Saturday, October 17, 2009

Feast of St. Luke Oct. 18

II Tim. 4:5-15 * Luke 10:1-6

I want to clear up a misunderstanding about Saint Luke right up front. For a long time we have heard that he was a Gentile because of his name and his work as a physician (called a physician, ἰατρός, by Saint Paul in one verse of scripture, Col. 4:14). Philo of Alexandria had a Gentile name, as did Paul (Paul was his Roman name, and Saul his Hebrew name). So did other Jews such as Jason and Alexander, named in the New Testament. So, the name is no evidence. Neither is his having been a physician- as if we have never heard of a Jewish Doctor. The two writings of St. Luke contain numerous spontaneous Hebraisms* that indicate very strongly that this was a Jew so steeped in his religious upbringing that the phrases come out of him without any thought. He speaks of a Sabbath day's journey, of ascending to Jerusalem, and of "the Fast." He was, obviously, a Jew.

St. Luke traveled with St. Paul; he was with him during the storm and shipwreck, and he braved many dangers by his side. He gives very little place to his own presence, simply using the word "we" from time to time so that we know that he records these facts as an eyewitness. The two writings we have from this man demonstrate humility, because he is never the center of attention in his own accounts. When he tells the reader of his Gospel that he "had perfect understanding of all things from the very first," he underplays his own importance. He speaks of others as eyewitnesses, and adds the fact that he, too, had this perfect understanding both to endorse the other "eyewitnesses and ministers of the word" and to impart confidence in his Gospel to the reader. Except for the occasional "we" in the later chapters of Acts, he removes himself from the picture. When we look at the Gospel for his feast day, we may consider that he was likely to have been among the "seventy" who went forth to preach, to heal and to cast out demons. And, near the end of Paul's life we see Luke remaining faithful. He was careful to record an account of the Apostle's life and ministry.

The Epistle for this day is very moving; and what strikes me the most is not a theological point; that is, it is not the sort of thing that normally gets my attention. What strikes me the most from this passage is the combination of the aged and longtime persecuted St. Paul asking Timothy to remember to bring his cloak he had left at Troas, combined with the earlier plea to try his best to arrive before Winter. Reduced to the status of a prisoner on death row, in the eyes of the world, the great Apostle was truly needy, and hoped that he could have his cloak brought to him before the cold weather struck. The Apostle had been tried and condemned by Rome, and then betrayed and deserted by some of his Christian brethren, and had sent others away for the work of the Church's mission, such as Titus. Luke, having been with the Lord Himself (so having "a perfect understanding from the very first"), was now attending to the needs of Paul, always the servant, always assuming a role of humility. This little circle of Paul, Luke and Timothy are all martyrs; their mutual love and their faithfulness to each other speak of the covenant bond, and the family bond, that is the earthly reality of the "communion of saints" when they remain focused on the Lord and their mission.

In his Gospel, Luke places great emphasis on the forgiveness of sins. His Gospel is marked by the compassion of a man who remains always a physician, always a healer. And, he sees the most important healing of all as repentance and the forgiveness of sins. He reminds us in his writings that Jesus was the Suffering Servant foretold by Isaiah. Consider these words from Acts 8:27-35:

"And [Philip] arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Isaiah, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus."

At the end of his Gospel Luke records this:
"And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high (Luke 24:44-49)."

Later, when Luke records the story of Philip, that he confirmed to the Ethiopian official that the Suffering Servant foretold by Isaiah was Jesus Christ, the true significance of this opening of the mind comes across. The risen Jesus opened their minds not to endless ideas without resolution; but rather to the truth of God's revelation in Scripture, and that that revelation, even in the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms, is about his Son. The mystery that needed clearing up, for those who had known Jesus before his death, was not his resurrection. From years of experience, they expected Jesus to demonstrate power. He had healed the sick, restored dead people to life, walked on top of waves, and fed to the full thousands by making use of next to nothing. What they needed to understand was his appearance of weakness, his willing submission to death, even the death of the cross. When Philip, in that later story, identified the Suffering Servant as Jesus, the one who died to take away our sins by bearing all of them on himself, we see that the Scriptures had indeed been opened to them. Jesus by his death as the one true sacrifice and atonement, his willingness to be the propitiation for our sins and for the sins of the whole world, fulfilled that passage:
"Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:4-6)."

It was his death that needed an explanation, not his resurrection; for they expected power and victory; it was the cross of Christ that had been the mystery. By opening their minds to the meaning of Scripture, Jesus explained everything to them, and it all made sense. So, his death was to take away sins, and the rest of the story, as foretold by Isaiah the Prophet, needed no explanation:

"Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand ( Isaiah 53:10 alt. translation mine)."

In the two books by this saint, martyr and healer, Luke the Beloved Physician, w
e have been given an account of the sacrifice of the Lord, His resurrection, His ascension and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, recorded with a combination of theology and history, stating the events always to show their doctrinal meaning. To whom were these writings addressed? And why?

First of all, they were addressed to you and to me. In all of the theories about some person named Theophilus, we ought to think simply about what the name means. It means "lover of God," or "friend of God." Furthermore, these two books reveal that we are God's friends because of His initiative, not due to our deserving. After all, the phrase comes from scripture, and speaks of Abraham. (James 2:23) Father Abraham was the friend of God because of his faith. We are the friends of God by faith, and we know we are his friends because Christ died for us. (I John 4:9,10, 19)

It is Luke who records the Lord's parable contrasting the self-righteous Pharisee and the justified publican, who tells of the sinful woman who cleanses the Lord's feet with her tears and dries them with her hair, and records the blessings and woes of the Prophet like unto Moses, with urgency to save the hearers. Saint Luke saw miracles, and he knew very well that the Lord healed bodies in a way that he, as a physician, could not learn to do. But, as the one who recorded such parables as the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, he knew how much the true healing comes to the soul that has sinned, and that must repent. Having recorded in detail everything that it took to save us, he knew the power of forgiveness as healing, and the true cost of this medicine to the Healer. So, he knew well the nature of Divine Love.

* Hebraisms, i.e. Jewish expressions. Scattered throughout his writings, Luke refers to journeying to Jerusalem as going up or ascending (
עלה), and refers to Yom Kippor as "the Fast," etc. In Acts 1:12 we read, "Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey." That is a Jewish way of saying one mile. A Gentile would not be likely to use any of these Hebraisms. 


Anonymous said...

I have always thought that Luke's identification as a Gentile was based on the fact that he was not listed among Paul's "fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are of the circumcision" in his final greetings in Colossians 4:7-14 (Luke is listed among the others below v 11--presumably the non-circumsised).

Doubting Thomas

Fr. Robert Hart said...

That would be reading a thought into Paul's text, and reading out Luke's own words in the beginning of his Gospel.

poetreader said...

Luke certainly does speak very unselfconsciously from within Jewish culture, but also shows himself as quite comfortable in Hellenic culture. I've long suspected that either/or is not a good way to see him, but that he was in all likelihood from the rather large pool of Hellenicized Jews, fully accepted by neither Greeks nor Jews, yet distinctly part of both groups.


Anonymous said...

Could Luke have been a Gentile proselyte? That could explain both Paul's words in Colossians as well as Luke's familiarity with "Hebraisms" (of course the latter could also be due to the fact that Luke was a meticulous historian). I've read in a few places that this is strong possibility.

Doubting Thomas