Feast Day: October 18th
We learn a lot about someone when we get to know their friends. For our saint this week, I would like to get to know St. Luke, the man entrusted by God to craft the third Gospel of His Son. Our story begins with St. Paul, who sits in a prison in Ephesus. He had been working there for a few years, zealously proclaiming the Gospel and building the local Church alongside of his close friends (and roommates of a fashion) Aquila and Prisca, but it seems that he got in trouble with the synagogue leaders, or perhaps the roman officials thought he was causing too much trouble, and so, in the mid-50s, there he sits in prison writing letters to the communities he had founded elsewhere.
The Apostle to the Gentiles first crafts the unique, personal, letter to Philemon to be delivered by Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway-slave, and then he dictates a communal letter to the Colossians (speaking at length on the topic of slavery, something that seems to have been in his mind both having just encountered Onesimus, but also now himself being “a slave of Christ Jesus”, to steal his opening line from his letter to the Romans, when he is “in chains” a different time). As Paul concludes that letter, he mentions all the others who also send their greetings, and in this list (almost the same as mentioned in that letter to Philemon), we get a glimpse into those who have remained close to the imprisoned-apostle: “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas … and … Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of yourselves, a servantof Christ Jesus … Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you.”[Colossians 5:10-14]
Luke, Loukas, a Greek/gentile name we immediately notice (and Paul emphasizes it), is not only faithful to Paul in the sticky spot he finds himself, but he is also described as “beloved” (agapetos, notice the root “agape”, which indicates a close brotherhood), and “physician” (iatros, literally one-who-heals, a doctor). Like the best of doctors in our day Luke, we learn, combines both a tender-hearted concern for those around him (Paul included), and, as we quickly find once we flip to the Gospel “according to Luke”, also a man concerned with precision and an “orderly account” [Luke 1:3], in this case of the life of Christ. In his Gospel, many more times than any other, we find that same root-word “iaomai” occur again and again as Jesus is shown as a healer, a physician of sorts Himself, showring His love on the ignored and degraded. And to that second characteristic, Luke’s Gospel is the one most focused on historical and informative details of Christ’s life. Where the other evangelists skip straight to stories or parables, Luke takes time to explain to his gentile audience, throughout both Luke and Acts, the historical dates and persons engaged in the scenes he relates as well as the nuances of Jewish practices that they may not understand.
Isn’t it amazing that, through the eyes of Paul in prison, we get to know the young man who risks a visit to him?! And there, as Paul is encouraged by the compassion and courage of Luke, we can also see Luke’s eyes catch the same fire that had captured Paul. Was it here, in a dingy dungeon in Ephesus, that Luke heard story after story of Jesus’ birth, preaching, healings, and sufferings, and found in his own heart God’s invitation to write it all down? And … to not stop the story with Jesus’ resurrection, but to write an entire second book, recounting how the early Church was also born, and preached, and healed, and suffered?! (And so the Church continues to this day!)
– Fr. Rankin’s closest friends are all ones who have brought him close to Jesus. I have been taught and formed by brother priests – much like Paul did for Luke, telling him the stories and teachings of Jesus. My classmates and friends from seminary – much like Mark – have been brothers in the journey and have offered countless insights into what a relationship with Jesus is like. And so many families and friends around my assignments, and in my family, have been to me like Aquila and Priscilla and Mary and John were to Luke. The question this week: am I not only the kind of friend that stands by when suffering strikes, but also, am I the kind of friend who gives the greatest gift I can to those I love: the gift of a relationship with Jesus?