Lk 10: 1-9. 2 Tim 4: 5-17.
Today we celebrate St Luke. His day is actually today, 18th October. So it is
good to be able to take a moment or two to look at the man, his gospel, his
view of who Jesus was and what it all can mean for us today – in our life.
First: the man. What do we know about him? According to St Paul’s letter
and what Luke himself writes the Acts of the Apostles he was a physician.
An early document speaks of Luke as coming from Antioch in Syria which you might recall is the place where the earliest followers of the “Jesus Way” were first called “Christians” [Acts 11:26].
He accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey when he went from Troas to Philippi as we are told in Acts chapter 16 and on the third missionary journey from Philippi to Jerusalem [Acts 20]. Luke went with Paul to Rome and stayed with him when Paul was held captive there as we know from Paul’s letter to the Colossians [4:14] and from what we heard in the passage from 2 Timothy [4:11]: Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you for he is useful in ministry.
Luke was probably a Gentile – which cleverer people than me – and that’s a
big group – say on the basis of Luke’s use of idiomatic Greek. I shall return to this gentile theme. A document known as the Anti-Marcionite Prologues says that Luke was unmarried, that he wrote his gospel in Greece and that he died at the age of 84. By the way no-one seriously argues that Luke DIDN’T write the Gospel attributed to him – or the book of Acts. The literary style the books exhibit shows the author to be well-educated, maybe somewhat self-effacing, with historical sense and considerable gifts of expression. So: that’s the man. I’d like to touch on the particular emphases he has in his gospel because I think it tells us quite a lot about Luke the man and the Christian and his view of who Jesus was.
It is a commonplace that all four gospels are different and that they show us
different aspects of Jesus. The four gospel writers similarly are represented
symbolically in Christian tradition. Matthew as a man the human face of God. Mark as a lion king of the wild beasts bounding along. John as an eagle, spiritual high flying and all-seeing.— and Luke as an ox.
An ox. We 21st century westerners don’t see this large bovine creature as
they did in the East 2000 years ago. In the absence of machinery the ox was
the ancient world’s most powerful engine a symbol of divine strength. The ox did the work, carried the heaviest loads, ploughed, pulled carts, treaded grain. In a very real way no oxen equalled no food. It was a symbol of wealth. You shall not covet your neighbours wife / servant / OX / or donkey…
Five points if you can remember which number in the Ten Commandments
that is. But an ox, by virtue of its strength, could be a dangerous animal.
If the lion was king of the wild beasts the ox was king of the domestic ones. It was also the sacrificial animal. It carried not only physical burdens but also the burden of transgressions, the sins of others and paid the price for them. Solomon sacrificed 22000 oxen at the dedication of the Temple [1 Kings 8:63]. That would have kept the priests busy.
So while we have the modern image of the plodder let’s bear in mind the
image of power, strength, work, wealth – and sacrifice. Luke’s gospel doesn’t “plod” at least to my mind. But it IS full and detailed starting with the annunciation of John the Baptist and Jesus. And it ends with the ascension. In fact – useless fact – 40% of the New Testament was written by St Luke. That’s more than St Paul and certainly more than anyone else.
We can see Luke’s interest from his emphases. I’ve just said his gospel is
comprehensive. It is also universalist. Maybe a clue to Luke being a Gentile.
The angels’ goodwill message to the shepherds is directed to all mankind
[2:14]. Simeon foretells that Jesus will be a light to the Gentiles…[2:32].
When John the Baptist is crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the
Lord… Luke is careful to add: and ALL flesh shall see the salvation of God.
[3:6]. There are more examples / but that will do.
Then there is Luke’s interest in people his focus on individuals when he is
recounting incidents with Jesus. His portraits of the priest Zachariah, the
cousins Elizabeth and Mary, the sisters Mary and Martha, the extortionate tax collector Zacchaeus, the mournful Clopas and his companion of the road to Emmaus. There is no doubt that Jesus’ value of the individual deeply
impressed Luke who, as a physician, was similarly predisposed I guess.
More than the other gospels Luke shows Jesus’ deep concern for social
outcasts of every kind. The immoral woman with the alabaster jar of ointment who anointed Jesus’ feet with her hair all the while weeping [7:36]: the transformation of Zacchaeus the greedy tax farmer, the repentance of the robber on the cross [23:40]. And Jesus’ parables that focus on the prodigal son, the two debtors, the publican at prayer: Lord, forgive me for I am a sinner.
And women. Thirteen women mentioned by St Luke who we don’t hear about in any of the other gospels. The emphasis on the women at the cross and at the tomb, the story of the widow on Nain. Jesus was completely accepting of women and Luke was anxious to portray this in his gospel. One can also highlight Jesus attitude as reported by St Luke to children. Both groups were outsiders subordinated in their society. Compare them then, to society’s attitude to refugees and migrants here today.
And last – to poverty and wealth. Probably our biggest challenge today.
Many of Luke’s reported parables of Jesus relate to money matters; the two
debtors, the rich fool, the tower builder, the lost coin, the unjust steward, the rich man and Lazarus. Those who are “poor” and “humble” are often the objects of his mercy. He calls the Pharisees lovers of money [16:14]. At
Nazareth Jesus proclaims “good tidings to the poor”. In the Magnificat the
hungry are filled and the rich are sent empty away.
But we are not to think that Luke is a “down” person. Along with Jesus’
teaching on prayer – of which there is more in St Luke than the other gospels – likewise the Holy Spirit – what we also get from Luke is JOY. We get
laughter and merriment when the lost is found, when Zacchaeus comes down from his tree and takes Jesus home. It is only in St Luke we get those
wonderful canticles that grace Anglican liturgy, the Magnificat, the Benedictus, the Gloria in Excelsis, and the Nunc Dimittis. Good old Luke. Good old Thomas Cranmer.
St Luke the ox plodding along gives us not only the orderly account of the life of Jesus that he promised his friend Theophilus in his introduction to the Gospel, he also highlights for us aspects of the character of Jesus that I think particularly challenge our society today.
One challenge is our attitude to “outsiders”. The other is our attitude to
money. Jesus was shown by Luke to be completely accepting of all sorts and
conditions of people seeing them as individuals and not part of some cohort that was to be judged as a block. We must, must strive to do the same if we are to live out our Christian faith. God knows, I find that hard.
And money. We have won the first prize in life. We live here. Even those
here who feel economically challenged in these “interesting” times can
acknowledge the contrast between life in England in Hertfordshire in 2020
and life in any of the many current conflict zones or the refugee camps in
Lebanon, Turkey, Palestine, various parts of Africa, you name it. And all
those people risking – and losing – their lives trying to reach Europe and the
In his gospel St Luke shows us in Jesus a pattern of how we should respond
in our day to the great need we see around us. How we do respond is the
challenge that confronts us all. Amen.