18 October 2010

Saint Luke and the wholesome medicine of the Gospel

Patrick Comerford

Saint Luke the Evangelist (18 October): Isaiah 35: 3-6 or Acts 16: 6-12a; Psalm 147: 1-7; II Timothy 4: 5-17; Luke 10: 1-9

May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

This afternoon, we recall and give thanks for Saint Luke (Λουκάς) the Evangelist, traditionally remembered as the author of the Third Gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles. He is mentioned in other places in the New Testament, including the Epistle to Philemon (verse 24), Colossians 4: 14 and II Timothy 4: 11.

Saint Luke is also known as the “glorious physician,” and – especially in the Eastern Church – as an icon writer.

It is said that Saint Luke was born in Antioch in Syria (now in Turkey) to Greek-speaking parents. As a physician, he was said to have had a skill for healing, but left this behind around the year 50 AD and joined Saint Paul after they met in Antioch.

Later traditions, often without historical foundation, claimed that Luke was one of the Seventy, mentioned in our Gospel reading, that he was one of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, or even that he was closely related to the Apostle Paul. But Saint Luke, in his own statement at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostle, tells us he was not an eyewitness to the events of the Gospel.

Yet, both the Gospel according to Saint Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are detailed in history, expression, and narration that are often thought to outshine other Christian literary works. Both are held in regard by Biblical historians and archaeologists for their historical accuracy and trustworthiness.

He may have accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys before staying on in Troas (Troy) after Paul’s departure.

Saint Luke is recognised as one of the first iconographers, and in the East there are countless icons ascribed to him that depict the Virgin Mary holding the Christ-child.

Tradition says he died “in Thebes, the capital of Boeotia” at the age of 84.

I wonder whether any of the Second Year students here would find that the Gospel reading this evening (Luke 10: 1-9) puts you off considering your choices for next year’s placements: “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road (verses 3-4).”

But, I find Luke an attractive and interesting Biblical figure not just as an evangelist, but as a writer who provides fascinating accounts of his travels – in all, he names 32 countries, 54 cities and nine islands – and as a key figure in the tradition of icons and iconography.

Without Luke, it would be impossible to imagine how we could know about the earliest missionary endeavours of Paul and the Apostolic Church. And so I hope you find Luke an attractive and interesting Biblical figure ... as an evangelist, as someone who gives healing a proper place in his ministry, as someone who is faithful to Paul in his ministry, as someone who, in all his travels and travails, remains faithful to the ministry he is charged with.

And so may all we think, say and do be to the glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.


Almighty God,
you called Luke the physician,
whose praise is in the gospel,
to be an evangelist and physician of the soul:
By the grace of the Spirit
and through the wholesome medicine of the gospel,
give your Church the same love and power to heal;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Living God,
may we who have shared these holy mysteries
enjoy health of body and mind
and witness faithfully to your gospel,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This reflection was shared at the Eucharist in the institute chapel on Saint Luke’s Day, 18 October 2010.

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