Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Beloved Physician

What follows is not my sermon as it would be preached, but a modified version of the key points I wrote to expand upon. It is designed for a congregation which has recently included inquirers without a religious background. Note that the Canadian Prayer Book, which we use, has the Gospel from Luke 24.44f.

[I]t is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name among all nations”.

The essence of the gospel is contained in these words from St Luke’s Gospel. Although the phrase “it is written” refers to the Old Testament, there can be little doubt the St Luke saw himself as carrying out a similar role. What can we tell about him from how he wrote the Gospel bearing his name and its sequel, the book of Acts, as well as from other biblical data? What does his character have to teach us?

Compassion Luke has a particular sensitivity to the perspectives of women (e.g., Mary, Elizabeth, Anna in Lk 1:26-56, 2:19, 36-38); the poor (especially as oppressed by the rich: e.g., 6:20f, which is far more confrontingly "for" the poor and "against" the rich than St Matthew's corresponding beatitudes); and the sinners and gentiles (Tyrians and Sidonians, and Zacchaeus in 6:17-19, 19:1-10). Only Luke has the Parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. His heart was soft and open not just to the physically sick but all those specially marginalised or vulnerable, whether in body or soul.

Loyalty and Persistence in this Compassion 2 Timothy 4:11, “Only Luke is with me.”

Therefore, Beloved Colossians 4:14, “beloved physician.”

Exactly what one would expect from a good doctor who understood and sympathised with the human condition from long experience and pity.

But precisely because of this long experience and insight, and his profession, St Luke can also tell hard truths or, more to the point, shows us Jesus doing so. E.g., Luke 13:1-5. "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish", Christ says to the crowds, to the ordinary folk who were convinced bad things only happened to peculiarly bad people. Even the tender-hearted examples I gave before of the episodes and teachings that St Luke chose to record, often have an edge to them. The Good Samaritan does his good after others have failed miserably. The Prodigal Son is accepted by his father but disdained and envied by his brother. Good News for the poor is bad news for the ungenerous rich.

In the same way that a doctor must be both compassionate to and bracingly honest with his patients, the Jesus Luke reveals to us is one who is both gentle as a lamb and as sharp as a sword -- or a scalpel. Luke understood very well this aspect of the Divine Healer, who must sometimes hurt us to help us, who must sometimes lead us through the valley of unwelcome truth and physical or emotional pain in order to raise us up again to health and wholeness.

There are, then, at least two things we should learn from the example of Luke and his revelation of our Lord.

First, we cannot reduce Christ or his gospel to a mere painkiller that masks our illness and makes us feel better, but little else. We must be willing to submit to the Divine diagnosis of our disease: sin. And we must be willing to accept “doctor’s orders”, especially when the Doctor is omniscient, and submit to his treatment: forgiveness and renewal through penitent faith in Christ. We must accept that Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection are our “surgery” and our example, our post-operative rehabilitation, if you like. In other words, we receive as passively as a person under general anaesthetic the benefits of Christ’s mercy and power once we have accepted the need for surgery. But we then can and must imitate him and take up the Cross ourselves for "recovery" to be completed. This process can be painful and hard work, but it is worth it, just the same as "post-op rehab" can be. Our most beloved Physician is Christ, and we can and should trust him completely.

The second thing we should learn leads on from what I have just said about following Christ's example. We are delegated healers, meant to reach out in love to others, especially the marginalised, yet never betray them by settling for mere sentimentality when honestly is what they need. As we stand for the gospel, which has healing power at every level, let us not hide the hard truths, particularly from those who presently reject Christ, without which healing will not be sought. Let us have the courage to speak and live the whole gospel, combining, as St Luke did, the softness of compassion with the toughness of persistent fidelity and forthrightness.


RC Cola said...

The past three posts have much increased my appreciation of St. Luke.

Thank you.

Mark VA said...

From the RC/Traditionalist perspective:

This is off topic, but it may be something to keep an eye on - from Father Z's site:

Deacon Down Under said...

Thank you Father for further bringing out the compassion that St. Luke's Gospel emphasizes - this is a potent preaching emphasis with those who are unchurched, alienated or marginalised.