May it please thee that by the wholesome medicines of the
Doctrine delivered by [St. Luke], all diseases of our souls
may be healed…
(Collect: Feast of St. Luke the Physician)
Today we celebrate the Feast Day of St. Luke the Apostle. Saints Jerome and Eusebius tell us that he was the author of the third Gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles. In fact, if you begin with St. Luke’s Gospel, you will find that it leads logically and chronologically into Acts. In the Ancient Church, the two books were called one –Luke-Acts. We know that St. Luke was a Greek and was born in Antioch- the city where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. He is first mentioned in history in St. Paul’s Epistle to Philemon, in his Epistle to the Colossians (iv), and finally in 1 Timothy iv. We learn from the Anti-Marcionite Prologue to the Gospel of Luke that he was a native of Antioch, by profession a physician. He had become a disciple of the Apostle Paul and later followed Paul until Paul’s martyrdom. Having served the Lord continuously, unmarried and without children, filled with the Holy Spirit he died at the age of 84. We know from Luke himself that he was not an eyewitness to the historical life of Jesus Christ and Holy Tradition tells us that his Gospel account is pieced together mostly from the memory of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In his Epistle to the Colossians, St. Paul does not group St. Luke with those of the circumcision, and so we judge that he was a Gentile. In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke speaks of St. Paul and his companions often using the third-person plural they. When he switches the first person plural we, we surmise that Luke has joined their company. St. Luke died in Boetia in central Greece, and his relics are now in Constantinople. He is the Patron Saint of bachelors, bookbinders, brewers, butchers, glassmakers, goldsmiths, lacemakers, physicians, painters, surgeons, and sculptors.
Because St. Luke’s Gospel and Acts are full of descriptive detail and precision, the Medievals venerated him as a painter. For they read that onto the canvas of the ancient world St. Luke had painted a series of detailed frescoes, beginning with the conception of St. John Baptist and Jesus Christ, continuing with the earthly mission, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord, and culminating in the Pentecostal Descent of His Holy Spirit into the new life of the Church, which he found most fully expressed in the life of St. Paul.
In addition, with the skill and care of a surgeon or physician, St. Luke carefully observes and records the spiritual sickness of the pagan world that Christ dies to save and then rises to heal and sanctify through His Earthly Body, the Church. So, he points us to that final restoration to God the Father that Jesus Christ longs to accomplish through us. This reconciliation is the spiritual ingathering of fallen and sick humanity into the hands of God’s Loving Physician who heals, sanctifies, and saves his spiritual patients. St. Luke the Physician describes how Christ the Surgeon confronts the cancer of man’s sin and through His suffering and death heals all men of it. Out of death, Christ will raise up a new body for man –His own, through which all men who believe can find the spiritual health that leads them home to Heaven.
And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God…And he came down with them, and stood in the plain, and the company of his disciples, and a great multitude of people out of all Judaea and Jerusalem, and from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, which came to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases; And they that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all. (St. Luke vi. 12, 17-19)
The Lord, whose history St. Luke unfolds, is the Eternal Healer, the Great Physician, and the Heavenly doctor who comes down from His throne of glory to apply a surer remedy and lasting cure to man’s sick sinful state. His records include the healing of the physically sick or handicapped, the mentally tormented and possessed, and the outcasts and forgotten. His clinical mind describes the nature of man’s spiritual sicknesses and records the healing balms and treatments that Jesus will apply either through six Miracles or eighteen Parables that are not to be found in the other Gospels. On the whole, if we were to generalize, we could say that St. Luke has a firm handle on man’s multifarious forms of suffering and of Jesus’ incessant desire to cure them all. In the parables of theProdigal Son, the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep, Dives and Lazarus, the Publican and the Pharisee, with seven others, we find illustrations of suffering and humility that supplicate mercy and forgiveness in the healing power that Christ brings. In the six miracles unique to Luke’s Gospel –the Healing of the Ten Lepers, the Widow of Nain’s son, the Ten Lepers, the Centurion’s servant and two others, we find the affliction and anguish that alienate man from God, and then of Jesus’ loving determination to forgive, heal, and save.
Thus, we have an exhaustive record of Jesus the Good Physician in St. Luke’s Gospel. Now, how does this apply to us today? St. Luke’s writings are all about how human life begins, continues, and ends in its encounter with Jesus Christ. His history of Christ does not end with Christ’s Ascension back to the Father. In fact, if the truth be told, the meaning of Christ’s life only really begins as St. Luke continues his story with The Acts of the Apostles. For it is then that Christ begins to take up new life in the Body on earth that He will form out of the hearts and souls of all believers. St. Luke shows us that Jesus Christ has only just begun the work of our redemption. That work commences from Heaven and down to Earth as Jesus Christ comes alive in all believers through the indwelling of the Holy Ghost.
But we all know that it is not easy to become members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and aim for Heaven. St. Luke reminds us that the Pharisees of old, the religious men of Jesus’ time, murmured against His ministry while he was still on earth. Why does [He] eat and drink with publicans and sinners? (Luke 5:30). Jesus’ response to religious people in all ages is this: They that are whole need not a physician: but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 15: 31,32) Christ comes into the world to heal sinners of a spiritual sickness called sin. The Church should always be a hospital for sinners en route to salvation. The Church must be the place where Christ’s Good News and Word made flesh are preached over and over again, until Christians confess that they are always sick and in need of a physician. (Idem) Religious presumption and pride only spread the contagion of sin, postponing or forsaking the inevitable need for that spiritual healing without which we cannot be saved.
St. Luke invites us to discover the hard truth that we Christians are sick and diseased inwardly and spiritually. Romano Guardini reminds us that Christ did not come to be a social worker who eradicates world poverty or a physician who cures men of every bodily ailment. Christ was always about much more than that. Guardini writes, Christ saw too deeply into suffering. For the meaning of suffering, along with sin and estrangement from God, was to be found at the very roots of being. (How Christ relieves our Sufferings) Hidden deep and concealed beneath our conscious lives are the bleeding inner wounds of our broken inner selves. Our true inner selves are alienated and estranged from God. Christ healed the sick of his own day because they were ostracized from society because their illnesses were judged to be punishment for sin. The sick and maimed felt that their sicknesses had exiled them from God’s mercy. Jesus takes their weakness and turns it into an occasion for them to become models and patterns for all who should be forgiven and thus returned to the road of salvation. To Jesus, those who had been deemed furthest from God’s gift of redemption now became the instruments and tools of the character that leads to salvation. [If a sick man] approached him in an open-hearted, petitioning state of mind, the power simply proceeded from Him to do its work. (Idem) The sick man was asking to be healed so that he might reenter the spiritual community. Depression, melancholy, and loneliness had cast a pall over the sick man’s life. But all of this was brought to Jesus with the hope that Jesus could heal the body and, more so, the soul. Jesus will use earthly illness and its healing to establish the model for the character that seeks out spiritual healing for the spiritual illness of sin.
Long ago Christ the Word of God came into our midst. Never once did He forget the meaning of His mission to all men. Christ came to take on the predicament of human suffering caused by sin. He is the doctor and He is the cure. In the last analysis, suffering for [Christ] represented the open road, the access back to God-at least the instrument which can serve as access. Suffering is a consequence of guilt, it is true, but at the same time, it is the means of purification and return. (Idem)
St. Luke embraced that same Great Physician, Jesus Christ, who was alive and well in the life of St. Paul. From pages of his Acts, he shows us how St. Paul and others endured the healing and spread the cure to the nations of the world. This is the healing of God’s Great Physician. Christ took the sufferings of mankind upon Himself. He did not recoil from them, as man always does. He did not overlook suffering. He did not protect Himself from it. He let it come to him, took it into his heart…. Christ's healing derives from God. It reveals God and leads to God.... By healing, Jesus revealed Himself in action. Thus, He gives concrete expression to the reality of the living God. To make men penetrate to the reality of the living God-that is why Christ healed. (Idem) There is no sin which Christ cannot cure, there is no pain which He cannot relieve, and there is no sadness which His joy cannot conquer, provided we, with St. Luke, seek out His remedy for our sin.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: