Feast Day: Oct. 18
The following story appeared in the October 7 Idaho Catholic Register.
By Emily Woodham
St. Luke the Evangelist is the author of more than 25 percent of the New
Testament canon. His works comprise more writing than the works of St. John the Evangelist or St. Paul the Apostle. However, his identity is among the most debated among scholars. There is little agreement about most of his life, except for the consensus that he wrote the Gospel of St. Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.
The following is a best guess at who he was and what he did:
St. Luke was born at the beginning of the first century
A.D. to a wealthy family in Antioch (modern day Tur-key). His family was Hellenistic Jews (Greek-speaking Jews of the Diaspora, when Jews were “dispersed” from the Holy Land). His knowledge of literature, history, geography and prose displayed in his writing betrays that he was among the educated elite, with one of the best Classical educations in the region. He also studied medicine and became a physician.
Luke might have left his wealth in Antioch to join the Essenes (a Jewish sect, to which St. John the Baptist is believed to have belonged) at Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered). If so, he was most likely among the 70 disciples of Jesus and the unnamed disciple on the Road to Emmaus with Cleopus. (Luke 24:13-35) However, it was not until 51 A.D. that he met St. Paul the Apostle at Troas and began accompanying him on his missionary journeys. (Acts 16:11)
He was a dear friend to Paul. St. Paul called him “the
beloved physician.” (Col. 4:14) Luke accompanied
Paul on missionary journeys. While in Jerusalem, Paul’s
testimony caused such an outrage among Jewish leaders that they had Paul ar-rested. After hearing his case, Roman rulers sent Paul to Rome to be tried as a citizen.
Luke accompanied Paul to Rome (c. 60 A.D.). After two years of house arrest, Paul was released. Two years later, he was imprisoned again. Luke was the only friend who stayed by Paul during his final imprisonment in Rome (2 Tim. 4:11) and martyrdom in 64 A.D.
Christians helped Luke escape when they learned that Emperor Nero (54-68 A.D.) wanted to kill Luke. Luke made missionary journeys to Achaia, Italy, Dalmatia and Macedonia. He then went to Egypt. When Luke returned to Greece, he was ordained as Bishop of Thebes.
The Romans arrested him when he was 84 (c. 90 A.D.). He was flayed and then crucified on an olive tree.
Luke begins his Gospel, “Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative
of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you …” These words lead many scholars to believe that Luke was not among the “eyewitnesses.” However, proponents of the tradition that Luke was among the 70 and also the unnamed disciple with Cleopus on the Road to Emmaus say that his wording for the opening does not mean that he wasn’t among the eyewitnesses of Jesus.
Although there is a tradition that Luke is a Gentile convert, many scholars are giving more careful consideration to another tradition of his being Jewish and among the 70 disciples. His details about priestly sacrifice and his knowledge of the Jewish scriptures and culture all point to someone who was Jewish and probably an Essene. Many scholars believe that he was a Hellenistic Jew, which would explain why he also has unique references to Greek and Roman culture in his Gospel. This broad audience for his Gospel coincides with his emphasis in his writing that Jesus is Savior and his Gospel is truth, not just for a select few, but for all people throughout all time.
Luke’s Gospel is one of the three Synoptic (“similar”) Gospels, along with St. Matthew and St. Mark. It underscores Jesus as priest and sacrifice, which is why St. Luke’s symbol is the Ox. His Gospel also emphasizes mercy, especially for the poor, for victims of injustice, and for repentant sinners.
Luke’s Gospel also stands out for its narratives on the Annunciation, Birth of Jesus, and Jesus’ childhood. Most scholars agree that Luke spent time with the Blessed Virgin Mary and used her stories in his Gospel.
Luke references women more than any other Gospel writer. In his Gospel and in Acts, the role of women in Jesus’ ministry and in the Church is highlighted, emphasizing the dignity and worth of women in a society that viewed women as insignificant. Luke often pairs men and women working together during Jesus’ ministry and in the beginnings of the Church. Many scholars point to his story of the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus (Luke 7:36-50) as being profound-ly counter to First Century culture.
Despite the ongoing debates about Luke and his works, scholars agree that his writing is vital to understanding the history of the primitive Church. He is regarded as an excellent historian and theologian. His prose is considered among the most beautiful and well-ordered Greek writing of the First Century. Some have even compared his storytelling expertise to Shakespeare’s.
Luke was also an artist. Traditionally, he wrote the first icon of the Blessed
Virgin Mary. It is believed that he wrote seven icons, including ones of St. Peter and St. Paul. The icon, “Salvation of the Roman People” in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome is attributed to him.
St. Luke is the patron saint of many, including artists, bachelors, bookbinders, brewers, butchers, doctors, glassworkers, goldsmiths, lacemakers, notaries, physicians, and sculptors. His feast day is October 18.
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