Today the Anglican Church celebrates the Feast of Luke the Evangelist, the author of the third Gospel, and the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, which serves as a bridge between the Gospels and the Letters of St Paul. Neither text names Luke as the author, but the attribution is affirmed by both evidence within the writings as well as Church tradition.
In Acts the author refers to himself as being a companion of St Paul, and we find Luke named in three of Paul’s letters. This places him in the second generation of Christians, rather than those who were contemporaries of Jesus. The historian Eusebius writing in the third and fourth centuries confirms the authenticity of the attribution which was established from the mid-second century.
As with so many people we encounter in the past little can be said for certain, however if we accept that he is the author of the third Gospel, we get glimpses of his character, especially by comparing with the other Gospel writers.
Many of our Christmas readings are found in Luke, and he devotes a considerable portion of the narrative to the Virgin Birth of Jesus. He also emphasizes Jesus’ special care for the outcast and suffering: the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and Jesus’ caring words from the Cross to the penitent thief dying with him, and the women standing at the foot of the Cross. In these cameos we see Jesus’ compassion, which Luke highlights with an emphasis on poverty, prayer and purity of heart.
In Acts we see that Luke is a careful observer while at the same time setting events in their religious context. Almost certainly Luke was not a Jew, and in Acts he shows how the news about Jesus travelled from Jerusalem through the ancient world, especially to Rome. A theme which runs through both texts is that the news about Jesus is good news for everyone – both Jew and Gentile.
Both texts are addressed to Theophilus, Acts to “most excellent” or “his excellency” Theophilus. We know nothing of Theophilus but Luke uses this title to describe the Roman governors. It is possible therefore that Theophilus was not a Christian, but almost certainly a man of wealth standing to command such a respectful form of address.
We know nothing of his death. Tradition has it that he lived to the age of 84 and was martyred.
It is very appropriate that we remember St Luke today. In the Letter of St Paul to the Colossians we read:
“Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you.” (4.14)
As there is no reason to doubt that Luke was the author of these two texts, there is no reason to doubt that he was a physician by profession. For this reason he is the patron of doctors. So as we remember St Luke we remember all doctors and indeed all who work in healthcare across the world as they strive to bring healing of body to all who are ill, those suffering not only from Covid-19 but also other diseases and illnesses.
In the Gospel Luke describes how Jesus healed those who were ill, and also how he empowered others to heal in his name. When Jesus sends out the seventy-two he commands them:
“Heal the sick in it and say to them, The kingdom of God has come near to you.”” (10.9)
Now, as then, God continues to work his healing through his servants and it is right that we give thanks to God for continuing to show his mercy and love to us.
Why then has God allowed Covid-19 to ravage our world, and why does he not guide our physicians to a vaccine? In relation to the first there still appears to be a breadth of opinion in the scientific community as to the origins of the virus. Is it a creation of nature or as a result of the interference of man? That question must remain for now.
As to God’s relief from suffering in this life, Luke has much to say. Both body and soul need health and wholeness, and of necessity, from time to time, healing. While the body is mortal, the soul is eternal. There is the physician of the body, and the physician of the soul. Luke brought both gifts together in the healing of the body and the Word that is life to the soul.
As for the body, Luke emphasizes that Jesus comes as the Messianic King to deliver the poor and needy and downcast – then and now. Quoting from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (4.18)
This prophecy was fulfilled by Jesus in his earthly ministry, but will only be fulfilled for us when Jesus returns at the end of this age, when all souls will rise to judgment. In the meantime, whatever befalls us, Luke tells us to remain faithful to the Good News of Jesus to which he has attested and which we can rely on. To remain prayerful and watchful, ready for that day when this world, with all its ills will pass away
“But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare; for it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth. But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man.” (21. 34-36)
This hymn written by H. D. Rawnsley (1851-1920) sings praise to God for his healing mediated through the work of others:
Saviour, who didst healing give,
still in power go before us;
thou through death didst bid men live,
unto fuller life restore us;
strength from thee the fainting found,
deaf men heard, the blind went seeing;
at thy touch was banished sickness,
and the leper felt new being.
Thou didst work thy deeds of old
through the loving hands of others;
still thy mercies manifold
bless men by the hands of brothers;
angels still before thy face
go, sweet health to brothers bringing;
still, hearts glow to tell his praises
with whose name the Church is ringing.
Loved physician! for his word
lo, the Gospel page burns brighter,
mission servant of the Lord,
painter true and perfect writer;
Saviour of thy bounty send
such as Luke of Gospel story,
friends to all in body's prison
till the sufferers see thy glory.
I offer this prayer for all those who work tirelessly to care for those who are sick in body or mind:
Almighty God who didst send thy blessed Son to be the great physician of the souls and bodies of men: look, we beseech thee, upon those who have dedicated their lives to the ministry of healing. Bless and strengthen them in thy service; use their skill and all such means as they employ for the relief of suffering and the restoration of health; and help them ever to remember that in ministering to others they minister to thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.