St. Luke and his Gospel

Homily for October 18th

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Bishop Luciani, who later became Pope John Paul I, used to write fictional letters to people with whom he could never come into contact as a way of instructing his flock. He wrote letters among others to Mark Twain, St. Joan of Arc and St. Luke. (They have been published in a book Illustrissimi: Letters from Pope John Paul I) This is part of his letter to St. Luke:

“Dear St. Luke, I have always been fond of you because you are a man of great sweetness filled with the spirit of conciliation. In your Gospel you stress that Christ is infinitely good, that sinners are the object of a special love on God’s part, that Jesus almost ostentatiously made the acquaintance of those who did not enjoy any consideration in the world. You are the only one who gives us the story of Christ’s nativity and childhood which we hear read at Christmas always with renewed emotion. One little phrase of yours in particular captures my attention, ‘wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ It is the phrase that inspired all the Christmas crèches in the world and thousands of stupendous paintings. I set beside this phrase a stanza of the breviary,

he was willing to lie on straw,
he was not afraid of the manger,
he was nourished with a little mouth,
he who feeds even the least of the birds.

Having done that I asked myself, ‘Christ took that very humble place, what place do we take?’”

What Bishop Luciani wrote is so true, as we read Luke’s Gospel the tenderness and mercy of Jesus renews our emotion. St. Jerome said “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” and certainly as we read Luke we feel that we are getting to know Christ. Not only are we getting to know Christ but we are also getting to know Our Lady as we read those beautiful first two chapters.

The Gospel excerpt today (Luke 10:1-9), Jesus sending out the seventy-two is found only in Luke’s Gospel. We have a problem with this particular text because about half the manuscripts say Jesus sent out seventy and the other half say Jesus sent out seventy-two. Which is it? What symbolism did Luke have in mind? If we take it to be seventy we could see it reflecting the seventy nations in Gen 10, thus symbolizing all the nations of the world. If we take it be seventy-two we could see it reflecting the seventy-two nations in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) translation of Gen 10. Thus whether we take it be seventy or seventy-two, it is another indication, among many others in the Gospel, of Luke’s Gospel being directed in a special way to the Gentiles. Luke is saying that it was not the Church which began the mission to the Gentiles, the foundation for this mission was laid in the very ministry of Jesus himself. We are all privileged to have been called by the Lord to participate in this ministry either in the ordained ministerial priesthood or the priesthood of the faithful.

As we celebrate St. Luke today we give thanks to God for so beautiful a Gospel that has nourished the Church since the first century. Celebrating St. Luke reminds us of the gift the Scriptures are to us. We could think of one phrase of Origen.,

“You receive the body of the Lord with special care and reverence lest the smallest crumb of the consecrated gift fall to the floor. You should receive the word of God with equal care and reverence lest the smallest word of it fall to the floor and be lost.”

Dei Verbum §21 says the following, which is repeated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church §104,

“In the sacred books the Father who is heaven comes lovingly to meet his children and talks with them.”

So in the words of Dei Verbum we can say that as we read St Luke God our Father in heaven comes lovingly to meet us and talks with us.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.