A Homily for the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist
18 October 2019
Jayan Timothy Koshy
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Do the work of an evangelist.”
Sounds simple enough, right?
But ‘evangelism’ can be a really scary word—especially for us mainline Christians. We’re generally way more comfortable with the word ‘mission,’ especially given the language that’s popular with our diocesan leadership.
But what is our mission?
The Catechism says, “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” It is a mission of healing, of restoring to wholeness—both important aspects of the meaning of the Greek word for salvation in the Bible.
The Catechism goes on to say that part of this mission is proclaiming the Gospel. The prayers for mission that the Church prays every morning and evening in the Daily Office ask for God’s salvation to reach out and encompass all of humanity. One of them reads:
you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth,
and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off
and to those who are near:
Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you;
bring the nations into your fold;
pour out your Spirit upon all flesh;
and hasten the coming of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We live in a broken world. We’re plagued by violence and exploitation. Peace seems like a pipe dream. And “seeking after God” is WAY low on the list of priorities for most people. Humanity is sick with sin—both personal and corporate. And honestly, the situation often feels pretty hopeless to me. Many days, just glancing at the news makes it tempting to despair and say that God’s finished with this dumpster fire of a world.
But in our reading from Sirach today, we receive a promise: “God’s works will never be finished; and from him health spreads over all the earth.” The Gospel—the Good News, that St. Luke and all evangelists proclaim—is that God has made good on this promise, in the person of Jesus, the Christ, the Incarnate Word.
Luke’s Jesus is a prophetic figure, announcing that God is faithful to the outcasts and the marginalized. Luke is careful to show Jesus as the literal embodiment of God’s promise to graft all those at the edges of society into his people. Salvation in Luke’s Gospel is healing with a distinctly political dimension. It’s the culmination of a grand, prophetic narrative stretching across centuries.
Luke’s Gospel proclaims the release of captives, the exaltation of the poor. Or as today’s Psalm says: “the gathering of exiles and the brokenhearted.” Luke shows us Jesus as the one who binds up all wounds.
The work of an evangelist is to be an agent of this healing and reconciliation; to proclaim God’s love in gathering the world to himself; to enact that gathering and reconciliation through works of mercy.
But this gathering and healing is bound to be uncomfortable…on multiple levels.
Part of this is because standing up to the forces that have shattered the world makes us vulnerable to those forces ourselves. God’s salvation work—setting captives free and nursing the wounded—challenges those who have risen to the top by casting down the lowly.
And the Powers-That-Be have never been kind to those who challenge them. Just look at the lives of St. Paul and the other Apostles. Or more recently at figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Fr. Oscar Romero. So the risk of hardship is real. We may encounter hardship if we faithfully pursue our task of proclaiming a Gospel that gathers the broken margins to be rejoined in the fullness of God’s people.
But this work of evangelism is also uncomfortable because of how it challenges us. It tends to displace us and put us out of joint as well.
A little later in this chapter of Luke, the crowd in the synagogue is furious at Jesus for declaring that salvation might go first to the Gentiles. The suggestion that healing might not actually be centered around them was an outrageous stumbling block. And their reaction may seem extreme to us, but it doesn’t stretch the imagination to see ourselves in their example.
We are all too often enthusiastic about the work of the Church—even sacrificing our time and resources—until we realize that we’re also called to sacrifice our selves for the Gospel. When we’re asked to give up our egos, our agendas, our preferences, for the sake of the Church’s work, we often react with indignation and annoyance that resembles the synagogue crowd, in miniature.
Wrestling with these reactions is not optional in our lives as Christians.
In his commentary on today’s Psalm, St. Augustine talks about God as a physician, setting bones that are broken. But he notes that sometimes patients come to the doctor with bones that have broken and then healed without being properly set. These bones, which may feel sound, ultimately need to be broken again before they can be set and the body healed.
We are members of a body: the Body of Christ. And although we are at work gathering the broken into the love of God, at the same time we are often misaligned like a broken bone that healed wrong. Our priorities are disordered by sin and we place ourselves at the center of the healing. Sometimes the Gospel work of healing the world requires that we break down our disordered ways of being and allow them to be re-set by God.
It’s tough, sacrificial work. It imitates the way Jesus pours himself out for us.
Paul references this when he speaks of “being poured out as a libation” in connection with the Evangelist’s work of gathering the broken in to God. Paul exhorts us to persevere in this sustained self-sacrifice like runners in a race. He put his money where his mouth was, too, pursuing the work of evangelism even until his martyrdom. (Accompanied the whole way, incidentally, by St. Luke).
This kind of total self-sacrifice is a tall order… And if the Church were just a human institution tasked with this, I think we would surely fail.
But the good news of the Gospel isn’t that humans are pouring themselves out and healing the world on their own initiative and power. That would mean we’re agents of a generic social justice that would ultimately be just as weak as we are.
No… the Good News is that God is the one doing the healing. God has healed us through Christ the great physician. And God will continue to make that healing manifest in the world. We are called to participate in the unfolding of this healing, in word and deed and in setting ourselves aside. But it is God who drives the work. And it is God who empowers us to take it up.
We’re in this because God chose to fulfill the promise of a kingdom of healing in Jesus, God made human, who poured himself out and defeated death. We’re in this because God chose to work through the Church, Christ’s Body on earth, to gather the whole world under his wings like little chicks.
We are called and commissioned by God through our baptism to be evangelists. We act in his name. We bandage the broken world through the ministries of the Church. And we await the Last Day, when the bandages will unfurl and we will all stand face-to-face with God, made whole by his healing work.
So let us do the work of evangelists—inviting the world to share in the healing power of the resurrected Christ, even as that power continues to challenge and change us.
Trusting in the faithfulness of God to make good on his promises, let us go into the world to bind up the wounds of the brokenhearted, so that God’s health may spread over all the earth. Amen.