What I said on Sunday
Last Sunday we kept the feast of Saint Luke, which is really on 18th October. We usually keep it, though, on the following Sunday and follow it with prayer for healing, accompanied by the laying on of hands and anointing.
Here’s what I said.
Isaiah 35.3-6; 2 Timothy 4.5-17; Luke 10.1-9
If there is one word that could summarize the readings for the feast of Saint Luke it is action. All these three passages have something to teach us about activity, about being busy – about our response to God, God the Creator, who himself is always active. The Old Testament reading from Isaiah urges us to: Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
That is what the Church’s social action should be doing! And such an appropriate reading for Luke, the physician. Given that Luke was a doctor, it is traditional to think particularly about the Church’s healing ministry on his feast day, and today we take those words from Isaiah to heart as we finish our service with prayers for healing.
Then there is the reading from Paul’s second letter to Timothy. Paul is older now, an old man calmly facing death – he knows he is going to be taken to Rome, he knows the result of the “arranged” trial there long before he even starts on the journey. He looks back over a ministry packed with action – and he still would like to fit in some reading, and some further writing up of his memoirs – if only Timothy will bring the books and his notebooks he left in Troas.
Above all the Gospel makes us conscious of activity in the service of God; Jesus is shown sending out thirty-five couples of disciples, telling them to prepare the way before him. Luke is the only evangelist who mentions this episode; it seems to go in with his special interest in activity. He is very strong on action, as we have seen as we have worked our way through the gospel this year in the lectionary.
It is in Luke’s gospel that we have the story of the Good Samaritan, who was certainly active – the story of Lazarus the beggar and the rich man, who was certainly not active at all, and Zaccheus, who so badly wanted to see Jesus that he was prepared to make a fool of himself and climb a tree. It is also Luke who gives us the stories of Gabriel coming from God to announce the news of a birth to Mary, and of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, and of the birth of Jesus himself among the animals. Since Luke never knew Jesus and since only Mary could have known the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus it has been the tradition since the early church that Mary knew Luke and told him these things. And part two of Luke’s gospel is of course the book of the Acts of the Apostles, which tells us everything by its name – more action.
These are not just examples to follow. All three readings are deeply theological. That is, they give us the reason why we should be active. The reason is, that this is the way we respond to God, who is also active. It was best put by Saint Teresa of Avila. She wrote:
Christ has no body on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through
which he is to look out into the world;
yours are the feet with which
he is to go about doing good,
and yours are the hands with which
he is to bless us now.
Probably she was talking to a priest when she first said that but she might just as easily have been talking to any Christian man or woman.
But when the writer of 2 Timothy says “Do all the duties of your calling” he means more than that. He means prayer – and this is where we often slip as Christians. When we are under pressure, when time seems short or life particularly difficult, the first thing that often starts to go is prayer. We think that God will understand and forgive. So he does. But that is not an excuse. Prayer is not for God’s benefit, it is for ours. One of the best definitions of prayer that I know also comes from Saint Teresa:
Prayer is knowing, remembering, considering,
that I am always in the presence of God,
who is closer than breathing,
Closer than hands and feet.
If we are too busy to take that to heart, too busy to pray, we are letting go of the very thing that make us Christian – being in communion and communication with our creator.
It is a most remarkable thing that Luke is the most “active” and least theological of all the gospel writers. But he is the one who is most bothered about prayer. He is always showing us Jesus at prayer. And he is the one who gives us that story about Martha, who rushed around, and Mary who chose the better part and sat at the feet of Jesus and listened.
Our prayer life is absolutely crucial. Each of us needs to ask ourselves – are we praying enough – at home – or with our brothers and sisters in Church? Could we pray more? Could we spend an extra few minutes each day in prayer? For prayer must undergird everything we do for Christ. It is for our sake and the sake of the work we are doing as Christ’s body in this place.