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An Evangelist’s Icon – Br. Sean Glenn

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“Br.Feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist
Luke 4:14-21

Today the Church remembers Saint Luke the Evangelist—the author of the collection of writings we have come to know as The Gospel According to Lukeand The Acts of the Apostles. It is difficult for us to say who exactly Luke may have been; the author is not identified at any point within the text. One prominent tradition identifies him as Luke the physician, an educated gentile or Hellenistic Jewish convert and follower of Saint Paul. Given the proliferation of healing and medicinal imagery within Luke’s gospel, this identification has resonated for many readers. We find it present even here, in this chapel, in the “Workmen’s Windows” at the eastern end of the north ambulatory. We see Luke represented here holding a caduceus, a resonant and ancient symbol of the medicinal arts.

Another early, pious tradition holds that Luke was what we might call the first iconographer—a figure who strove through narrative and representation to convey the Good News in Jesus Christ. We encounter this tradition in the “Workmen’s Windows” here as well. The medallion in the lower third of St. Luke’s window depicts the author at work writing an icon of the Blessed Virgin and the Infant Christ (a narrative window we are only given in Luke’s gospel).

While present scholarship has questioned these traditions, reminding us that we cannot really know who the author of these texts was, there is a truth to their impact on those who have prayed their lives through these lenses and read these texts for the healing touch of Christ they bring to us, and for the rich, multivalent icon of Christ’s life they bring before us.

One thing we can know for sure, certainly, is that Luke was a gifted story teller. Luke’s is a gospel of stories, known for the proliferation of stories within its overall narrative: the parables of the Good Samaritan and the prodigal son are unique to Luke; the stories of the annunciation, the visit of the shepherds to the infant Jesus, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus are accounts that we find only in Luke. Of the four gospels, Luke’s gospel prominently celebrates the lives and vocations of women; while Matthew’s infancy narrative centers on Joseph, Luke tells it from the other side with a richness that speaks to the heart of the gospel’s generous, scandalous, good news as Mary sings to Elizabeth My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

Luke’s overall story is painstakingly pieced together, with some material from Mark, some from the theoretical source, Q, and some material from the traditions Luke has encountered outside of Judea, forming a vibrant, narrative icon of Jesus’ life and ministry before his execution and resurrection, as well as in the lives of those who were send out in the power of the Spirit after Pentecost.

But Luke doesn’t simply use material from Mark and Q to fill in details or preserve a preexisting chronology. Luke will take material from Mark or Q and, with a poetic eye, stitch a fresh perspective into the narrative to emphasize a point, weaving a tapestry of traditions to paint a vivid picture of God’s decisive action—God’s promise and fulfilment—in Jesus Christ. The lesson we read from Luke today exemplifies this sophisticated and sensitive touch. We read today of the inaugural preaching of Jesus, and Luke, marking its significance it with a quotation from Isaiah, uses as a source Mark 6:1-6—a passage that, in Mark, does not describe the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue 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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ … ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’[1]

Luke inaugurates Jesus’ ministry with this claim as its primary lens, and he invites us all into the greater story of God’s salvation history—Israel’s story of God’s faithfulness—and beckons us into God’s new Covenant People. With this emphasis on God’s promise and its fulfilment—good news for the poor, release for captives, recovery of sight from all forms of blindness, and freedom for the oppressed—Luke writes for us a new Icon of salvation, one which narrates all of us—woman, man, slave, free, eunuch, prodigal one, persecutor, Jew, Greek, Samaritan—into God’s story in Jesus Christ: God’s new story sung by Isaiah, of healing and wholeness, of unimaginable freedom, and of oppressive social realities turned at last upside down. God’s works will never be finished; and from him health spreads over all the earth.[2]

Blessed Luke, whom we remember today.


[1]Luke 2:16-19, 21b. New Revised Standard Version.

[2]Sirach 38:8. New Revised Standard Version.

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