Luke never saw a crowd; he never saw a mob or a group or an audience. Luke never
saw a faceless man or woman. He saw only an individual, an individual with a
specific affliction or problem or perplexity. Luke saw only a suffering
individual whom Jesus Christ graced and whom Luke himself thereafter loved.
Luke's gospel is easily the warmest of the four. He describes people with such
realism and yet also with such empathy that our hearts go out to them, even
though they lived in so very different a time and place.
was a physician. He used a medical vocabulary instinctively. In the incident
where the boy is said to be "thrown down" (English text) by his
affliction, the Greek word Luke uses was the current medical term for
convulsions. In the incident where the distraught father cries to Jesus,
"Look upon my son!", the word Luke uses for "look upon" is
the current medical term used of a physician seeing a patient. Like most
physicians Luke was understandably defensive of the medical profession. When the
menorrhagic woman approaches Jesus, Matthew and Mark tell us she had exhausted
all her savings on physicians but was no better. Dr. Luke tells us the same
story, but chooses to omit the part about costly medical treatment that has
a travel companion of Paul, Luke got to meet the leaders of the young church:
was a Gentile, the only Gentile writer in the New Testament. There's nothing in
his gospel that a Gentile can't grasp. He habitually gives Hebrew words in their
Greek equivalent so that a Gentile can understand. "Simon the Cananaean"
becomes "Simon the Zealot." Calvary isn't called by its Hebrew name,
writings are the single largest contribution to the New Testament. His written
gospel is the longest book in the NT; when we add his second volume, the Acts of
the Apostles, we have over one-quarter of the NT. Luke wrote excellent Greek; in
fact his Greek is the best in all of scripture.
was well-educated and widely travelled. He is the only gospel-writer to speak of
the Sea of Galilee as a "lake"; for Luke had been to the
Mediterranean, and he knew that compared to the Mediterranean,
it was Luke's intention to describe in his written gospel God's activity in the
ministry of Jesus, and to describe in the Acts God's activity in the church.
Luke never intended to write about himself. Nevertheless what he wrote about his
Lord accidentally tells us much about Luke himself. In learning what it was
about Jesus that intrigued Luke, we learn eversomuch about the apostle himself.
-- Think of children, for instance. Luke says more about children than any
other gospel writer. He knew how anguished parents are when a child, especially
an only child, is gravely ill. Three times he mentions distraught parents who
cry, "She's my only child, and she's dying!", or "He's my only
child, and he convulses and foams at the mouth!" When Matthew and Mark
speak of the children who are brought to Jesus, they use a Greek word that means
a youngster of any age. Luke uses a different word, one that means infant. In
Greek, Luke's word also means unborn child or fetus. It's the word Luke uses for
the infants who are brought to Jesus for blessing and for the unborn John
the Baptist who stirred in the womb of
times I have been asked to conduct living-room services for a couple that has
miscarried. In every case the couple wants -- and receives from me --
recognition of the fact that what they have just lost isn't of the same
order as resected tonsils or gall bladder or appendix.
witness needs to be heard, for I think there is less room than ever for children
in our society. Whereas
Luke noted not only our Lord's love of children; he noted as well our Lord's
love of misfits, outcasts, submerged citizens, losers, call them what you will.
Like his master Luke too loved the non-winners in the race to the top, the
losers in the games so many of us play so well.
is why Luke relates the Master's parable of the two men who go to the temple to
pray. One man glories in his virtue. He doesn't merely appear virtuous; he is
virtuous. When he thanks God that he's "not like other men" he's
telling the truth: he isn't like other men. He's devout, he tithes, he
keeps his sex-life squeaky clean. The publican, on the other hand, possesses no
such virtue in which to glory. He can only say, "Lord, be merciful to me a
sinner." And this fellow, says Jesus, goes home
"justified", set right with God.
congregation sees only part of the
ministerís work, the part that pertains to preaching, teaching, pastoring,
administering. The other part of the ministerís work no one sees (except
perhaps the secretary). This part is the ministerís work with
"losers". They come to the minister for help. They are out of money
and they want a few dollars for this or that. They are chronically mentally ill,
and with the insight of the mentally ill and the unguardedness of the mentally
ill, they don't understand why they are in trouble every time they say "The
emperor has no clothes" when it's perfectly plain that the emperor has no
clothes and all the sane people around them know it too Ė even as sane people
wonít say it.
women who come to the minister for a few dollars want money for two items, 90%
of the time: paper diapers and drugs for yeast infections. For a long time I
have known that the people who have drug plans are those with jobs good enough
that they don't need drug plans, while the people without drug plans are those
with jobs poor enough that they do need drug plans. (I trust no one here today
is going to begrudge these poor women money for paper diapers, even though most
women here washed cloth diapers for years.)
then there's the family whose son or husband has hanged himself and the family
needs a funeral that "won't last very long." Anguished families from
the other side of the tracks have one question only concerning the funeral:
"Will it last long?"
people sidle up to me as unobtrusively as they can. Either they have no
inclination to join us at worship on Sunday morning, or else they don't feel
comfortable here. They likely think (quite mistakenly) that we don't hurt as
they do, that life is rosy for us all the time, that we aren't caught in the
same suffering. For years now I have been haunted by their non-appearance on
haunted because Luke keeps telling us that a woman whose life was a moral
mess-up found in Jesus what she had found nowhere else. Luke tells us that
Zacchaeus was intrigued enough by Jesus to come as close as he could while
remaining unnoticed. And then there was the dying convict who gasped to his
gallows-mate whom he was seeing for the first time, "Won't you remember me
when you come into your kingdom?" -- and received a word that let him die
relieved. I've asked myself a thousand times why these people aren't found here.
then one day I realized that Jesus didn't meet them in the synagogue. He met the
woman in a man's home. He met Zacchaeus at a shopping centre. He met the dying
convict at the local garbage dump. He didn't meet any of them in the synagogue.
so long ago I had to drive home from the hospital a woman and her two young
children. Her third child had just been admitted on account of stomach trouble.
Three children, no husband. A fellow who was fond of her (inappropriately fond)
got into an argument with another fellow (also inappropriately fond) over her;
the first fellow stabbed the second fellow to death on a Sunday night. Bob
Rumball, the minister of the deaf congregation in
Also important to Luke, because important first to his Lord, were women. Luke
mentions thirteen women mentioned nowhere else in the gospels. All of the gospel
writers recognized that Jesus elevated women and gave them a status and honour
they had received nowhere else. Oddly enough, Mark momentarily slipped back into
the old way of thinking. Mark tells us that Jesus had four brothers, and Mark
names them. Then Mark adds that Jesus also had sisters -- without stating how
many or what their names were! But Luke tells us that the first European convert
to the Christian faith was a woman,
years ago, when the Anglican and
years most Christian denominations have forbidden women to speak in public
worship. But Luke tells us that when the Spirit of God moved the four daughters
of Phillip, those women stood up and spoke.
must remember that only a few years ago women were not allowed to vote. In 1929
the government of
-- We shouldn't think that this is all there is to Dr. Luke. There's a great
deal more to him. There are three emphases in Luke's mind and heart that receive
more attention than anywhere else in the NT. The three emphases are joy, the
Holy Spirit, and prayer. All three are related; all three flow into
and out of each other. In Luke's writings Jesus prays more, and Christians pray
more, than in any other NT writings. Luke also says more about the Spirit, God's
intimate, effectual work in and among Christian people. And Luke's writings
throb with joy.
knows that as we are brought to faith in Jesus Christ we are lifted up out of
ourselves, up to the One who rejoices himself. There is joy in heaven, says
Luke, when someone finally unclutters her life and welcomes the bread of life.
"Joy before the angels of God", he adds, when someone who is
meandering blindly is made to see and steps out on the Way. There is merriment,
dancing, a party when the wayward and the foolish "wisen up" and come
describing the growth of the young church in Acts Luke speaks again and again of
the Spirit, God's unique effectiveness in vivifying the witness of the
disciples, in supplying encouragement to believers in the face of resistance,
and in causing love to triumph within the congregation amidst disagreement and
suspicion. When missioners announce the good news of the gospel and some who
have never heard it before take their stand with the apostles, Luke writes,
"There was much joy in that city." When persecution flays the
missioners themselves Luke tells us that these men and women were "filled
with the Holy Spirit and with joy." Luke knows that people turned in on
themselves never find the happiness they seek; he knows just as certainly that
as people are moved to look away from themselves to that kingdom and its Lord
now filling the horizon of their lives, their discontent gives way to joy. Luke
begins his gospel with the note of joy: Zechariah and Elizabeth are told they
will find joy in their old-age fertility as their son, John the Baptist, is born
to herald the Messiah. Luke ends his gospel on a note of joy with the
resurrection story of Jesus, as witnesses to it "returned to
telling the Christian story as he has, and specifically in speaking of Jesus as
he has, Luke has told us much about himself. Plainly Luke has enormous
confidence in the Spirit or effectiveness of God; plainly Luke's own heart
pulsates; plainly all of this is nourished by the time Luke himself spends on
his knees -- as was the case with his Lord before him.
for Luke's attention to children, women, the poor, the outcast, the
marginalized, the disadvantaged, the suffering -- Luke's attention here reflects
the sensitive observation of the physician who sees the wounded of the world
as for Luke's provision of a written gospel that is Gentile-friendly, we can
only thank God for this one Gentile who knew that the Jew from Nazareth had
other sheep of another fold, and knew that you and I, Gentiles that we are, are
just these sheep.