Today, October 18, is the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist.
According to tradition and what has been deduced from his writings, St. Luke was born a pagan in Antioch, converted to Christianity, and became a companion of St. Paul’s on a number of his missionary journeys. St. Paul described him as “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14), and he is the author of the Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, which combined represent over a quarter of the New Testament text.
Tradition says of St. Luke that he was an artist, and he is credited with painting the Black Madonna of Czestochowa. St. Luke’s symbol in iconography is the ox with wings.
The Gospel According to Luke has long been my favorite and includes many of the most popular stories and parables of Jesus, including the Nativity, the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan. Luke’s account of the Passion of Christ includes the merciful words of Jesus from the Cross: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Luke’s Gospel emphasizes the humanity of Christ and the mercy of Christ.
Lord God, who chose Saint Luke to reveal by his preaching and writings the mystery of your love for the poor, grant that those who already glory in your name may persevere as one heart and one soul and that all nations may merit to see your salvation. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Collect Prayer for the Feast of St. Luke
I have included here the excerpt from my book, Thy Word: An Introduction to the Bible for People in the Pews on the Gospel According to Luke and The Acts of the Apostles.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE
The Gospel According to Luke was written around AD 85 and has from the earliest centuries been credited to Luke, a well-educated Greek, a physician and a companion of Paul to Macedonia, Jerusalem and Rome. Modern scholars have no reason to doubt the claim that this Luke wrote the Gospel and its companion book, the Acts of the Apostles. Luke, then, is the only Gospel that comes with a “Part Two.” The Gospel According to Luke is an account of the life and ministry of Jesus, and the Acts of the Apostles is a history of the earliest decades of the Church, especially the ministries of Peter and Paul.
Luke is very clear about why he wrote his Gospel: “Since many have undergone to compile a narrative of events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received” (1:1-4). Luke’s friend, Theophilus, whose name means “beloved of God,” is an important person in the Christian Church. Luke’s expectation is that Theophilus will use his important position to spread the Gospel among the Christian churches of his area, so that Christians will know the truth that the Church preaches about Jesus.
For Luke, God’s plan of salvation is revealed and worked out in three stages. The first stage is that of the law and the prophets, the time of the Old Testament. The second stage is the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, from His birth to His Ascension into heaven. The third stage is that of the Church, which has the mission of spreading the good news of Jesus to the world.
The first few chapters of Luke are filled with Old Testament type characters. There are the angels announcing God’s plans (1:26-38), Zechariah the priest and his wife, Elizabeth (1:5-25), John the Baptist (3:2-22), Simeon and Anna, the elderly man and woman who pray at the Temple (2:22-38), and the elders who gather around the boy Jesus amazed at His learning and wisdom (2:41-51). When Jesus is in the desert, the devil tempts Him with passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, and Jesus retorts with passages from the Hebrew Scriptures (4:1-13). Early on in His ministry, Jesus visits a synagogue and reads from the prophet Isaiah, announcing the fulfillment of his prophecy (4:16-21). Jesus’ life and ministry are portrayed as a journey toward Jerusalem, David’s capital and the holy city of the people of Israel (18:31-34). After His Resurrection, Jesus meets two disciples on the road to Emmaus and “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures” (24:27).
There is one more Person Who has a prominent role in the early life and ministry of Jesus, and that is the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit Who prepares Mary (1:35), John the Baptist (1:15) and Elizabeth (1:4b) for the coming of Jesus. It is the Holy Spirit Who fills Simeon (2:25-26) and allows him to recognize Jesus. It is the Holy Spirit Who fills Jesus and leads Him into the desert to do battle with the devil (4:1). It is the Spirit of the Lord Who is upon Jesus Who fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy (4:18). In these examples, Luke makes clear that the Old Testament was a time of preparation for the coming of the Messiah, that Jesus is the Messiah for Whom the law and prophets prepared the people of God, and that all of this is the work of the Holy Spirit.
John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, preaches about the coming Messiah and initiates Jesus into His earthly ministry by baptizing Him (3:21-22). The Holy Spirit is here, too, descending upon Jesus in the form of a dove, as a voice from heaven calls out, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (3:22). Jesus’ ministry is one of healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the hungry, reaching out to the lowly and forgotten, freeing those caught in the grip of demons, teaching the people how to follow God and, especially, about God’s love and forgiveness for all. Jesus’ earthly ministry ends with His suffering, death, Resurrection and Ascension. But the proclamation of the gospel does not end there. There was a common misunderstanding among the early Christians that Jesus would return soon. Luke wants to correct this misunderstanding, and address the responsibilities of Christian discipleship. He recounts Jesus’ parable of the gold coins (19:11-27). Ten men are each given a gold coin by their master, who “went off to a distant country to obtain the kingship for himself” (19:12). On his return, he calls his servants before him. The first shows that he has made ten coins by investing the one. A second shows that he has made five. But a third gives him back the one coin that he was given. He had hidden it away out of fear that the master would punish him if he lost it. The master rebukes him for not investing the coin and gives it to the one who has ten, for “to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away”(19:26). The point of the parable is that the Ascension of Jesus does not end the work of spreading the good news. Rather, it begins the third stage of God’s plan of salvation, the time of the Church. Luke will write about the Church in his second volume, The Acts of the Apostles. Being a disciple of Jesus means being a faithful servant of the gospel until He returns (17:10).
The Gospel According to Luke includes some of the most famous and well-loved parables of Jesus, such as the Good Samaritan (10:25-37) and the Prodigal Son (15:11-32). The message of the Good Samaritan is that Jesus’ disciples are to reach out to all in need with compassion, even to those who may not be our best friends, or may even be our enemies. The parable of the Prodigal Son is a message of God’s mercy. Even when we reject our Father’s love and leave Him, He never rejects us. He awaits our return to Him, and His love for us is unconditional and unending.
Luke closes his Gospel with Jesus appearing to His disciples: “Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to these things. And [behold] I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (24:45b-49). The “power from on high,” of course, is the Holy Spirit, Who is with Jesus from His birth to His Ascension, and Who will be with the Church as she brings the good news of Jesus to all the world.
THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
The Acts of the Apostles (or, simply, Acts) is Part Two to the Gospel According to Luke. As with Luke, Acts is addressed to Theophilus, the “beloved of God,” and is intended to give an account of the work of the apostles in fulfilling Jesus’ command to preach His message of “repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, … to all the nations” (Luke 24:47).
The hero of the Gospel According to Luke, of course, is Jesus. While Peter and Paul figure heroically in Acts, the real hero of the book, and the Church’s great Advocate throughout her history, is the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit Who anoints the Twelve at Pentecost (2:1-13), providing the apostles not only with the words to preach about Jesus, but with the courage to do so, even in the face of persecution and martyrdom. It is the Holy Spirit Who fills Peter when he speaks before the Jewish Council of leaders (4:1-22). It is the Holy Spirit Who fills the first deacons (6:1-7). It is the Holy Spirit Who directs Philip in his ministry to the Ethiopian (8:26-40). It is the Holy Spirit Who fills Saul after his vision of Jesus (9:1-9) then leads him, as Paul, on his mission with Barnabas (13:1-3). It is the Holy Spirit Who directs Peter in his ministry to Cornelius and Who fills the members of Cornelius’ household (10:1-48). It is the Holy Spirit Who spoke through the prophet Isaiah (28:25-29), inspires the apostles at the Council of Jerusalem (15:1-35) and gives consolation and growth to the Church (9:31).
The first half of Acts focuses on the twelve apostles, especially Peter, and introduces Paul and the story of his conversion. Chapter 15 recounts the Council of Jerusalem, when the apostles tackled the question of whether or not Gentile converts to Christ must be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses. The answer of the apostles and, of course, the Holy Spirit, is to not burden the Gentiles with such things (15:28-29).
From that point, Acts turns exclusively to the missionary work of Paul and his companions, recording his trips throughout the Mediterranean world and, finally, to Rome. In Rome, Paul continues to preach the gospel of Jesus. It would be in Rome that Paul, like Peter before him, would make the ultimate sacrifice for Christ.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.