Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Luke. Luke was a close friend of St. Paul, who describes him as ‘the beloved physician’. Luke was also Paul’s only companion in prison. Tradition ascribes both one of the Four Gospels and the Book of Acts to St. Luke. As a Gentile himself, Luke emphasizes in those two texts that the good news of salvation is for everyone, regardless of gender, social position, or nationality. For Luke the physician, the Gospel was a medicine to cure the sin that pervades our human society, dividing one person from another and from God. What does Luke’s witness have to say to us today, here in this parish?
The readings appointed for St. Luke’s feast-day help us unpack an answer to that question. The first reading we heard is from the prophet Isaiah. In the passage, Isaiah responds to the impending exile of the Jewish people. Written around six hundred years before Christ, Isaiah records the impending threat of invasion from outside nations: the small Jewish nation would be put into slavery and taken into captivity. But Isaiah sees hope, even in the darkness of exile and slavery: “Be strong,” he says, “God will come to save you.”
Do you feel like you are in exile and slavery, without any hope? Sometimes our lives can seem broken beyond repair: families fall apart, marriages end, friendships are lost, and jobs end. Sometimes God can seem far away or even dead: we hear that Christianity is dying, we feel nothing in worship, our lives seem full of anger, despair, and worry. We feel that we are in a desert-land without hope.
If St. Luke and Isaiah tell us anything, it is to persevere, to stay strong and reject fear. If the Gospel of salvation is medicine, medicine can seem bitter or seem not to work. But we can remember the ways we have seen that medicine work and we can trust that it will work so that “waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.” God will restore us and strengthens our “weak hands and feeble knees.”
Luke’s Gospel tells us, of course, that we are not in exile at all. We are on our journey home to God. Luke calls us to invite others on this journey home too. We hear in today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel that Jesus appoints seventy people to go “to every town and place where he himself intended to go.” Jesus tells them that, contrary to God being absent,2 “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.” Just like in Isaiah’s time, the Israel that Jesus knew was held in captivity, this time by the violent regime of the Roman Empire. Yet, God’s kingdom of justice and mercy had already broken into the lives of people held in captivity, both by the Romans and by sin. Jesus inaugurates the return home of the captive world to God and calls us to co-operate with the harvesting of God’s freeing love.
So Luke gives us two challenges. First, can we truly accept the freedom that Jesus gives to us, whatever situation we are in? Second, how can we co-operate with God’s will and, just like the seventy, be present as a messenger and disciple of Christ?
Gregory the Great once wrote about this passage that “the world is full of priests, and yet it is rare that you find one of them at work in God’s harvest.” He might as well have substituted “Christians” for “priests” – the world is full of Chistians, but it is rare to find many at work in God’s harvest. Far from being in exile, God has chosen each of you, just like Jesus did with the seventy, to bring in the harvest of salvation. So, how will you join the work and, like Luke, both take and share the medicine of the Gospel?