Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist. The Gospel passage that we read today speaks of Jesus sending the seventy-two disciples to preach and to heal. We might get the mistaken notion that St. Luke was one of them. However, St. Luke tells us plainly at the beginning of his Gospel and again at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles that he was not an eyewitness to Jesus. In addition, we know that St. Luke was a Gentile convert. Jesus’ disciples were all Jewish.
It is believed that St. Luke was a Graeco-Syrian physician who resided in the city of Antioch where he was converted to the faith by the preaching of St. Paul. In several places in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke uses the first person plural pronoun "we." This seems to indicate that after his conversion, he joined St. Paul on several of his missionary journeys. A fourth-century texts also reveals that St. Luke lived a long life and died at the age of approximately eighty-four in the city of Thebes.
St. Luke is responsible for twenty-five percent of the Christian Scriptures which we call the New Testament. His Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles are parallel texts. After completing the Gospel, St. Luke writes of the various activities of the men and women who followed Jesus. There is a strong correlation between Jesus' actions in the Gospel and the actions of the disciples. Some of the strongest correlation can be seen when we place the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin alongside the trial of Paul in the Acts.
Throughout his Gospel writing, St. Luke emphasizes the compassion of Jesus through the stories he includes and the parables that he puts into the mouth of Jesus. It is St. Luke who tells us of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. It is St. Luke who tells us that the birth of Jesus was heralded first to shepherds, shepherds being prime examples of people who were looked down upon by people of that time. It is St. Luke who portrays God as a shepherd seeking a lost sheep and as a woman who has lost her wedding headdress with its ten dimes.
However, it is while Jesus is hanging on the cross that St. Luke brings the tremendous compassion of Jesus to its climax as he assures one of the thieves who are crucified with him that he will share paradise with him that very day. At the beginning of the Gospel, using the prophecy of Isaiah about the promised Messiah, St. Luke tells us that Jesus has come to set captives free among other things. Only at his lowest ebb when he is the most vulnerable does Jesus accomplish this last of the Messianic tasks. His promise to the man that we have come to call St. Dismas is simply breathtaking and is told only in this particular Gospel. It should be noted that it is also St. Luke who tells us that Jesus prayed that God would forgive his executioners because they did not know what they were doing. Even as he is dying, St. Luke’s Jesus continues to extend the compassion and mercy of God to sinners.
Finally, St. Luke’s Gospel also emphasizes prayer. The Gospel opens with the priest Zechariah at prayer in the Temple. When Jesus is presented in the Temple by his parents, they are met by Anna who “never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer” (Luke 2:37bc). Jesus is at prayer at critical times throughout the Gospel – at his baptism, as he chooses his apostles, when he asks his apostles who people say he is, at his Transfiguration, when he is arrested in the Garden of Olives, and as he hangs on the cross. He instructs his disciples as to how they are to pray, and he includes several parables about prayer. Those of us who celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours are in his debt as we pray with Zechariah, Mary and Simeon at Morning, Evening and Night Prayer.
The Feast of St. Luke gives us yet another opportunity to give thanks for the grace of having heard the Gospel. So many people, even in our own country, have never heard it.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator