Vol II No. 5

St. Luke the Physician

by William J. Martin

Andrea_Mantegna_017October 19, 2014

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 Evangelist. 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 his 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, then 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 most have concluded that he was a Gentile. In the Acts of the Apostles St. Luke speaks of St. Paul and his companions coming into Troy in the third-person plural they. Suddenly he switches to the first person plural we, and so we conclude that he was converted there. 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, lace makers, 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 onto the canvass of the ancient world St. Luke paints a series of panels 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 witness 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 Mystical Body. And so he emphasizes the final peace and reconciliation which God the Father offers to all men through Jesus Christ. 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. So what St. Luke the physician describes is how God the surgeon confronts the cancer of man’s sin, and through the suffering and death of His Son brings it to death. Out of death He 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 tracks the course of man’s spiritual diseases and observes 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 is a keen observer of man’s multifarious forms of suffering and of Jesus’ incessant desire to cure them all. In the parables of the Prodigal 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 find mercy and forgiveness in the healing power that Christ longs to impart. So, also with the six miracles unique to Luke’s Gospelthe 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.

But what does this have to do with us today, you might ask? St. Luke’s answer would be: Everything. St. Luke’s writings are all about human life that begins, continues, and ends in 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 then really begins. For it is then that He begins to reach down from Heaven through the Holy Ghost to extend the healing grace that He longs to share. St. Luke shows us that Jesus Christ never ceases to desire to heal and transform the men of all ages through the power of His Holy Spirit as He welcomes believers into the new life which He has won for them.

But we all know that it is no easy task to follow Jesus, become members of His Body the Church, and aim for Heaven. St. Luke reminds us, pointing to the Pharisees of old, that most religious men are wont to murmur against Jesus’ presence in the world. Why does [He] eat and drink with publicans and sinners? (Luke 5:30). Jesus’ response to religious people in all ages is the same: 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) Jesus comes to heal sinners of a spiritual sickness called sin. That the Church should always and ever be a hospital for sinners en route to salvation is paramount for St. Luke. For though the Church must be the womb where the Gospel –God’s good news and Word made flesh, is preached, heard, obeyed, and embraced over and over again, until Christians confess that they are always sick and in need of a physician, presumption and pride will spread the contagion of sin, wreaking ruin and havoc in the Body of Christ. (Idem)

So St. Luke invites us to discover the hard truth we Christians are sick and diseased inwardly and spiritually. The Orthodox theologian, Father George Maloney, summarizes our task in these words:

It takes much courage and silence to enter into the

          hidden areas of our being and to encounter there

          the mountains and mountains of psychic spiritual

          brokenness. Under these mountains that have been

          pushed into the darkness of the unconscious are

          smoldering volcanoes of seething past hurt.

Hidden deep and concealed beneath our conscious lives are the bleeding inner wounds of our broken inner selves. To these mountains we must resort in order discover the great obstacles which jealously incubate the pain of our past lives. Having the courage to find the source of our spiritual illness is the first step of the soul’s opening to the healing that Jesus brings. Acknowledging that we are sick comes first and then comes learning how and why this is so. But both phases of discovery enable us to learn what has alienated us from God and then to place it all in His healing hands. No doubt, as Father Maloney reminds us, we shall be opposed, thwarted, and discouraged in this spiritual endeavor.

What fears rise up like specters out of the mist and fog

                   Of our past! What raw experiences trigger anger, hatred,

          And unforgiveness! What moods of depression, melancholy,

          And loneliness when we reflect on the wasted parts of our lives!

Depression, melancholy, and loneliness cast a pall over what seem the chronicles of a wasted life because we have tarried so long in coming to Jesus for the cure. Driven on by fears, our rage, ill will, and unforgiveness hold us captive to a sickness that resists its remedy. But all of this is what we must work out of ourselves and offer up to the Lord as He works His redemptive healing into our souls. Jesus knows the sadness, anxiety, and regret that our sin engenders. Long ago our sin fell silent and died in the embrace of His loving arms. Knowing that our diseased human condition could be nursed out of spiritual death and into new life by His love alone, He took the disease on and into Himself. Our sickness is sin and if left to run its course and spread its poison, it will lead to a spiritual death forever alienated from God. So into this place of terminal illness, Christ offers Himself. He is the doctor and He is the cure.

St. Luke embraced that same Great Physician, Jesus Christ, who was alive and well in the life of St. Paul. And from pages of his Acts, he shows us how he and others endured the healing and spread the cure to the nations of the world. This is the healing of God’s Great Physician who always brings peace to the body torn with pain and calm to the tempest-tossed soul. He dispels the fears that haunt the children of men and breathes forgiveness through them to all others. He reconciles men to men and men to God in a peace that passeth all understanding. To those who fall captive to the Love of His heart, His good will is all that is needed in the world. He asks for nothing but to do His work, which is the delight and joy of all His Being. (Adp. The Christian Year in the Times: St. Luke) There is no sin which He 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, undergo His remedy. Amen.