St. Luke, by El Greco
2 Timothy 4:10-17b; Luke 10:1-9
Today’s feast and its attendant readings offer many places to focus reflective attention. Just considering the contribution to the Church of the man we call St. Luke is important. Luke is the only known Gentile among the group of writers whose work made up the New Testament Literature. He is the author of fully a quarter of all the verses of the whole New Testament (more than all of Paul’s uncontested letters, for example) and, as a friend of both Paul the Apostle and of many of the original Twelve, he is a remarkable figure who stands at the intersection of the Church as Jewish Sect becoming Church truly catholic in its outreach and its membership in the latter years of the First Century. The thematic emphases of forgiveness, justice and love for the poor and marginalized, and healing of the sick endear many to Luke’s portrayal of Jesus. From Luke alone we have a moderately systematic outline of the spread of the earliest Church throughout the Mediterranean Basin. But what struck me about the feast and the readings chosen for its celebration, is the importance of being a friend that one can find “writ large” across the readings.
Paul writes poignantly in his Second Letter to Timothy that he has been abandoned by co-workers and friends except for two key companions: Onesiphores, who has come from a great distance and sought him out with great difficulty (and seemingly with no help from the Christians in Rome) and Luke who has remained with him, endured the imprisonment with him and cared for him.
We can only imagine how important this friendship must have been to Paul – cut off from his own community, not appreciated by the Roman Christians, possibly facing death from the Empire, unable to move about and preach the Good News – and deeply lonely.
We can only imagine what this friendship might have cost Luke personally. If Luke was trying to do his research to complete his texts for his “wealthy patron” taking months, or even years, to attend to the old man that Paul had become, in some kind of house confinement or possibly even imprisonment would have been very difficult. One might imagine his frustration. One might imagine his fear that he too would be caught up in the Empire’s need to destroy the Christian message. But his loving care remained authentic and he stayed beside his friend.
It seems that friendship is more human and more simple that the great Agape of Divine Love. Friendship, after all, has a character of reciprocity and a character of simplicity about it. To be friend to another seems to be no big thing – even a child can extend friendship. Friendship is often most clearly disclosed in small acts of care and attention.
But the Psalm response for today reminds us that “Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your Kingdom.” We can consider this sentence in two ways. The friends of God are those willing to serve Him by making His Kingdom known. Friends will do for the one they care about what needs to be done. But we also hear that one’s knowing about the Kingdom is made possible by experiencing the quality of love that the friend bestows. A friend of God gives friendship to God’s people as well. That compassion becomes the “sign” of the Kingdom that makes it known to all who feel the grace of that care.
The Gospel, too, invites this insight. Friendship will bring a Spirit of Peace with it. Where such a Spirit of Peace is found, one discovers true hospitality. Hospitality is the enactment of the love that heals, makes well, and fills the alienated or the prophet with a sense of acceptance. It is not for nothing that the Old English equivalent for hospitality is “Well – come” (i.e. welcome) for one comes to be well in the heart of a true friendship. The lost, the lonely, the abandoned, the imprisoned, the hurting, and the broken are all made whole and healthy, strong and encouraged (filled with courage) again.
Friendship is then a divine gift. “I call you friends,” Jesus said at the Last Supper, because a friend will lay down his or her life for the other. We give our time, our training, our material resources, our psychological energy, our wisdom – in short our lives – to and for our friends – and they to/for us.
Saint Luke is the patron of physicians because he was referred to as a physician by Paul. Perhaps he was also a healer of the heart and soul – even for the great Apostle who may have needed such consolation – because he was a true friend. St. Luke is recognized as a friend of the poor and the outcast, because he remembers and records the ways that Jesus went out of his way to attend to the least, the most rejected, and those impoverished by the conditions of social and political order. Perhaps we should honor St. Luke as the patron of friendship, the virtue which discloses the divine character of this most human of relationships.
Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your Kingdom.
By Eileen Burke-Sullivan