Today we remember with thanksgiving one of Jesus’ twelve Apostles named Luke. Luke was odd-man-out. Luke was not a Jew and, unlike most, he was educated. His home was likely Antioch, capital of Syria. Some historians conjecture he was educated in Tarsus, in what is now southern Turkey. Tarsus was the foundation of a famous medical school, and also the home town of St. Paul, with 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.”[i] Luke also knew Peter, the Apostle. When it comes to the writing attributed to Luke, it is the most eloquent Greek of the New Testament, and it is revealing what Luke notices and records. Of the four Gospel writers, only Luke remembers that Jesus began his public ministry talking about healing.[ii]
As a physician, Luke would have practiced his vocation with a combination of science, experience, intuition, and bedside manner, then as now. The medical arts. Tradition has it that Luke may also have been an artist; he certainly was 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 Zacharias[iii]; 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, particularly about the poor, are described by Luke in the Gospel attributed to him and in the Acts of the Apostles. Luke’s descriptions have become inspired, inspiring themes of artists, writers, and preachers down through the centuries.[iv] If Luke did not paint with pigment, he surely painted with words.
On the one hand, it is no surprise that Luke the physician would understand Jesus first-and-foremostly as a healer. In first-century Palestine, there was so much suffering caused by disease, poverty, fear, injustice, prejudice, and persecution. But why Luke? Why, as an upper-crust Gentile, was Luke so broad in his sympathies for the poor, so compassionate toward the outcasts of society, so self-effacing, so loyal to those whom he loved? Why was Luke such a tenacious follower of the Great Physician, this Jesus? Luke’s storytelling is surely autobiographical. Luke himself sorely 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.…23…[v] Clearly, Luke was a strong and gifted person; he was also a person in need.
Luke the physician and Apostle gives us witness to several things:
- Our need for healing: body, mind, or spirit. You can be very well physically, but in absolute agony because of a broken heart or an imprisoned soul. Jesus promises us he will bind up our broken hearts, set us free, and heal us from the inside out.
- All healing is God’s healing. Use the channels for wellness that you find inviting and accessible. All healing is God’s healing.
- What the church calls “the paschal mystery”: out of death comes life. It is possible to be very sick in body, even dying, and to be healing up in one’s soul. Earlier this week I spoke with someone who is quite near death, and, paradoxically, he has never been so well: so full of gratitude, amazement, wonder, freedom. So we pray for healing, in whatever form it may come. Always pray for healing, and then look for it.
There’s so much we don’t know about Luke’s story, which is true for all of us. Luke remembers Jesus’ promise to heal us, a healing that Luke claimed for himself. Luke’s written testimony, remembered down through the centuries, is an encouragement for us for healing and hope.
Blessed Luke, whom we remember today.
[i] 2 Timothy 4:7-11; see also Philemon 24.
[ii] Luke 4:14-21; see also Acts. 10:38.
[iii] Because of the Visitation to Zacharias, a priest and the father of John the Baptist, St. Luke its always represented by a calf or ox, the sacrificial animal.
[iv] 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.
[v] Quoting from Isaiah 61:1-3.
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