Sermon by the Reverend Barbara Bonifant, Priest-in-charge of the Parish of Mallala Two Wells, Diocese of Adelaide
Thank you Fr Gwilym for inviting me to preach on this special day. It is a privilege indeed to be invited to preach on a Patronal Festival. My parish of Two Wells and Mallala send their greetings to you all.
As you will all know St Luke is the Patron Saint of Doctors and as a doctor’s wife of 40 plus years standing, I have attended many, many St Luke’s day services, and I feel as if St Luke has been part of my life for a long time. In our home we have a beautiful Icon of the three medical Saints, Luke, Cosmos and Damien and it has served to remind us of where healing starts and ends – with God.
So what about Saint Luke? What do we actually know about him for sure? Not much. Luke was a physician, a close friend of Paul and a Gentile. The general view is that Luke was Greek who came from Macedonia, but another tradition associates him with Antioch in Syria. He travelled widely with Paul and it may be that because Paul had a personal physician in attendance, so to speak, that Paul was able to do all the things he did, and to survive the multitude of privations with the assistance of Luke’s skill and loving care. In the Epistle we heard the rather pitiful statement from Paul “that only Luke is with me.” It does make Paul sound quite human, low and miserable but it also gives us one recorded instance of Luke’s whereabouts.
Luke is also traditionally recognised to be the author of the Gospel of Luke and its continuation the Acts of the Apostles. Luke’s literary style was based on classical writing and the books he wrote show that he was an artist with words and a clever wordsmith. It is notable that he gives prominence to the women in his gospel and the teaching of Jesus about the poor and the disadvantaged and the dispossessed. I think that these are qualities that every doctor should demonstrate.
The main reason that Luke is writing at all is that the “message” of Jesus has spread far and wide, way beyond the communities in the regions that Jesus knew and travelled through. Peter, Paul and others have carried the message in all directions and doubtless there were garbled, muddled and misleading versions circulating. Remember that this was a time of oral tradition and we all know how stories change with the telling. The 8 inch fish becomes almost 9 and so on. It doesn’t take too many retellings to have a very different story. I remember as a child playing the game of Chinese whispers. As 8 year olds how we laughed at the outcome but as adults we realise that there is a scary side to such bending of the truth. Perhaps Luke with a scientific background wanted to write the truth to put a stop to the scary claims and the over the top claims that were being made on Jesus’ behalf.
Luke would have known that the story of Jesus was already being put on paper for a Jewish audience but the audience that he had in mind is a much wider group. He was thinking of an educated, intelligent and enquiring public.
The gospel of Luke starts with these verses – “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed”. And so the gospel begins as he says at the very beginning with the birth of John the Baptist. The “most excellent Theophilus” that the gospel is addressed to, may have been a real person, perhaps a Roman governor or a local official, whom Luke has become friendly with. It could be a literary device, a way of addressing any one and everyone who has heard about Christianity and who is a ‘lover of God’ (that is what ‘Theophilus’ means in Greek). Luke does imply that Theophilus has already been officially taught something about Jesus and what it means to follow him, so perhaps he intends it for recent converts who are eager to learn more.
Another event which may have influenced Luke in writing things down was that there was a horrendous war going on in Palestine at that time. The Jews rebelled against the occupying Roman forces, until finally after a long siege, Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE. The result was that many of the villages and towns that Jesus knew, and that knew Jesus, were decimated. Not only was the generation that lived in Jesus time dying out but the communities that had continued to follow in his footsteps were being scattered far and wide. The stories that had depended on a peaceful, stable society for their continued telling were in danger of being lost, so it was necessary to take steps to write them down. It would seem that Luke was concerned that these stories were handed down to the next generation. He, like all the early Christians had a passionate belief that the historical events of Jesus’ life had changed the world and so the stories were too precious to just be treated in a cavalier fashion and needed to be presented as unambiguously and as clearly as possible.
His gospel is different from the other 3 and does include a number of “stories” that do not appear in the others. Perhaps that is because of his interest in healing, together with his non Jewish approach. Whatever the reason we owe him gratitude today. It is hard to think that he would ever have imagined that we would be still reading his words in the year 2009 or that we would be honouring him as a Saint of the church.
So many healing institutions bare his name and when we think about Luke we think about the healing ministries of the church which continue in many forms. So today we give thanks for his skill as a physician and also give thanks for his eloquence and for his recording of the many healing and other miracles which give us guidance and hope today.
We honour Luke as a martyr although we know nothing of what happened to him after the death of Paul in Rome. One tradition has him returning to Boeotia in Greece where he died at the age of 84.
So let us give thanks for the life Luke and the heritage he left for us some 2000 years on.
In Jesus’ name Amen