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Luke the Physician – Br. Curtis Almquist

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Luke 4:14-21

When the construction was completed on the Monastery Chapel – I’m not talking about the extensive renovation work this past year but about the original construction completed in 1936 – the trades people and artisans who had labored to build this magnificent chapel gave the gift of these two stained-glass windows to my right, what are called the “Workmen’s Windows.”1  On the left is Saint Joseph the carpenter, pictured in the rondel with the young Jesus as his assistant and his mother nearby.  The window on the right pictures Saint Luke the Physician along with the caduceus, the ancient symbol of medicine and healing.2  But what I find most interesting is that Luke is portrayed in the rondel painting a portrait of the Virgin Mary! Now you can find reference in the Gospels  about Joseph being a carpenter3; and you can find reference in the epistles about Luke being a physician.4  But Luke the artist?  Where did that come from?  Not from the scriptures, but from tradition. 

As a physician, Luke practiced his vocation with  a combination of science, experience, intuition, and bedside manner, then as now.  The medical arts.  The tradition around Luke as a graphic artist springs from one or more paintings discovered in Rome at least by the ninth century and attributed to Luke.  This may be wishful thinking.  But at least one early 20th century scholar expresses an opinion that Luke was certainly an artist as a wordsmith.  Like no other writer in the New Testament, Luke describes with fascinating, picturesque detail the angels’ Annunciation to the Virgin Mary; the Visitation to her kinsfolk, Elizabeth and Zacharias5; the Nativity scene with the Shepherds; Jesus’ Presentation at age 12 in the Temple; the Good Shepherd searching for the  lost sheep.  These and many other scenes described by Luke in the Gospel attributed to him and in the Acts of the Apostles have become inspired, inspiring themes of artists down through the centuries.6  If Luke did not paint with pigment, he surely painted with words.

Luke was not a Jew, but rather a Gentile.7  His home was likely Antioch, capital of Syria.  Some historians conjecture he was educated in Tarsus, the foundation of a famous medical school, and also the home town of St. Paul, to whom Luke became a devoted friend. Paul writes from prison just before he was executed: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course… Only Luke is with me.”8  Luke also knew St. Peter.  When it comes to the writing attributed to Luke, it is the most eloquent Greek of the New Testament.  It is fascinating what he notices and records.  Remember that Luke is a physician.  It’s no surprise, of the four Gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – it is only Luke who remembers that Jesus began his public ministry talking about healing.9

Luke tells of Jesus’ going to the synagogue in Nazareth on the sabbath day, as was his custom: “He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free….’”  Luke continues, “and [Jesus] rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.  The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him… and Jesus said, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”  So begins Jesus’ public ministry in the Gospel according to Luke.  On the one hand, it is no surprise that Luke the physician would understand Jesus first-and-foremostly as a healer.  There was so much suffering caused by disease, poverty, fear, injustice, prejudice, and persecution.  But this is far more than an extension of Luke’s vocation as a physician; clearly Luke himself needed the healing that Jesus promised, about binding up the broken hearted, proclaiming liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners, comfort to those who mourn.…10 Why else would a privileged, eloquent, well-educated Gentile physician follow the Great Physician in life and death?   Some tradition remembers Luke living to an old age; another memory has it that Luke died as a Christian martyr in Egypt.11

Assuming that Luke is the author of the Gospel which bears his name (and also that he authored The Acts of the Apostles), we learn a fair amount about him because of the recurrent themes in his writing.  Undoubtedly there is a thread of autobiography in what captured Luke’s heart and mind in his writings. Why, as an upper-crust Gentile, was Luke so broad in his sympathies, so compassionate toward the outcasts of society, so self-effacing, so loyal to those whom he loved? Why was Luke such a desperate and faithful follower of the Great Physician, this Jesus?  We don’t really know, but it’s probably for most of the same reasons as we who are gathered here today.

Luke hears Jesus say he is the anointed one.  Physicians, then as now, would anoint patients with healing oils and salves to aid the healing of wounds.  Jesus’ promise is to bind up the wounds of our broken body and inner heart.  Life can be very wounding, don’t you know.  Luke also remembers Jesus’ speaking about unbinding, which would be understood quite literally as an act of justice to free political prisoners shackled to chains and abandoned in the nefarious prisons of the first-century.  A prison in Jesus’ day was a dark place where prisoners faced starvation and likely were infected with some dis-ease, at least the dis-ease of fear. Prisoners were quite literally left to rot.  Jesus speaks of opening the prison to those who are bound.  Jesus’ unbinding is also understood metaphorically as the experience of forgiveness, of being set free from a prison of own past: things done or left undone, said or left unsaid by others to us or by us ourselves.  Jesus is the Messiah (which, in Hebrew, is “the anointed one”); Jesus is the Christ  (which, in Greek, means “the anointed one”) who comes to us as our anointed sovereign and savior to unbind us and set us free; and who comes to us as our healer to bind us up and make us whole.

Of course Luke writes his history in retrospect.  Luke knew what we know about Jesus, this anointed sovereign.  Jesus prepares to meet his own death, yet he invites us to follow.  And so when Luke remembers Jesus’ saying this curious thing, that he has come “to bring good tidings to the afflicted and to comfort those who mourn,” Luke knows very well that this includes the cross… which may be a great word of hope.  Not that you have to go looking for the cross, but rather that the experience of the cross that you already have is a place where Jesus is to be found.  New life comes out of the cross.  Jesus, our Sovereign, come to unbind us from our chains; Jesus our Great Physician, come to salve our broken heart and body, Jesus our Savior, come to lead us through the paradox of the cross to the life we crave and that he promises.

This evening we will offer the church’s Sacrament of Holy Unction, that is the laying on of hands and anointing with healing oil to any of you who would find this a grace, for your own healing or for the healing of someone whom you carry in your heart.  After you have received Holy Communion, if you would like to receive laying on of hands and anointing, we welcome you to come to the Holy Spirit chapel, where we will anoint you and pray for the healing that Jesus promises, a healing that Luke claimed for himself, experienced, and to which he gave written testimony remembered down through the centuries, a message of healing and hope.  Blessed Luke, whom we remember today.

 

1 Saints Joseph and Luke are presented in the “Workmen’s Windows” as the patrons of the craftsmen and artists.  In the borders are representations of the various arts and crafts used in the construction of the Monastery Chapel: the metal worker with tongs and sheet of metal, the carpenter with hammer and nail, the mason with trowel and level, the plasterer with mortar board and trowel, the excavator with shovel, and the plumber with leaky faucet and wrench; the steam fitter with wrench and pipe, the electrician with a cable, the sculptor with chisel and mallet, the engineer with slide rule and book of calculation, the stained glass craftsman with glass and triangle on drawing board, and the architect with compass.

 

2 The caduceus: the symbolic representation of a staff with two entwined snakes and two wings at the top.

 

3 Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3.

 

4 Colossians 4:14.  St. Luke was separated by St. Paul from  those of the circumcision.

 

5 Because of the Visitation to Zacharias, a priest and father of John the Baptist, St. Luke its always represented by a calf or ox, the sacrificial animal.

 

6 A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Luke (1902) by British scholar Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) , sometime Master of University College, Durham.

 

7 St. Luke was separated by St. Paul from those of the circumcision (Colossians 4:14).

 

8 2 Timothy 4:7-11;  see also Philemon 24.

 

9 Luke 4:14-21; see also Acts. 10:38.

 

10 Quoting from Isaiah 61:1-3.

 

11 One tradition has it that St. Luke died as a martyr at age 84 in Thebes, Egypt.

 

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10 Comments

  1. Ruth West on September 3, 2017 at 00:14

    Br. Curtis, even though you preached this sermon in October, it is so appropriate for Labor Day, which we are celebrating this week-end, September 4th. Luke was a great example of professionalism, whereas, most of the apostles were “blue collar laborers”, all so necessary in our society. God forbid that we should ever fail to recognize the great contributions laborers of all kinds make to our daily lives. At this time, I am so thankful for all the work that has been done in the Texas Gulf Region by the first responders, the policemen, the firemen, hospital workers, and thousands of good neighbors helping those in need. I also greatly love and appreciate all the artisans who make our lives so much more beautiful, such as the ones who did the windows in your chapel. Thanks for your description for those of us who likely will never view them in person. God bless you and all your brothers there.
    Ruth West, Retired Deacon

  2. Anne+ Johanna on September 2, 2017 at 12:02

    I find this very interesting! Jesus was the healer of all our batterings. I don’t think I knew this before, I thought Jesus was here to give us peace love + understanding and to forgive our sins! But our broken hearts etc. — is a bit of a new one for me! I pray for my daughter and myself for the grieving s we have received in this life. May we be healed to enjoy God’s mercy + love in the fullness of life. Amen

  3. Janet Crawfod on April 11, 2016 at 19:03

    I was ordained on St Luke’s day 1979. This is a powerful reminder of that day. Thank you.

  4. Paul on April 1, 2016 at 17:35

    In the name of Jesus, and through the intercession of St. Luke, please heal my two brothers, dear Lord, and two dear friends suffering from addiction. Amen.

  5. Molly on April 1, 2016 at 10:43

    Thank you brother for explaining the things about Luke and his messages in the gospel and the acts. I learned lot of things.
    Thank you

  6. Christopher Engle Barnhart on October 18, 2014 at 11:46

    I too appreciate St. Luke and the stain glass window depicting the craftsmen who put their talent tnto buildings. I am an architect by profession and carpenter by experience. As a boy, I would take scrap lumber to build huts and forts. I have always loved building things.
    I still build things on our property such as wood fences around our swimming pool and vegetable garden. As an professional architect I have designed many buildings; schools, commercial buildings, public works, hospitals, medical & mental health facilties in prisons, and historical restorations. But perhaps the most rewarding work are the church facilities I have designed and consructed. I was blessed to be the architect for All Saints Episcopal Church in Redding, Ca. where my wife and I attend. It was both a challenge and a rewarding experience and continues as we complete another phase with the buildout with the installation of the spire on the bell tower. Future projects include a screen wall between the narthex and nave, parish hall and kitchen, chapel of the chancel, completion of the cloister, and church offices. All of which will come into being with God’s Blessing.

  7. Anne on October 18, 2014 at 07:54

    Thank you, Br Curtis. Yes, blessed, blessed doctor, observer, writer, compassionate worker–Luke.

  8. Annette Foisie on February 18, 2014 at 14:06

    As a full member of the Order of Saint Luke since 2002, I appreciate these teachings. Right now my dear husband is dying of dementia; I know the healing balm of Jesus, whose love and compassion soothe both of us in this current sorrow, and bring us the glorious hope of eternal life, in His holy name.

    Annette Foisie

  9. Anders on February 18, 2014 at 12:47

    Thank you. From your sermon, I learn that Jesus ministry focuses on healing, healing in a day when the body was not a machine, the mind was not a computer and the spirit was not a cocktail. I get it that Jesus the Messiah, Christ Jesus literally refers to Yeshua the smeared oily one. It is a theology of the senses, a becoming untied and unshackled (the Aramaic translation of “forgive us our sins”) over a dogmatic mindgame.

    We are given the visceral invitation of being in presence with the smeared different one, to be transformed and healed and in turn anointed ones. Some oil will become absorbed and some will get on others as we become both blessed and blessing. First, we become aware of our wounds and unshackled and emptied. We must become lost to be found and wounded to be healed before we can heal the wounds of others and the world. That is our invitation and calling and it is something I can´t get my mind around. And it is good.

  10. Gresh Lattimore on February 18, 2014 at 09:08

    “To bring good tidings to the afflicted and to comfort those who mourn.” These words spoke to me this morning as I eagerly await the opening of the VA-Bedford’s new hospice unit this spring. Now hospice patients are scattered throughout the medical units. This new unit will enable us to bring them together in one place and care for them. The VA hospice team consists of an RN director, a social worker, a priest, and a soon-to-be-hired PhD psychologist plus several volunteers like myself. The Bedford VA is a very welcoming place for volunteers. I’ve volunteered there for the past 6 years and would enthusiastically recommend it. Thank you, Br Curtis, for highlighting Luke the physician this morning!

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