ST. LUKE 18th OCTOBER 2020
Today we celebrate the life and great contribution that Saint Luke has made to the Christian faith, mostly through his contribution to the New Testament of his Gospel and The Acts of the Apostles, which together make up approximately a quarter of all the writings. But we also have to remember that Luke was one of those early great evangelists who spread the message of the salvation that Jesus had brought to the world.
In our Gospel reading today there is a real sense of urgency by Jesus. In modern language, there is to be no faffing around. Jesus appoints 70 evangelists or missionaries to go out to proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near to them. They were not to worry about all the niceties of the Jewish faith, and its hospitality rituals etc., but to just tell people that they could accept the reign of God with the peace that it brings, or be doomed with those who do not. If we had read on from this passage we would have seen their joyful return, but we would also have heard of an ecstatic experience Jesus has, where Satan falls from heaven, and judgement comes upon whole communities who fail to accept him and the God who sent him.
This is powerful stuff written by St. Luke, possibly amplified by his desire to point out the conflict Jesus was having at this point in his ministry with the Jewish Scribes and the Pharisees. It is then followed by the lawyer asking Jesus who his neighbour was, and Jesus replying with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, telling of the goodness of a gentile compared with the priest and the Levite who should have been models of goodness.
Luke was gentile of origin, most probably born of Greek heritage in Antioch in Syria. He was obviously an educated man and was referred to by St. Paul as “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14), but Luke might have been born a slave. It was not uncommon for families to educate slaves in medicine so that they would have a resident family physician. Luke was a companion of Paul on some of his missionary journeys and was obviously greatly influenced by his passion to proclaim the Gospel, especially to the gentiles.
Luke's unique view of Jesus can be seen in the six miracles and eighteen parables not found in the other gospels. Luke's Gospel is the gospel of the poor and of social justice. He is the one who tells the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man who ignored him. Luke is the one who uses "Blessed are the poor" instead of "Blessed are the poor in spirit" in the beatitudes. Only in Luke's gospel do we hear Mary's Magnificat where she proclaims that God "has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty" (Luke 1:52-53).
Luke also wants his readers to understand the forgiving nature of God. Sinners are to be welcomed back into God's presence, as explained in the parable of Prodigal Son or Loving Father, and other instances where Luke wants to be on the side of repentant sinners. We are all sinner, never forget that.
A way to understand that God wants us to put our sins aside is to imagine a host who has opened his home to you. Imagine further that while staying in that person's home, you knock over a priceless vase, a family heirloom that cannot be replaced. Probably you did it accidentally, but maybe you did it purposely, in a moment of anger. In either case, it shatters on the floor, and now you know you cannot begin to pay for it.
Feeling regret, you turn to your host with an apology. Your host, though saddened by the loss of the object, nonetheless is gracious and says in response, “I accept your apology. Now don't worry about it.” Not only that, but your host urges you to stay, even though there are a number of other priceless objects about, and knowing that, clumsy and bad tempered as you are, you could still break more of them.
Even despite his generous attitude, you continue to feel uneasy, however, nervous that you might break something else. What's more, you are convinced that behind the kind words, your host must be very upset over the vase. In time, however, you begin to understand that he really values you over the objects, and you finally understand that he really wants you to stay, and not as his guest, but as a member of his family. He values the relationship. That's why he offers the forgiveness. The relationship is more important than the sin.
Luke's Gospel is a gospel of repentance and forgiveness.
Luke was also someone who had great respect for the women in the story of Jesus. He is the one who emphasises the importance of the Virgin Mary in his Gospel. We have the story of the Annunciation, the visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth and the story of the Presentation. The words that he records are the Biblical basis for the Hail Mary: "Hail Mary full of grace" spoken at the Annunciation and "Blessed are you and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus" spoken by her cousin Elizabeth. Only in Luke do we hear the story of the forgiven woman disrupting the feast by washing Jesus' feet with her tears. Throughout Luke's gospel, Jesus takes the side of the sinner who wants to return to God's mercy, be it man or woman. Maybe because of his gentile upbringing he was more sympathetic to the role of women in society and religion than the more religiously conservative Jews.
Throughout his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles Luke's character as someone who loved the poor, respected women, and wanted to see healing of body and soul shines out. He saw the kingdom that Jesus had secured for us all as a guarantee of hope and healing for every sinner who would accept Jesus as their saviour.
According to Paul in his letter to Timothy, “Only Luke is with me” (2 Timothy 4:11), during his final imprisonment in Rome and it is known that Paul died between 60 and 64 AD, but it thought that Luke lived until he was 84 in Greece after writing his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. Whether he was martyred is open to question, but some accounts say that he was hanged from an olive tree. He has become the patron saint of artists, physicians, bachelors, surgeons, students and butchers.
But finally just returning to Luke's respect for women, when I was researching this sermon I came across this section that failed to get past his editors and censors.
God looks down and notices that Adam is all alone while all the animals have companions, so he decides to create a companion for man as well. He comes to see Adam and says to him, "Adam, you are my greatest creation and therefore, I am going to create for you the ultimate companion. She will worship the very ground you walk on, she will long for you and no other, she will be highly intelligent, she will wait on you hand and foot and obey your every command, she will be beautiful, and all it will cost you is an arm and a leg." Thinking for a few moments, Adam replies, "What could I get for a rib?"
Sorry St. Luke.