St Luke was one of the Four Evangelists with a Gospel attributed to them. Additionally the early church also ascribe to him the writing of the Acts of the Apostles, which if correct means that by word count he contributed over a quarter of the text of the NT, more than any other author. Luke is mentioned briefly a few times in the NT, in Colossians he is referred to as a physician, from the Greek for ‘ one who heals’, so he is remembered both as a physician and a disciple of St Paul. It is believed he was a Greek physician from Antioch in Ancient Syria, he writes good Greek, that of an educated man. The content of his writing makes scholars believe he was writing as a gentile convert to gentiles, but as he stresses the scriptural OT roots of the mission of Paul, he no doubt was writing also for those Jews who lived in these communities. If it is indeed true that Luke was a gentile, it makes him the only non-Jew writing in the NT. The second letter to Timothy attests that Luke was with Paul in his final time in Rome. He is believed to have been martyred by hanging from an olive tree aged 84 in Boeotia, and that his tomb was in Thebes before his relics were transferred in 357 to Constantinople. As is often the case when saints become so popular and venerated many claims are made, presently there are 8 bodies and 9 heads in various places all claiming authenticity, although all this really means is his legacy was widespread and lasting. Luke is the patron saint of physicians, surgeons, and relatedly butchers, but surprisingly perhaps of bachelors too. His symbol is a winged bull or ox, and the earliest church believed widely he was one of the earliest icon painters, and there are several portraits of Our Lady attributed to his work.
Luke is among those who give us a wonderful and personal insight into the missionary work of the apostles and the early church, widening our understanding of what the very earliest Christians felt themselves called to in answer to their baptism and calling by God in Jesus Christ. What interest me about him and his calling is how central to the work of Jesus and the early church the language and practice of healing and making well was. Jesus in many ways reveals who he is through acts of healing and repair of the broken and wounded, and it seems form the accounts we have been given the earliest church continued that work. There is a conundrum there because in all honesty despite many claims by contemporary Christians for physical healing there is no real evidence of this being provable, or if it is not for sure widespread. I have always puzzled over this, and if you will bear with me I want to explain how I believe the ministry of healing is still vital to our work, but how I do not hold with many claims made.
Many things were done in Jesus’ earthly ministry which had the primary purpose of revealing his divinity, his miracles, healings, acts of repairing the broken are not claimed to be anything other than exceptional, as indeed he was. There is little or no claim that these kind of things ever happened before Jesus, and it is almost as if the earliest church slowly moved away from such claims after the era of the apostles and those who had known and worked directly with Jesus.
Jesus understood full well that illness, lack of health and well-being is a complex and widespread reality of human life, covering not just the physical, emotional and mental, but also the spiritual, the health of the soul. In Jesus’ time there was little of what we would now call medicine, and people understood little of the causes of illness, often ascribing it to wickedness in the sufferers’ life, or their forbears, that illness especially mental illness called ‘possessed by demons’ often in the NT were a playing out of the fight between good and evil. What we do see in the NT is the importance of the urge in Christians to both acknowledge and try to assist in the sufferings of others, not judging, but seeing illness in all its forms as something which can be addressed through love and fellowship, even if this brings relief and comfort not in reality physical healing It is of course the irony that this life is a rich gift and blessing, but the journey of life is from God back to God, and so our journeys will end in one way, so even if physical healing were a reality, it would only be temporary, no-one is claiming death can be avoided, only overcome through faith in the resurrection of Jesus.
I believe that many are gifted with the skills to become experts in healing and caring, and this is the medical profession, which in human history has never been as advanced as it is now, it does so much to make life more of a gift, and to reduce suffering and make life more bearable for countless people. and should be celebrated for all it is. But we are all called on to bring healing and it can be through many actions. People need to be valued, listened to, included, enabled, all this is our work through taking Jesus’s idea of loving neighbour as ourselves and living life for the well-being of others, dying as the NT says to self so we can live for God and others.
Perhaps equally needed are skills of diagnosing what in fact ails our present day, and what ails us and others. Yes the physical ills are still as hard to bear as they ever were, but so much more eats away at our well-being – greed, isolation, addictions, poverty, unemployment, stress, and so much more. And our spiritual health, which even non-believers are happy to admit is key to our overall well-being, is essential. We spend many of us lots of time on our physical health, sometimes obsess too much about small things, but how much time do we spend on our essential spiritual well-being? I think this is key work for ourselves and for others, for if we are trying to understand all that ails, then for sure we will need to know how to treat the emptiness and hopelessness that linger on the souls of so many.
St Luke helps to keep these issues of health, of well-being and healing central to the life of the church, and so it should be. Seeking the health and happiness of others and ourselves, freeing up everyone to lead the lives of abundant blessing that God intends for those he loves.