Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Feast of Luke: Physicians of the Natural Kind

Today is the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist. Luke has been remembered, since the earliest Christian centuries, as “the beloved physician” mentioned by Paul in Colossians 4:14 and is said to have practiced medicine before following Paul in his missionary journeys. Luke’s gospel was beloved by the early church for its countless retellings of miracles by Jesus, who was himself called “the great physician.”

What is rather interesting about these two designations, however, one for Luke himself and the other for his portrayal of our Savior, is that they put forth two rather distinct understandings of a physician. To call Christ “the great physician” is to acknowledge the frequency of healings in his ministry. It seems as if Jesus is constantly healing the lame, the blind, lepers, and many others, being moved by compassion for their situation. However, to acknowledge Luke as “the beloved physician” is quite different. A reading from Ecclesiastes was often read on Luke’s feast day, which we still read today to celebrate his witness.

Honor physicians for their services,
for the Lord created them;
for their gift of healing comes from the Most High,
and they are rewarded by the king.
The skill of physicians makes them distinguished,
and in the presence of the great they are admired.
The Lord created medicines out of the earth,
and the sensible will not despise them.
And he gave skill to human beings
that he might be glorified in his marvelous works.

What I hope we can take from this passage and from the witness of St. Luke and his gospel is the way that our faith includes the supernatural, but is not limited to it. Let me explain what I mean. We certainly affirm and believe that our Lord healed the sick, and I know that I believe God continues to heal the sick today. I wouldn’t pray for my friends and family members otherwise. Our faith, however, also retains respect for more than the supernatural healing that shone forth in the early ministry of our Lord and in the ministry of his apostles and the saints. There is also an affirmation in Christianity of the ability which God has given to human beings to exercise ingenuity. “The Lord created medicines...and the sensible will not despise them. And he gave skill to human beings that he might be glorified in his marvelous works.”

God is certainly glorified in the miraculous. But his marvelous work is also manifested in the skill which he has given to humanity, made in his own image. The work each of us does from day to day, our use of our God-given intellect and talents, are a revelation of God’s glory. So, as we prayed in our collect this past Sunday, that we might see the glory of God displayed in Christ, so also my hope is simply that we might see the glory of God as it is revealed in our own lives and abilities as well. For such is our faith. 

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