Feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist
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).
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.
I remember very well one particularly horrible Thursday in 2009, it might have even been my worst Thursday ever. I had laid myself down on a couch in the student lounge, barely moving for long stretches of time, eyes staring blankly at nothing in particular, overcome by a very painful depression. Kind-hearted souls would wander by, sitting beside me, offering words of support and encouragement, but I hardly ever glanced at them, let alone responded. It was like being trapped in a deep pit filled only with darkness, suffocated by loneliness, and paralyzed by some unnamable anguish. It felt as though there was not even a sliver of hope, no hope at all for any kind of reprieve, restoration, or healing.
But when it comes to the gospel of Christ, healing and stories of healing seem to go hand in hand with the good news of God’s Kingdom. Wherever Jesus went to spread the gospel, healing seems close at hand. Depending on how they’re counted we can find 30 to 40 healing stories in the gospels. Saint Luke the Evangelist, whom we celebrate today, includes the most which makes sense since Luke is thought to have been a physician, and the healing of body, mind, and spirit would have been crucial elements of his life and writing. He also might have felt a special bond to Jesus since Jesus referred to himself as a physician, ministering and being present for those who were unwell, those needing to be made whole, those suffering and wounded.
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
1 Cor. 12:12-31a
“All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” So ends the first part of the story of Jesus’ preaching in the synagogue of Nazareth. He has just come from forty days in the wilderness, driven there by the Spirit after his baptism. But, “filled with the Holy Spirit,”as Luke tells it, things then take a strange turn: for no reason apparent in the text he begins to provoke the hometown crowd, saying that they’re going to reject him: “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town,” he says, and other impertinent things. He makes a narrow escape from being thrown off a cliff for his insolence. But, today we have the nice part of the story.
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me…”The gracious words that came from his mouth were Isaiah’s gracious words, from a passage sometimes grouped with the so-called “Servant Songs”. One of the best known of these we hear in Holy Week: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” [Is. 53:5] The Servant Songs in Isaiah helped shape the early church’s understanding of Jesus—and very well could have helped shape Jesus’ understanding of himself. And if these prophetic songs help us understand Jesus, they help us understand ourselves. The church is the servant of God; each of us is servant of God. He came not to be served, but to serve [Mark 10:45]—as do we.
Revelation 21 :1 – 6
…I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new…”
Luke 4 :14 – 21
[Jesus] stood up to read… “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.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing…”
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.