Luke was a Gentile, a physician, and one of Paul’s disciples and fellow missionaries in the early spread of the Gospel through the Roman world. He is the author both of the Gospel that bears his name and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles. He apparently did not know Jesus, writing that he compiled his narrative from the report of “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses” (Luke 1). A tradition attested by Eusebius holds that he was one of the first members of the Christian community at Antioch.
Much can be gleaned about his character from his writings. In his Gospel the elements particular to him include much of the account of the virgin birth of Jesus, some of the most moving parables such as those of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, and the words of Jesus during his passion to the women of Jerusalem and the penitent malefactor who was crucified alongside Jesus. All of these elements emphasize the compassion of Christ, which together with Luke’s emphasis on poverty, prayer, and purity of heart make up much of his specific appeal to the Gentiles, for whom he wrote this Gospel of the Savior of the world. Women figure more prominently in Luke’s Gospel than in any other, including Mary, Elizabeth, the widow of Nain, and the woman who was a sinner. Luke also emphasizes Jesus’ deity, from the angelic announcement of “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” that applies the Roman imperial titles of soter (savior) and kyrios (lord) not to Caesar in Rome, but to the newborn child in the backwater town of Bethlehem; to the subtlety of the Greek words used to address Jesus by different persons (or angels) at different times through his Gospel. In the first part of his Gospel, up through the passion and death of Jesus, human beings address Jesus as “master”, while angels refer to him as “Lord” (the Greek kyrios echoing the Hebrew adonai, a term applied to God). After his Resurrection, through the witness of God’s vindication of him, Jesus is called “Lord” by his disciples.
In the Acts of the Apostles Luke shows himself a remarkably accurate observer, concerned with making necessary links between the history of the early Church and the contemporary history of the Roman Empire. As noted about his Gospel, above, Luke showed himself an artist with words, which is perhaps the basis for the tradition that he was a painter and that he made the first icon of the Blessed Virgin. For this reason, Luke has become the patron not only of physicians and surgeons, but also of artists. When he is represented with the other Evangelists, his symbol is an ox, derived from Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 1) and sometimes explained by reference to sacrifice in the Temple in the early chapters of his Gospel.
Luke was with Paul until the apostle’s martyrdom in Rome. What became of Luke after this is unknown. Early tradition holds that he wrote his Gospel in Achaia, and that he died at the age of eight-four in Boetia. In 357 the emperor Constantinus the Second had the presumed relics of Saint Luke translated from Thebes in Boetia to Constantinople, where they were placed with the relics of Saint Andrew in Church of the Holy Apostles. The observance of his feast day on the eighteenth of October is quite old in the East, but it appears on Western calendars only in the eighth century. The date itself is universal, and may be based on the actual date of his death.
prepared from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints
and Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)
Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Honor the physician according to your need of him,
for the Lord created him;
for healing comes from the Most High,
and he will receive a gift from the king.
The skill of the physician lifts up his head,
and in the presence of the great he is admired.
The Lord created medicines from the earth,
and a sensible man will not despise them.
He gave skill to human beings
that he might be glorified in his marvelous works.
By them he heals and takes away pain;
the pharmacist makes of them a compound.
His works will never be finished;
and from him health is upon the face of the earth.
My child, when you are sick do not be negligent,
but pray to the Lord, and he will heal you.
Give up your faults and direct your hands aright
and cleanse your heart from all sin.
Give the physician his place, for the Lord created him;
let him not leave you, for there is need of him.
There is a time when success lies in the hands of physicians,
for they too will pray to the Lord
that he should grant them success in diagnosis
and in healing, for the sake of preserving life.
How good it is to sing praises to our God! *
how pleasant it is to honor him with praise!
The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem; *
he gathers the exiles of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted *
and binds up their wounds.
He counts the number of the stars *
and calls them all by their names.
Great is our LORD and mighty in power; *
there is no limit to his wisdom.
The LORD lifts up the lowly, *
but casts the wicked to the ground.
Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; *
make music to our God upon the harp.
2 Timothy 4:5-13
As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.
And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, vhe went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The icon of Saint Luke the Evangelist is from the hand of Master Theodoric, the fourteenth century Prague court painter of the Holy Roman emperor Charles the Fourth.