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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
St. Luke is known as the patron saint of doctors and nurses, students and butchers. Interestingly, he also known as the patron saint of artists since he was supposedly a painter himself. Legend has it that he painted a portrait of Mary when she was living with the beloved disciple John in Ephesus. Some versions of the legend say that he painted the image on a wooden table top that Joseph and Jesus had made. It is why to this day that orthodox icons are painted on wood. Since Luke is the only gospel writer to include stories of Mary’s life, theologians speculate that Luke may have gained this special insight from the days Mary posed for him. Certainly, Luke tells us more about her life than any other gospel. The portrait of the Madonna painted on a wooden board or table can be seen in Rome today. Now I’m not sure if Luke did one painting of her or many, but there are churches all over the world today that claim to have a portrait of the Madonna painted by St. Luke. It is even said that Doubting Thomas brought a picture of Mary with him to India, and it is worshipped there to this very day. So St. Luke was an evangelist, physician, writer, historian and artist, and as we are reminded in the morning’s epistle lesson- one of St. Paul’s most loyal travelling companion.
As we conclude our for part series on St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to Timothy, and its theme of spiritual perseverance, let us first turn to the disciple who was faithful to Paul to the end. St. Luke was born around the year 0 AD in the metropolitan city of Antioch, a part of modern-day Turkey. Antioch emerged as an important center of Christianity, and it was there that the early followers of Jesus were known as Christians. Historians do not know whether Luke converted to Christianity from Judaism or whether he was a “Gentile convert” known as a God-fearer. Regardless, he had a great sensitivity to the Gentile world. And he may have had the distinct honor of being the only non-Jewish writer of the New Testament.
Educated as a physician, St. Luke was among the most cultured and cosmopolitan members of the early Church. Scholars of archeology and ancient literature have ranked him among the top historians of his time period and writers as well. Indeed, as both the author of the Gospel of St. Luke and the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke contributed a greater portion of the New Testament than any other single author. Luke, however, never mentioned his own name in either his gospel or in the Book of Acts. Ironically, St. Paul mentioned Luke three times by name in his own writing.
After St. Paul’s conversion, Luke accompanied him as his personal physician– and, in effect, as a biographer of Paul’s missionary journeys. Not so coincidentally, St. Paul had a great need for a good physician. After all, according to his own testimony in his epistles, Paul had been beaten, whipped, and imprisoned. He went on to say that he was once stoned and left for dead. Being shipwrecked three times could take its toll as well. No doubt, Luke’s trained medical hands and caring presence helped Paul recover from many of these severe beatings, open wounds and infections. Luke was also among Paul’s only companions who did not abandon him during his final imprisonment and death in Rome.
Church tradition states that after Paul’s death in 67 AD, Luke went on to Boiotia in central Greece, where he ministered and proclaimed the gospel for another 20 years. At the age of 84, Luke was arrested by a mob who crucified him on an olive tree dying as a martyr.
Let us now turn to the legacy of St. Luke, the Physician, Evangelist and Artist. Perhaps, because of his artistic insight, Luke was able to minister to St. Paul in a way that nobody else could manage. Luke had acquired the early Christian Church’s understanding that human beings had been made in the image of the Triune God. Their very being was three-part, body, soul and spirit. Luke embraced that understanding of life in turn by ministering to the whole person. At times, he would argue, we have to minister to people’s physical needs, or the body. Luke took care of Paul’s physical needs when he was imprisoned in Rome, and we also read that he gave medical treatment to the people on Malta. At others times, Luke would state that we need to attend to people’s emotional needs or their soul. In the prison cell in Rome, Luke ministered to Paul’s loneliness when others had left him. Survival in the prison system of ancient Rome, you see, was dependent up on the care and support of friends. It is why his abandonment by friends affects him so grievously. Finally, at times Luke underscored that we need to attend to people’s spiritual needs. Luke was actively involved in Paul’s ministry as a co-worker, but he also had his own writings that touched the spiritual being in each listener or reader. The written Word of God, the Gospel of Luke and the Book of the Acts of the Apostles strengthened and encouraged individual believers in their walk with the Lord. As he wrote to Theophilus in the first verses of his gospel: This has been written, “That you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.”
St. Paul knew that his whole life needed care and healing. His physical body needed the warmth of the cloak he left in Troas. His soul needed the company of friends. ”Do your best to come to me soon,” he wrote to Timothy, and for his spirit, he needed the books, and above all the inspired parchments. Yes, Paul knew what he needed. And because he trusted that God would provide, he could dare to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness.” None of this was Paul’s own doing, nor was it his own boasting. But it was the promise of the crown of righteousness that would be given by God alone. Yes, “The Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” It was the final healing that Paul knew was waiting for him when his body, soul and spirit would be made truly whole again.
Here is a portrait of Paul, like so many of us, who when we face the crises of sickness, when we feel lonely and abandoned, and yet still grasp hopefully at opportunities to spread the word of goodness and grace. Paul’s story is tragically familiar, and yet profoundly hopeful. His strange peace floated alongside his hurt and anger and disappointment, but he remained faithful.
My friends, what is that you need? What sort of healing are you longing for? A healing of the body, or the soul or the spirit? Or it is something more?
St. Paul concluded his second letter to Timothy with a confession that served as the centerpiece of this passage; it is a triumphant statement of faith. Perhaps, the insight of St. Luke, the good physicians on the fullness of healing and the work of an artist for detail allowed him to see it ever so clearly. It is an important insight to share with those who are struggling with the failing of body, soul and spirit. Your body may never be whole again, your soul may be discouraged, and your spirit, may need to be lifted up, but you have the assurance, that the Lord will rescue from every evil attack and save you for his heavenly kingdom. In the midst of all your troubles, may you, like Paul find the strength to say boldly and confidently, I have “fought the good fight” and “finished the race,” so that your family and loved ones may know the love and strength of God- who will always be with them. Foe the crown of righteousness, God’s final gift of healing is waiting for you as well. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.