Tuesday, October 27, 2015

St. Luke the Evangelist

Heal the sick and say unto them, the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.

Today, October 18, is the day in which St. Luke is commemorated in the calendar of saints in the Anglican tradition. Luke is remembered as the Evangelist, the author of the Gospel that bears his name, as well as the sequel to that book, the Acts of the Apostles. We do not know a great deal about Luke. According to tradition he was a physician and a disciple of Paul—in Paul's letters there are a couple of references to Luke but little information beyond a name and occupation. The argument is often made that Luke's training as a physician gave him special skills in attention to detail that characterize the books attributed to him. Another noteworthy quality of the Luke's Gospel and the book of Acts is his ability to depict a remarkable sympathy for a variety of people—there is a kind of humanism in Luke's portrayals. Noteworthy for his time, Luke has a special concern for women, Gentiles, the poor, and non-practicing Jews—called in the idiom of the day—sinners. In addition, some of the most moving parables are only found in his Gospel: the parables of the prodigal son, the Rich man and Lazarus, and the parable of the good Samaritan. Also only found in Luke's Gospel are the account of Mary's humble obedience to Gabriel's report that she will bear God's son, the encounter of our Lord Jesus with the tax collector Zacchaeus, and the realistic portrait of the two sisters Martha and Mary, the one who works tirelessly to host Jesus and the other who simply wants to sit and enjoy his presence. Luke reminds one of the sheer variety and diversity of people in the world.

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying that the only certainties of life are death and taxes. During their lifetime, most will labor under a sickness of the body. Might we also add that to a certain extent sickness is a certainty of life. I would submit that virtually all of us labor under sicknesses of the soul, and that these sicknesses are much more intractable that diseases of the body. The Collect for the feast of St. Luke reminds us that Luke became Physician of the soul by virtue of writing his Gospel which leads us to a knowledge of the Lord Jesus who is the wholesome medicine for what ails us.

Now a sickness of the soul might sound rather vague so I'd like to offer a suggestive illustration of what I mean by such diseases. In the classic children's book The Little Prince—a book I've been quoted as saying that it is second only to the Bible—a little prince who is an inhabitant of outer space decides to leave his tiny planet and journey to earth. He principle motivation in leaving seems to be a kind of wanderlust—he is looking for something, but he doesn't quite know what. On his journey to earth he encounters a number of fanciful and humorous inhabitants of other planets. First, the Little Prince meets the absolute monarch whose planet has no inhabitant but himself. This king insists that he rules over the stars and galaxies, though the real extent of power is pretty much over himself. The Little Prince quickly leaves the king's planet, remarking to himself, “grown-ups are so strange.”
On the next planet, the Little Prince meets a very vain man, who insists on believing that the Little Prince has to come to his planet as an admirer. The vain man wants the Little Prince to clap for him so he can tip his hat “in modest acknowledge.” On a further planet the Little Prince meets a drunkard who tells the Little Prince that he drinks in order to forget his shame about the fact that he drinks. The Little Prince is perplexed by this circular thinking. The next planet is inhabited by a businessman who gives his whole and continuous attention to adding up a list of the stars he claims he owns. When the Little Prince tries to ask him a question, the businessman distractedly says “I have so much work to do! I'm a serious man” and quickly goes back to his counting. Then the Little Prince asks him what he does with his stars, the serious man says, “nothing. I own them. . . I manage them. I count them and then count them again. . . It's difficult work. But I'm a serious person!”

Collectively these portraits are a satire on how trite human existence can become when it is disconnected from imagination, joy and friendship. The king is working under the delusion of control and power; the vain man is trying to get a sense of self from the praise of others; the drunkard throws himself into a cycle of self-destructive behaviour that has no reason or purpose but to destroy; and the businessman thinks that  his wealth is the reason for his existence. Each of these are a kind of disease of the soul that, I would argue, we encounter everyday and may even be afflicted with. If you've ever acted like you were the absolute monarch of your own life or if you've ever tried to gain a sense of self-worth from other people, if you've ever put yourself in a cycle of self-destructive behaviour, or if you've ever behaved as if the purpose of your life was to accumulate more goods or more wealth, then you too have a sickness of the soul. The bad news is that nearly all of us have one. The good news is that we have a Physician of the soul in St. Luke and the healing of our Lord Jesus.

Our Lord, by his word and actions, gives the healing medicine that to be human is not to live by power and control, like the absolute monarch, but to be human is to live by the laws of surrender, service and love. He tells the disciples that, I come as one that serveth. To those who lack self-worth and have to feed on the praise of men to gain a sense of self, like the very vain man, our Lord comes that he might teach us to call God, our Father, so that as we learn to know God as our Father, we will know that we are his children and don't need to gain a sense of self outside that reality. Our Lord tells us that there is grace for those who are living in self-destructive behaviors, like the drunkard. One of the highlights of Luke's Gospel is the parable of the prodigal son who wastes his inheritance in riotous living and decides to return to his father as a servant only to be welcomed as a son by the father who runs to meet him. The father doesn't wait for the son to come to him but runs to meet him. Finally, our Lord comes to teach us that life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. Money is not an end in itself, like the businessman thought. We are made to eat and enjoy the good things which the Lord serves us at his table, but our final happiness is in God alone.

Just like if you have a physical ailment, the smartest thing to do, as my wife has to remind me from time to time, is to go to the doctor. So we, whole have diseases of the soul need to go the Physician of our souls, who can make us whole. We need to turn to him in faith and repentance and trust, and say, precious Lord, take my hand.