18 Oct. 2012, Thursday of Week Twenty Eight
Also: St Luke the Evangelist
The readings for the Feast of St. Luke are: Isaiah 35:3-6 (Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear!) 2 Timothy 4:5-17 (do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.); Luke 10:1-9 (the Lord chose seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs..)
He is often identified with Luke, “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14 and 11; cf. 2 Tim. 4:11, Philem. 24) and Paul’s companion on his journeys, if we may trust the “We”-passages in the Acts (16:11 etc. “we set out”). The main difficulty in accepting this identification is that some specifically Pauline ideas are either missing or not significantly present in the writings of Luke. In particular, he is not so insistent as Paul on the centrality of the death of Christ, and his ideas on Law and eschatology seem to diverge from those of the Apostle. However, if Luke’s Gospel can be dated about the year 80 A.D., that may well explain why his theology has evolved to meet the changing conditions of Christian life, almost two decades after Paul’s martyrdom. Although he is most welcoming to Christians of Gentile background, Luke himself was probably a Jew of the Diaspora, and possibly from Antioch, as the second-century tradition says about him.
Luke has a good literary style, illustrated by the hymns with which he punctuates chapters 1 and 2 (the “Magnificat” of Mary, Zechariah’s “Benedictus,” and the Nunc Dimittis of old Simeon appear to be modelled on the language of the Septuagint. With them he has beautifully crafted the story of a major transition from the age of the Old Testament to that of the New. John the Baptist appears both as the heir of the prophets and as heralding in something new. The manner of his birth to Elizabeth recalls the birth of Samuel to the aged Anna. And then, the material about John the Baptist is shown as leading up to Jesus. When Mary visits Elizabeth, Jesus’ superiority to John is already established. His Davidic origin is superior to John’s priestly origin.
He paints a consistent portrait of Jesus as Lord and yet humble servant of the Father, to be admired and imitated. We learn the importance of piety and prayer, of love and compassion for the poor and the despised, as shown in Jesus’ attitude toward outsiders, towards women, children, and sinners. During his crucifixion, the assurance that one of the two robbers crucified along withe Jesus would be with him in Paradise, and his final words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” continue this Lucan pattern, in sharp contrast to the darkness of Mark’s Passion account.
It is to Luke that we owe several of the best-loved parables (the good Samaritan, the lost coin, and the prodigal son,) all marked with a special quality of mercy and tenderness. These go some way to explain Dante Alighieri’s famous description of Luke as the “Scribe of the gentleness of Christ.”
This following paragraphs on St. Luke are from an American Greek Orthodox website, mingling elements of popular tradition with the data furnished in the New Testament:
Saint Luke came from the city of Antioch, probably of a pagan family. From his youth he applied himself to seek after wisdom and to study the arts and sciences. He travelled all over the world to quench his thirst for knowledge, and had particular skill as a physician and in painting. The Gospel he wrote shows his excellent command of Greek; he also knew Hebrew and Aramaic.
There is a tradition that Luke was one of the Seventy Disciples that the Lord Jesus Christ sent before Him, two by two, to announce salvation in the towns and villages. Luke was in Jerusalem at the time of the life-giving Passion and, on Easter morning, walked with Cleopas (October 30) towards the village of Emmaus, distraught at the loss of the Master. But sadness was turned into unspeakable joy when Christ, whom they were unable to recognize when He joined them on the way, revealed to them in the breaking of bread that He was really and truly risen (Luke 24:35). After the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, Luke remained for a time in Jerusalem where there were already disciples. Some say that on his way back to Antioch he stopped to preach the Good News at Sebaste in Samaria, where he obtained the relic of the right hand of the Holy Forerunner, which he took as a precious trophy to his own city. It was, therefore, at Antioch where he met Saint Paul in the course of his second missionary journey and accompanied him thence to proclaim salvation in Greece.
But another tradition says that Luke did not know the Lord during His earthly sojourn, and that he met Saint Paul while working as a physician at Thebes in Boeotia during the reign of Claudius (c. 42 AD). The Apostle’s fiery words convinced him of the Truth that he had vainly sought in the wisdom of this world for so many years. Without hesitation, he gave up all that he had and his profession in physical medicine to follow Paul and become the beloved physician (Colossians 4:14) of souls.
He went with the Apostle in his journeys from Troas to Philippi, where Paul left him to nurture the newly born Church. Luke remained in Macedonia for some years and, when Paul visited Philippi again during his third journey (AD 58), he sent him to Corinth to receive the collection made by the faithful there for the needs of the poor at Jerusalem. They went together to the Holy City, strengthening the Churches on their way. When Paul was arrested in Jerusalem and transferred to Caesarea, Luke remained with him. He accompanied Paul to Rome and describes their difficult and eventful voyage at the end of the Acts of the Apostles (chapters 27-28).
Luke wrote his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles at Rome in obedience to Paul, dedicating the Acts to Theophilus, the Governor of Achaia, who was a convert. In his Gospel, Luke adds details which are not found in the first two evangelists: in telling of the Saviour’s life, he especially stresses His mercy and compassion for sinful humanity that He has come to visit as a Physician (Luke 4:23; 5:31). And in the Acts, after telling of all that happened in the foundation of the Church at Jerusalem, he gives most attention to the work of his master, Saint Paul, who laboured more abundantly than all the other Apostles in spreading the glad tidings of salvation.
After two years of imprisonment in Rome, Paul was released and immediately resumed his travelling ministry, followed by his faithful disciple Luke. But Nero launched his furious persecution of the Christians in Rome soon after, and Paul returned to the city at the risk of his life to strengthen the faithful there. He was arrested, put in chains, and held in far worse conditions than before. Luke remained steadfastly faithful to his master while others forsook him (Timothy 4:11), and he was probably present at Saint Paul’s martyrdom, although he left no written testimony to the fact.
After the glorious death of the Apostle of the Gentiles, Luke made his way back to Achaia, preaching the Gospel in Italy, Dalmatia and Macedonia. It is said that, in his old age, amid great tribulations, he also evangelized the idolaters in Egypt. He is supposed to have gone as far as the remote Thebaid and to have consecrated Saint Abile, the second Bishop of Alexandria.
On his return to Greece, Luke became Bishop of Thebes in Boeotia; he ordained priests and deacons, established churches and healed the sick in soul and body by his prayer. The idolaters arrested him there when he was eighty-four years old. They flayed him alive and crucified him on an olive tree. Many miracles were wrought afterwards by a miraculous myrrh trickling from his tomb, which was particularly effective in the cure of eye diseases for those who, in faith, anointed themselves with it.
Many years later, the Emperor Constantius, the son of Saint Constantine the Great, sent Saint Artemius (October 20) to Thebes to bring the relics of the Apostle Luke to Constantinople, where they were placed under the altar of the Church of the Holy Apostles with the relics of the Apostles Andrew and Timothy. It is the tradition of the Church that Saint Luke was the first iconographer and that he painted an image of the Holy Mother of God in her earthly lifetime.
The Ferial readings are: Eph 1:3ff. God chose us in Christ before the world began, to be holy and blameless in his sight. Luke 11:47ff. Jesus’ enemies are like those who killed the prophets of old.
Many Old Testament theological ideas resonate in Paul’s writings, such as the justice of God, the glory of God, redemption by blood-sacrifice, divine favour, mystery, the fullness of time. There is an evocative reference to blood in both readings for today. We have been redeemed through his blood (Ephesians); and Christ’s blood joins that of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world (Luke). Clearly a positive life-giving meaning is assigned to the blood of Christ.
In the liturgical book of Leviticus, blood evokes a whole series of meanings and emotions, the most basic being that the very life of a living body is in its blood (Lev 17:11). It is as life, therefore, and not as the symbol of death, that the blood of Christ mysteriously unites us with God and each other. When the covenant of life was sealed between Yahweh and the Israelites (Exod 24:6-8) blood was sprinkled on the altar and on the people. Each of us is a living person when warm blood flows from heart to head and hands and feet uniting all the members.
Ephesians stresses the bond of unity established by blood , and extends this unity to “before the world began.” This gift of life in Christ Jesus is given because God planned to love us and give us life, before we even existed. This sweep of the eternal benevolence is strongly expressed in Ephesians. If only our love for others could be modelled upon it!
Jesus raises the theme of blood in his controversy with a group of Pharisees and lawyers. When he condemns them for erecting monumental tombs over the graves of the prophets, it is not that he is opposed to honouring the prophets. Typical of the blood-symbolism, Jesus wants to honour the dead, not so much by remembering their dead bones, but by continuing their life and imitating their concern for others, especially for the poor and people in desperate need; we too are meant to stand up for the cause of justice, for other people’s dignity and rights.
First Reading: Ephesians 1:1-10
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Gospel: Luke 11:47-54
Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ so that this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be charged against this generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”
When he went outside, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile toward him and to cross-examine him about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.