“Almighty God, our Father, Your blessed Son called Luke the physician to be an evangelist and physician of the soul. Grant that the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments may put to flight the diseases of our souls that with willing hearts we may ever love and serve You; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”
[Collect for St. Luke]
October 18 marks the date for the Festival of St. Luke, the Evangelist. Unlike the other three Gospel Writers, Luke was not intimately connected with the first generation of the Church in Jerusalem. He was not one of the original Twelve Apostles, like Matthew and John. He was not related to Peter, like Mark. Instead, Luke was an outsider brought into fellowship with Christ through the work of the Church. Though some believe that Luke was a member of the Seventy-Two whom Jesus sent out during His earthly ministry, most scholars—ancient and modern alike—record that Luke was a Syrian from Antioch, the first major city touched by the Apostolic Mission.
Because of the work that the Church did, this Gentile god-fearer was brought into fellowship with Christ. He became a disciple, part of the Church. But not only was he made an heir of righteousness through faith in Christ’s words and works, Luke was pressed into service for the Lord’s Church. This service is alluded to in the Acts of the Apostles, the companion book to the Third Gospel. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the Gentile physician is befriended by a Pharisee-turned-apostle named Paul. This unlikely pair traveled journeyed in the Mediterranean Region, through thick and thin, to bring the message of Christ to new audiences.
Luke’s connection to Paul is mentioned in the Epistle Reading for his festival day. Giving instructions for Timothy to come to him in Rome, Paul mentions the desperate situation: “Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus.”(2Tim 4:9-12) Though the apostle was imprisoned, his assistant was still there. Luke was present to help in that time of need.
Perhaps Luke’s background as a Gentile brought to faith is why the Church chose the other readings for his festival day. In the Gospel Reading, Jesus speaks about His mission: “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of Him, two by two, into every town and place where He Himself was about to go. And He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.’”(Lk 10:1-2) Jesus’ description of the harvest included Luke and all the Gentiles who would be brought to faith.
The Old Testament Reading also includes a description of the Christ’s mission: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.”(Isa 35:5-8) There would be a way for the Lord’s people to follow. No unclean people would be on it. And yet, even in Antioch, where “the disciples were first called Christians,”(Ac 11:26c) the Gentiles would become part of the Way, for even the unclean nations were made clean through the Christ’s sacrificial death. A change takes place through His work: the sinful character of people is forgiven; life is created in the souls that once were dead in sinfulness and ignorance.
What happened to the people of Antioch, including Luke, defines what takes place in the present day. The harvest is plentiful, for there are many who have not heard of the work of Christ. The Christ’s mission of healing continues, for there are countless numbers of people who suffer from sin and all its negative effects, including temporal and everlasting death. Sin is a great disease that cannot be remedied by therapy or drugs or a health vacation. No, it must be eradicated by the greatest of medicines: the words of Christ that absolve and heal both body and soul.
You have had need of that healing, for you have been plagued by sin. It blinds you from seeing God’s righteousness. It plugs your ears, keeping them from hearing His guidance. Sin cripples you, so that you walk in the crooked ways instead of the straight and narrow. You are unable to speak what is good and right, but have mouths full of cursing and blasphemy. That is the condition into which sin places all people, even from their birth. But that is the exact condition that the Great Physician has come to remedy. He comes with healing in His wings to revive, restore, and repair.
How does Jesus heal you? He sends His laborers into His harvest. He gives them the medicine bag full of His Gospel meant for the ears, mouths, and minds of sinners. It is the prescription that Luke wrote for the people of the Mediterranean and for you. For you have his record of what Christ did and said for your salvation. That is what the Church honors on October 18. You have “an orderly account . . . that you may have certainty concerning the things that you have been taught.”(Lk 1:3b-4) It is what you and all Christ’s people continually ask to receive: “Grant that the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments may put to flight the diseases of our souls that with willing hearts we may ever love and serve You.” And it is what the Church prays to be delivered to others, as our Lord directs: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”(Lk 10:2)