Speaking humanly, the saddest line in the entire New Testament comes in the Epistle lesson appointed for St Luke's Day. Paul wrote, “Only Luke is with me.” Those are the words of an elderly man, worn out with many years of hard service to our Lord, now in prison awaiting execution at the hands of the cruel Emperor Nero.
When Paul had first arrived in Rome a few years before, he was received by the sizable Christian community there almost as a conquering hero. He went there, of course to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but confident that the Roman imperial government would vindicate him against his Jewish opponents. At first things went well. Paul either won his appeal or had his case dismissed. He proceeded on another missionary journey. But then things turned sour as Nero became demented and hateful toward the Christians. We do not have the details, but we can tell from Paul's final Epistle (II Timothy) that he was arrested, tried, and executed
That was a bad time for the Christians in Rome. People being people, the Church was scattered in many directions. Those who had welcomed Paul at first now abandoned him. “Only Luke is with me.”
But what a companion Paul had for his last days! Luke was a physician, able to bring a degree of relief to a frail and exhausted man. But more than that Luke was the diligent historian who had meticulously researched the words and deeds of the Saviour, who had interviewed the Blessed Mother herself, who had been Paul's companion on his travels. Tradition holds that Luke was one of the seventy disciples we read of in today's Gospel. Surely he was an eye-witness to many events in our Lord's earthly life, to His Resurrection and also to His Ascension. What a source of spiritual strength and comfort to a dying man!
Luke wrote the two longest books of the New Testament, but modestly kept his name out of the record. But we can hardly keep from believing that Paul had Luke in mind when he wrote in 2 Cor. 8:18, “and we have sent with him [that is, with Titus] the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches.” That text is not easy to interpret, but it may well refer to the Gospel Paul's faithful companion was busy compiling, or had even published! So it was understood by the author of the Collect for the Day in the English Prayer Book.
The Saints of our Prayer Book kalendar are variously described as apostles, martyrs, confessors, and evangelists. Only Luke and three others qualify for the last title. An evangelist is one who brings the Gospel, the good news of God's saving acts, to a weary, exhausted, and dying world. As we celebrate Luke on his day, we recall our own vocation. There are many who are hungry for that good news. As Luke ministered to the dying saint Paul, may we serve a lost and dying world. LKW