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St. Luke: Doctor, Artist, Evangelist

by Joel V. Ocampo


As we celebrate the Feast of Saint Luke, the Evangelist, on October 18, let’s get to know this Gospel writer who was also a doctor and an artist.


According to the Church’s Sacred Tradition, the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles were written by St Luke. This two-volume composition practically makes up one-third of the whole New Testament, with the author’s elaborate infancy and apparition narratives.


St. Luke the Evangelist | Photo from Episcopal Diocese from Central Florida


Doctor of St Paul

But according to the Letter to the Colossians (4:14), Luke was also a physician.


During St. Paul’s imprisonment and trial, Luke - whom St. Paul calls him a “co-worker” (Philemon 1:24) - was the only one with him (2 Tim. 4:11). In the Acts of the Apostles, we also discover that St. Luke was one of the companions of St. Paul during the so-called “Mission of Paul to the Ends of the Earth” (Acts 15:36–28:31). In chapter 16 onwards, we see the pronouns “we”, and “us”, e.g., WE sought passage to Macedonia at once, concluding that God had called US to proclaim the good news to them” (Acts 16:10); and “Lydia and her household had been baptized, she offered US an invitation…” (Acts 16:15). If St. Luke used the pronouns “we” and “us,” that means he writes as one of St. Paul’s companions. The other passages are Acts 20:5–15; 21:1–18; 27:1–28:16.


One can surmise then that if St. Paul five times received forty lashes, three times was beaten with rods, once stoned, and three times shipwrecked (2 Cor. 11:24-25), then most likely St. Luke provided medical assistance to St. Paul and his companions.


On this feast of St. Luke, the doctor, let us ask his intercession for all doctors and medical frontliners. That God may give them the zeal of St. Luke in caring for the sick. That they may heal the physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual illness of the people afflicted with the pandemic.


Companion of the Poor

Fr. Herman F. Hendrickx, CICM, one of the most eminent Biblical scholars in the Philippines wrote a book entitled “The Third Gospel for the Third World,” a series of commentaries on the Gospel of Luke.

He theorizes that the Gospel of Luke was probably written for a Christian community or a cluster of house churches in an Eastern Mediterranean city so when St. Luke speaks of the poor, he refers primarily to the urban poor of his time.


MAJOR THEMES OF THE GOSPEL OF LUKE

1. UNIVERSALISM (Openness to Gentiles) – St. Luke recorded many themes that talks about salvation for all, including the Gentiles. The old man Simeon says this in his Nunc Dimittis (Lk. 2:29-32), “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” In Acts chapter 10, St. Luke also recorded the Baptism of Cornelius. In this story, St. Peter said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35). He further explained in the next chapter, “If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?” (Acts 11:17).


2. COMPASSION AND MERCY – St. Luke’s Messiah is full of compassion and tenderness and great forgiveness. “Repentance and forgiveness of sins” not just for Jews but for “all the nations” becomes possible by his death and resurrection (Lk. 24:46-48). God’s mercy and compassion for the “lost” was best illustrated in the Three Parables of Mercy in Luke chapter 15 ─ the lost sheep (15:3-7); the lost coin (15:8-10); and the lost son (15:11-32). These stories are consistent exhortations against the pharisaic attitude of self-righteousness that discriminates against the sinners. St. Luke was also the one who recorded the story of the good thief who won the paradise during the crucifixion. To him Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43).


3. HOLY SPIRIT – in this third Gospel, we often read, “filled with the holy Spirit” (Lk. 1:15) and/or “The holy Spirit will come upon you…” (Lk. 1:35). For example, “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’” (Lk. 1:41-42). St. Luke also mentioned the following persons as filled with the Holy Spirit: Zechariah (Lk. 1:67); Simeon (Lk. 2:25); and Anna (Lk. 2:36).


In one of our Bible studies before, Most Rev. Pablo Virgilio S. David, D.D., the current CBCP Vice President, and a Bible Scholar said, “Spirit in Luke always represents supernatural divine power. Only in the Spirit can anyone utter anything prophetic. Only through the Spirit can any mission be made possible.”


4. PRAYER – of all the Gospels, Luke has the greatest number of references to a “praying Jesus.” St. Luke recorded a praying Jesus at least seven times: at baptism (Lk. 3:21); retiring in the desert after a heavy day of preaching and healing (Lk. 5:16); before choosing his apostles (Lk. 6:12); before confronting his disciples with the question “Who do people/you say that I am?” (Lk 9:18); at the Transfiguration (Lk. 9:28); before teaching the Lord’s Prayer (Lk. 11:1); and at the cross (Lk. 23:34). Jesus also told Peter that he had prayed especially for him (Lk. 22:32). He also speaks of persistence in prayer in 11:5-13; 18:1-8; and 21:36. The theme of prayer also comes out very often in the Acts of the Apostles.


5. JOY – the coming of the savior in Luke brings joy: the angel opens his message to Mary with Rejoice! (Lk. 1:28), and to the shepherds “I bring you tidings of joy!” (Lk. 2:10). There are at least twenty references to joy. Some of these can be read in Luke 1:14, 44, 46, 58; 6:23; 10:17, 20-21; 15:5-7, 9-10; 19:37; 24:41, 52).


6. WOMEN – Luke mentioned at least seven women who participated in the story of salvation and in Jesus’ mission:

  1. Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist (Lk. 1:5, 7, 13, 24, 39-45, 57-66);

  2. Mary the Mother of Jesus (Lk. 1:26-56; 2:1-52);

  3. Mary Magdalene (Lk. 8:1-2; 24:10);

  4. Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza (Lk. 8:1, 3; 24:10);

  5. Susanna (Lk. 8:1, 3);

  6. Martha of Bethany (Lk. 10:38-42); and

  7. Mary of Bethany (Lk. 10:39, 42).

In addition to these, only St. Luke mentioned about the wailing women of Jerusalem on the way of the cross (Lk. 23:27-31). In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke also paid attention to the other women followers and fellow missionaries like Priscilla (18:2, 18, 26) and Lydia (16:14-15). These passages tell us that women are also missionaries of the Gospel.


7. SOCIAL JUSTICE (bias for the poor and defenseless) – St. Luke highlights, among his characters, especially the poor of Israel:

  • the shepherds (2:8, 15, 28, 20);

  • the widows, (2:37; 4:25-26; 7:12; 18:1-8; 20:47; 21:1-4);

  • the lepers, (4:27; 5:12-13; 7:22; 17:12);

  • the handicapped, (7:22; 14:13; 14:21);

  • the prostitutes, (7:37-50); and

  • the sinners (5:30-32; 6:32-34; 7:34, 39; 15:7; 15:10; 18:13; 19:7).


The savior is born in a very poor situation: in a stable, no place for them in the inns, visited by shepherds; and at his presentation, the parents offer the recommended offering of the poor, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” (Lk. 2:24).


THE WRITINGS OF ST. LUKE IN TIME OF PANDEMIC

If we read the Gospel written by St. Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, we can see many lessons that are useful in time of pandemic:

  1. COMMUNAL AID – “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need” (Acts 4:32-35).

  2. SYSTEM OF DISTRIBUTION OF GOODS – “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need” (Acts 2:44-45). This led wealthier Christians to sell their possessions when the needs of the community’s poor required it.

  3. PARABLES ABOUT HELPING OTHERS – this includes the famous Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37); The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31); and The Parable of the Friend who Came at Night (Lk. 11:5-8).


ST. LUKE, AN ARTIST

Finally, according to tradition St. Luke was a very talented young man. Apart from writing one of the Gospels and the Acts of the apostles, he was also an artist. Four of the more widely known icons attributed to St. Luke includes: Our Lady of Vladimir, Our Lady of Czestochowa, Salus Populi Romani, and the Our Lady of Perpetual Help.



St. Luke the Evangelist, pray for us!



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