Thursday, October 18, 2012

Luke the Beloved Physician

Lule the beloved physician sends greetings (Colossians 4:14).

A Gospel is a work of art as well as a work of history. How fitting, therefore, that the Evangelist Luke, whose feast the Church celebrates today, should have been, according to tradition, a painter as well as an historian! 

The historian Luke tels us in the Prologue to his Gospel (Luke 1:1-4) how he decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence. The "everything" that he investigated was the 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. Luke displays a genuine historian's sensibility in his approach, but even more so a pre-eminently ecclesial sensibility. The "events" must continue to be told in the community - even after the eyewitnesses from the beginning are gone. Hence the need for a Gospel to function as a perennial eyewitness. And Luke brings his considerable artistry to bear in telling the story for future generations. And not just one story - but two! Luke the historian recounts and Luke the painter portrays not just life and mission of Jesus but the life and mission of his Church, which continues Christ's presence and action in the world. The sequel to Luke's Gospel, The Acts of the Apostles, paints the picture of the providential growth and expansion of the Church - even in the midst of persecution - from a small Jewish sect in Jerusalem to a mixed Jewish and Gentile community based in the major cities of the Roman Empire and putting down roots even in the capital itself, Rome.

In this age of so much spiritual individualism, when that nonsensical neologism "spiritual but not religious" has become so current, we do well to counter that by recalling Luke's parallel portraits of Christ in the Gospel and the Church in Acts - and the man himself who lived the Church-centered life he portrayed. The great missionary Saint Paul, who devoted his life to founding and nurturing local Church communities and their mutual communion with one another, cherished the community of collaborators on whom he relied and depended - among them Luke.

It seems that Luke was often with Paul. (In today's reading from Paul's 2nd Letter to Timothy, we get to hear Paul lament that Luke was the only one with him at that juncture!). In his letter to the Colossians, Paul associates Luke's greeting to the faithful with his, calling him "the beloved physician." One supposes that medicine was what we would nowadays call Luke's "day job," when he wasn't writing scripture or otherwise heling foster Church community in the Gentile Roman world! But Paul wasn't just noting Luke's "secular" profession. He called him "the beloved physician." Perhaps Paul himself had used and benefited from Luke's medical expertise. But, above all, Paul seemed to value Luke as a companion.

Because the life of faith is not just an individual career path, but a communal journey together through the world, Paul acutely appreciated his companions - fellow disciples like Luke. And so must we. Like Luke, we depend on our sources for the story we tell the world. Like Paul and Luke together, and like the Spirit-filled communities of faith Luke portrayed, we all depend on one another. 

We are our most "spiritual" when we are together. 

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