‘…always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.’ (2 Timothy 4:5)
There are few things in life better than a good story. It is true in childhood and, for those who appreciate novels or plays and such like, it continues into adult life. For many Christians the detail and truth of the faith is discovered in the same way. It is not the only way of course because the scriptures also give us letters and other writings which teach and inspire. Quite rightly some, especially Anglicans, point to the rich deposit of material in hymnaries: many of us have learned some of the deeper truths of the faith by singing classic offerings from previous generations (and from time to time from the pens of contemporary writers). A priest once observed to me that as a child he had learned that God was important because ‘you used big words about him’ even if you didn’t fully understand them at the time: ‘consubstantial, co-eternal, whilst unending ages run’.
Nobody tells a story in the bible better than St. Luke whom we commemorate today. He brings us a gospel account full of people and stories about them whether he is telling of Jesus’ comings and goings or relating his teaching in parables. He then offers us the account of the life of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles, describing how the Holy Spirit takes charge after Jesus’ ascension, leading the disciples into new and exciting territories, into the lands of the Samaritans and Gentiles and not just to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Along the way we learn about God’s love for his people and of all that he does to bring about salvation. No story is of more importance and value.
In presenting his narrative St. Luke makes it clear that God is in control. There is a certainty about both the gospel and the Acts which is remarkable when considering that the evangelist was not himself Jewish and was presumably not steeped in the stories of the (Old) Testament which were the heritage of the people of Israel and the foundation of their faith and hope. His companionship with St. Paul would have introduced him to them and convinced him that over the centuries God had been shepherding his people for a very special purpose. That St. Luke understood this is evident from the inclusion of the infancy narratives (for both the Baptist and Jesus).
In telling these stories the evangelist recounts visions, an awareness of God’s calling and the appearance of angels. Zechariah, Mary and Joseph all receive visions in one form or another… Faithful souls like Simeon receive revelations about salvation and find themselves in the right place at the right time. Others seek out Jesus’ support and teaching, or even just his company, because they realise that God is at work. St. Luke points out that this was especially true of tax collectors and sinners, of lepers and the outcast. Angels appear at specific moments such as the birth of Jesus… and his resurrection… Out of this heightened sense of God’s presence comes the generous gift of the Holy Spirit who first falls upon the Apostles at Pentecost and then dominates the lives and actions of the disciples from that point onwards…
Interestingly and importantly everything which St. Luke writes about is set within a practical framework. It is all written for the person who wants more than a story, but is asking, ‘what do I do about all this?’ The enquirer learns about mercy and its works from the parable of the Good Samaritan – and especially mercy outside the ‘tribe’: how to react in a Godly manner to the stranger in the land and to the despised. In the parable of the Prodigal Son there is set out an example of God’s generosity and how it is that human sin can reject it. Throughout the Acts of the Apostles there are examples of the growth of the Church, some spontaneous as opportunities present themselves (such as the conversion of the Ethiopian or of Cornelius and his household) and some well planned out as on St. Paul’s missionary journeys which, at least initially follow a pattern of preaching first at the local synagogue and then to the Gentiles.
All of these stories and the people we meet in them help us to engage with the things that God is doing and to become aware that he is still at work in his Church and in our lives today. C. K. Barrett pointed out that story-telling tends to lead to an interest in history. It is thus the historical basis of Christianity that we find in St. Luke’s work. Christianity is not just a system of belief, but a faith which is rooted in history and which was then worked out, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, by men like St. Paul who were ‘doing it’ – putting it into practice, often in difficult circumstances and at great cost. St. Paul and St. Luke were both martyrs for the faith, along with St. Stephen and St. James the Great whose deaths are recorded in Acts. St. Luke wrote at a time when the consummation was expected: Jesus was set to return, the time was short and the work was therefore urgent. For those who see the present days as a time of crisis this work will meet their needs. If you read Luke / Acts with the eye of faith you can only go forwards!
‘…always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.’
St. Luke’s work therefore continues to be the guide in the 21st Century for all those who want to know about Jesus and his words and works and who want to know what it means for them and for their fellows. It is therefore a work for the foundation of piety and also for the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, ascended, glorified. To him be praise and glory throughout all ages, Amen.
Father Andrew Burton SSC
18th October 2020
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