St. Luke and the Problem of Identity

St. Luke is one of the most prolific authors in the New Testament.  Having written both the Gospel According to St. Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke has contributed as much to the New Testament as St. Paul and St. John.  Yet, in spite of this massive contribution, we know very little about the Evangelist and that which we do know of him must be pieced together in fragments.

St. Paul mentions St. Luke on three separate occasions.  In both his Epistle to the Colossians and the Epistle to Philemon, St. Paul speaks of “Luke the beloved physician” sending his greetings along with a host of other co-laborers including Epaphras, Aristarchus, Demas, and John-Mark (St. Mark the Evangelist).  Nevertheless, by the time St. Paul wrote his second Epistle to St. Timothy, one of the apostle’s very last letters, he laments that “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica…  Only Luke is with me.” (4:11-12)

There are, however, some tantalizing clues as to what role St. Luke played in the evangelism of the Mediterranean hidden away in Acts of the Apostles.  There are four occasions in Acts where the author, St. Luke, “slips up” and begins using the first person plural “we” instead of the third person plural “they.”  Basically, St. Luke “forgot” that he was not supposed to include himself in the text and basically admits that he was there by saying “we did this” and “we did that” instead of saying “they did it.”  These passages are from Troas to Philippi on the second missionary journey (16:10-17), the ministry in Macedonia, Troas, and Miletus on the third missionary journey (20:5-15), the final journey back to Jerusalem (21:1-18), and St. Paul’s voyage to Rome (27:1-28:16).

That is still precious little on which to piece together a life story, but it does lead some to draw a few conclusions.  Many believe that St. Luke joined St. Paul’s missionary team in Troas, just before the Apostle headed into Europe for the first time.  He most likely did not accompany St. Paul on the brief trip back to Jerusalem and Antioch, but worked with the Apostle extensively upon his return and long stay in Ephesus.  St. Luke then traveled back to Jerusalem with the Apostle, was present for much if not all of his trials, and journey with him all the way to Rome, remaining with the imprisoned Apostle all the way to his martyrdom.

Consider all those moments where St. Luke was present.  Imagine hearing all of those incredible sermons and testimonies.  Ponder what it would have been like to have been one of the missionaries that was known throughout the Mediterranean as being part of the team.  Yet St. Luke’s name is recorded only three times in the entire New Testament.  He wrote two of the largest books in the New Testament?  His name appears nowhere in either book.  Why?  How can this be?

St. Luke knew something that we would all do well to keep in mind.  It is not about “me.”  It is about the work that God is doing.  It is about spreading the Gospel and advancing the Kingdom of God.  St. Luke did not attach his name to his works nor write himself into his stories because they were not his stories; they were God’s stories and how His kingdom was spreading.  In fact, that is the case with all four Gospels.  St. Mark is never named in the Gospel; St. John refuses to refer to himself by name; only St. Matthew includes his own story in the Gospel.  Up through the Middle Ages, most texts were anonymous.  They were all anonymous because the authors knew that it was not about them; it was about the truth.  They were only a part of the story and, God have mercy, they could have been replaced.

In our day and age, name, reputation, and presence are extremely important.  People judge their success and failure based on how many followers they have on Twitter and how many friends they have on Facebook.  The fact of the matter is that it is not about how many people follow you; it is about how many people you help to follow Christ.  May the Holy Spirit help keep us humble and ensure that we never labor for anything less than the greater glory of God, Ad Majorem Gloria Dei.

Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to declare in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church the same love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

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1 Comment

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One response to “St. Luke and the Problem of Identity

  1. I love the romantic notion that the Gospel writers chose not to sign their works out of humility. I have to wonder, however, if you or I would be very keen to sign our names to documents that would be circulated throughout the 1st century Roman Empire proclaiming someone other than Caesar as Lord. 🙂

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