise to the fundamental inner dispositions of compassion and mercy. This inner conversion is rooted in the practice of prayer.
Grassi addresses many issues of enormous importance both in the Gospel of Luke and in our contemporary world. This book would be very useful in small group discussions at the parish level. It is best read a chapter or two at a time and reflected upon. The inclusion of some questions for reflection and discussion at the end of each chapter would have been a helpful addition to the book. Whether the book would be found useful in college-level teaching would likely depend upon the intention of the instructor. If the instructor's intent is to provide an introduction to historical-critical exegesis, a different text would be more suitable. Grassi mostly takes the Gospel texts at face value and is not interested in exploring the history of individual passages, the question of which passages can with most confidence be attributed to the historical Jesus, etc. His primary concern rather is to highlight some of the central themes of the Gospel of Luke as it is written, examine the meaning of these passages in light of the Hebrew Scriptures and the social context of Jesus' time, and to explore some of the implications of those themes for Christian life today. In this task he succeeds well. This book would make a valuable addition to any parish, college, high school, or personal library.