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Saint Luke the Evangelist

The collect for today, the Feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist, from The Book of Common Prayer [1] (Canadian, 1962):

ALMIGHTY God, who calledst Luke the Physician, whose praise is in the Gospel, to be an Evangelist, and Physician of the soul: May it please thee that, by the wholesome medicines of the doctrine delivered by him, all the diseases of our souls may be healed; through the merits of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle: 2 Timothy 4:5-13 [2]
The Gospel: St Luke 24:44-52 [3]

Zurbaran_StLuke [4]Virtually all that we know of St Luke comes from the New Testament. He was a physician [5], a disciple of St Paul and his companion on some of his missionary journeys, and the author of both the third gospel and Acts.

It is believed that St Luke was born a Greek and a Gentile. According to the early Church historian Eusebius, Luke was born at Antioch in Syria. In Colossians 4:10-14 [6], St Paul speaks of those friends who are with him. He first mentions all those “of the circumcision”—in other words, Jews—and he does not include Luke in this group. Luke’s gospel shows special sensitivity to evangelising Gentiles. It is only in his gospel that we see the parable of the Good Samaritan [7], that we hear Jesus praising the faith of Gentiles [8] such as the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian, and that we read about the one grateful leper [9] who is a Samaritan.

St Luke first appears in the sixteenth chapter of Acts, where he meets St Paul at Troas [10] around the year 51 and crosses over with him to Europe as an Evangelist, landing at Neapolis and going on to Philippi, “concluding that God had called us to preach the Gospel to them” (note especially the transition to first person plural at verse 10). Thus, he was apparently already an Evangelist. He was present at the conversion of Lydia and her companions and lodged in her house. Together with St. Paul and his other companions, Luke was recognised [11] by the divining spirit: “She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation”.

Luke saw Paul and Silas arrested, dragged before the Roman magistrates, charged with disturbing the city, “being Jews”, beaten with rods, and thrown into prison. Luke and Timothy escaped, perhaps because they did not look like Jews (Timothy’s father was a Gentile). When Paul departed from Philippi, Luke was left behind, in all probability to carry on the work of Evangelist. At Thessalonica St Paul received highly appreciated financial aid [12] from Philippi, doubtless through the good offices of St Luke. It is not unlikely that the latter remained at Philippi all the time that St Paul was preaching at Athens and Corinth, and while he was travelling to Jerusalem and back to Ephesus, and during the three years that Paul was engaged at Ephesus.

Seven years passed before St Paul returned to the area on his third missionary journey. In Acts 20:5 [13], the change to “we” tells us that Luke has left Philippi to rejoin Paul in Troas where they had first met. They traveled together through Miletus, Tyre, Caesarea, and to Jerusalem. St Luke is the loyal comrade [14] who stays with St Paul when the latter is imprisoned at Rome about the year 61. And after everyone else deserts Paul in his final imprisonment and sufferings, it is Luke who remains with Paul [15] to the end.

Luke’s unique perspective on Jesus can be seen in the six miracles and eighteen parables not found in the other gospels. He is the one who tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man [16] who ignored him. Only in Luke’s gospel do we hear Mary’s Magnificat [17] where she proclaims that God “has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away” (Luke 1:52-53). St Luke also has a special connection with the women in Jesus’ life, particularly the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is only in Luke’s Gospel that we hear the story [18] of the Annunciation, Mary’s visit [19] to Elizabeth (which includes the Magnificat), the Presentation [20], and the story of Jesus’ disappearance [21] in Jerusalem.

Forgiveness and God’s mercy to sinners are also of first importance to St Luke. Only in Luke’s Gospel do we read the parable of the Prodigal Son [22] welcomed back home by the overjoyed father. Only in Luke do we read the story of the forgiven woman who disrupted the feast by washing Jesus’ feet [23] with her tears. (Church tradition generally holds that the woman was St Mary Magdalene [24].)  Only in Luke do we read the words of Christ in the Passion to the women of Jerusalem [25] and the Good Thief [26]. All of these elements underline the compassion of Christ. Throughout Luke’s gospel, Jesus takes the side of the sinner who wants to return to God for mercy.

(Most of the above is a slightly edited version of a post [27] of October 2005.)

Artwork: Francisco de Zurbaràn, Christ on the Cross with St Luke, c. 1635-40. Oil on canvas, Prado, Madrid.