St. Luke, Evangelist and Physician 24 October 2010
(Isaiah 43:8-13 2 Timothy 4:5-11 Luke 1:1-4; 24:44-53)
“The Work of God’s Kingdom: Healing”
In the early years of Alcoholic Anonymous, there was considerable discussion and debate over the qualifications for attending AA meetings. What were the rules? Could certain individuals be excluded? Who could get in, and who would be left out? And who would determine whether an alcoholic deserved to attend a particular meeting?
Some lobbied to limit membership to persons of “moral responsibility”; others insisted that the only dues to be paid would be the personal admission, “I think I am an alcoholic. I want to stop drinking.”
This debate was resolved in an unusual way. The story is related in the book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, whose authors naturally remain anonymous. It affords a remarkable insight into Christ-like compassion.
On the chapter calendar, it was year two. The organization consisted of two struggling, nameless AA groups trying to hold their faces up to the light.
A newcomer appears at a meeting of one of these groups, knocks at the door, and asks to be let in. He talked frankly with the group’s oldest member. He soon proves that his is a desperate case and that all he wants is to get well. “But,” he asks, “will you let me join your group? Since I am the victim of another addiction even more stigmatized than alcoholism, you may not want me among you. Or do you?”
The oldest members summon others and in confidence they lay the explosive facts on their laps. He says, “Well, what about it? If we turn this man away, he’s soon to die. If we let him in, only God knows what trouble he’ll brew. What should the answer be—yes or no?”
At first, the elders could only look at the objections. “We deal with alcoholics only. Shouldn’t we sacrifice this one for the sake of the many? so went the discussion while the newcomer’s fate hung in the balance.”
Then one spoke in a very different tone.
“What we are really afraid of,” he said, “is our reputation. We are much more afraid of what people might say than the trouble this strange alcoholic might bring. As we are talking, five short words have been running through my mind. Something keeps repeating to me, “What would the Master do?” Not another word was said. What would the Master do?
Today as we celebrate the Festival of St. Luke, evangelist and physician, at first glance the Gospel text may seem a bit odd, odd in the sense that what we heard is the first four verses of Luke’s Gospel and the final ten verses.
What we do not hear today is what is in between these four and ten verses. And what is in between is what Master (Jesus) did during those three years he walked the earth.
As with any of the Gospel writers, Luke has his particular themes as well as his specific biases and concerns related to his Christian community.
Some of what we hear in Luke is his sense and his concern for evangelism. People are probably sending missionaries out in teams, at least to nearby communities. Luke is always about inclusion. He wants his message of Jesus directed to people of all races and religions. No one is to be eliminated from a Jesus who is life-giving and unifying. The apostle Paul, with his teaching to the Gentiles, makes good sense to Luke. Luke’s Gospel is the most broad-minded and the most forgiving. Every chance he gets, Luke has Jesus forgiving people, right up to the thief on the cross. Luke is always ready to emphasize Jesus’ ministry to social outcasts, to gentiles, and to the poor. There seems to be no limit to God’s mercy and forgiveness. Luke’s Gospel is often called the gospel of women. Far more than the other evangelists, Luke brings women into Jesus’ life and shows Jesus’ unique way of relating to women. He wants to make Jesus available to the forgotten and to the diminished half of the human race, as understood at that time. Luke shows Jesus at prayer in a most unique manner.
By the time Luke was writing, the early church realized they were in the “long haul,” that Jesus was not returning as quickly as many people had expected. Luke speaks more about the Holy Spirit than the other Gospel writers. For Luke, also, the Kingdom is already a present reality, so let us rejoice in it; let us live the Kingdom now! Don’t worry about the final days because Christ is among us now! God’s reign has already begun, as Luke assures us, in Chapter 4, when we hear the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry in the synagogue, when Jesus stands up and reads from the scroll:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
A major part of Luke’s understanding of God’s Reign is the healing power of God’s Spirit. I think Luke would say that the work of God’s Kingdom is the work of healing in peoples’ lives.
As I read Luke’s Gospel, I read a profound desire within Jesus to reveal his Father in serving the poor, the captive, the outcast, and all who are in need. As I read Luke’s Gospel, I meet a Jesus entirely consumed by this mission of healing brokenness in all its many forms, by preaching the reign of God’s justice, peace and forgiving love.
The relentless tenderness in the heart of Jesus makes loving terribly personal, terribly immediate, and terribly urgent. Jesus, the Master says, “Don’t you understand that discipleship is not about being right or being perfect or being efficient? It’s all about the way you live with each other.”
In every encounter with another, we either give life or we drain life. There is no neutral exchange. We either enhance human dignity or we diminish it.
The success or failure of a given day is measured by the quality of our interest and compassion toward those around us. The question is not about how we feel about our neighbor but what we have done for him or her.
Finally, healing begins at the font of baptism and at the table of Holy Communion. And when we recline at the table with Jesus we learn that our healing presence with each other is intimately connected with the healing presence of Jesus.
Luke’s Gospel ends, not with the disciples on the mountain any longer. They come down from the mountain; they go into the city with great joy, and they continually bless God. Amen.