During a call shift the summer I served my student hospital chaplaincy in seminary, we had an especially frightening emergency. A teenage boy had fallen from a significant height. We knew that he was being flown to the hospital by helicopter. We knew that his parents were in another city at the time, and driving frantically to get to the hospital to be with their son. We knew that the situation was very, very serious. And we didn’t know any more than that.
What I remember of that night was the waiting. Two teams gathered in the largest treatment space in the ER unit: the hospital trauma team, and the pediatric trauma team. Doctors and nurses and other staff stood lined up around the walls of that space, waiting for the noise of the helicopter, for some sign that the boy who had fallen had arrived into their care. They were silent. There was a kind of tension in that room, with all the people gathered, people who were particularly and especially equipped for this moment, ready to do work that would mean life or death. I remember the silence. I remember the palpable tension of gifted people poised for action.
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Luke. He lived in the first century in the city of Antioch, in ancient Syria. Scholars argue about whether he was a Gentile convert who began following Jesus, or an Hellenic Jew. The apostle Paul claimed Luke as a friend, as we see in that very curious passage from the Second Letter of Timothy today: “Only Luke is with me,” Paul says. “So get Mark and bring him, because he’s useful. And bring my cloak, and the books, and above all: the parchments.” Well, more on parchments another time. Whatever books and parchments Paul required there, we know that the Church ascribes authorship of the gospel of Luke to the saint we celebrate today, as well as the Acts of the Apostles. The patron saint of artists, physicians, surgeons, students, and butchers is known to have been a physician himself, as well as an artist.
Each of the four gospels accounts in the Bible carries its own imprint, its own particular kind of focus. Mark’s gospel moves quickly and economically through the stories of Jesus, using the word “immediately” at almost every turn to convey the urgency of all that Christ and his followers are doing. Matthew’s gospel looks at Jesus through the lens of fulfilling ancient Jewish law and promise. John’s gospel invites us into the story with otherworldly poetry. And Luke? Luke makes the gospels more whole. Luke invites in the others, the crazy relatives, the people on the margins, people you don’t see elsewhere. Only Luke releases the stories of the angel and of Mary, tells of Mary’s visit with her cousin, Elizabeth. Only Luke recovers Mary’s song: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” Only Luke frees Simeon and Anna in the temple to witness the holy child: “Lord, let me now depart in peace, according to your word,” Simeon sings, “for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people.”
Of all the passages from the gospel of Luke that organizers of the lectionary could have chosen for his Feast, it seems interesting that they settled on this one. It’s not a passage about a woman healed, or a child restored to life, or a man taking up his mat to walk away from a troubled pool of water. This is not even a passage about Jesus casting out demons, often reframed in modern conversation as Jesus healing someone of mental illness. Instead, we have this passage: Jesus teaches around the country, and the people pay attention to what he has to say. He goes home to the synagogue at Nazareth, stands up to read the scroll from Isaiah about good news and release and recovery and freedom. As he rolls up the scroll, the people can’t take their eyes off of Jesus. He “begins to say,” the passage tells us, “He begins to say” – ‘Today this is fulfilled. And you have heard it.’
It would seem, from our knowledge and tradition that St. Luke was about the work of healing people’s bodies. Our history and tradition tell us that this was the vocation that Luke was particularly equipped to do. And I think he did. And I think there was more. I believe that St. Luke was also about the work of healing a people, that he was somehow divinely inclined toward the healing of the nations.
Luke shares with us a vision of reconciliation among all those characters who were cast out of the other narratives of Jesus’ life in this world. And so just by including them, he gives us a vision of reconciliation, of wholeness, made possible. And he goes on further to speak it into being as though that wholeness has already taken place: “He has filled the hungry with good things,” Mary sings in the Magnificat, “And the rich he has sent away empty.” “Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” Jesus says to the people in the synagogue who can’t take their eyes off of him.
I find myself thinking again of that boy flown in to the hospital where I served, after falling from a significant height. And I think of what the good news of this gospel might mean for him, both then and today. I wonder what release and recovery and freedom might mean in his young life. And I pray again in thanksgiving for that silent and well-prepared team waiting for him, who by their work would serve as agents of healing for that boy who had fallen.
I find myself thinking about St. Luke’s home town, Antioch, in ancient Syria. I think about the bombings and the bullet holes and the people fleeing with the family they can gather and the things that they can carry. I think about the art of millennia to be found there, some of it stretching back to the time of Luke’s life and before, even perhaps the icons that Luke would have written, now destroyed forever. What would good news even mean for people who have lived there? What would release and recovery and freedom look like in their lives? What would it take to proclaim the healing of Syria?
And I wonder about good news for us, for you, for those whom we serve. What does good news mean in your life? Where have you experienced release or recovery? Where have you found freedom? And how have you been healed? How have you been an agent of wholeness and healing for other people?
In honor of St. Luke, we will pray today for healing and wholeness and peace. We will pray for those who serve to heal our bodies and our minds, for those working to heal the world around us, for those who heal in the name of the Church.
Today, and in the days to come, I also ask you to do this: please pray and reflect on the ways that God has particularly equipped you as an agent of God’s healing in the world. You may be a doctor or a nurse, a teacher or a therapist. Or you may not. Either way, I invite you to imagine yourself into that ER unit almost a decade ago, tense and silent and poised in anticipation of the life-giving work that needs to be done. How are you especially prepared to be a bearer of God’s good news? What kind of release and recovery do you have to proclaim? How is God preparing you to free yourself and others from oppression?
You have gifts to offer, each one of you, gifts that will help make this world more complete, more whole, more fully the world that God created us to be. As you do, as you share those gifts together with the gift of yourself, you claim your legacy among the company of saints, right alongside Luke the healer. As you do, you help proclaim this as the year of the Lord’s favor.
And Christ’s words echo again and still, speaking truth into being: “Today. Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”