Saint Luke: Passionate Narrator of God’s Infinite Mercy

Today, Monday October 18, 2021, is the feast day of St Luke, the Evangelist and the author of the Book of Acts.

It is interesting that if one were to look closely at the Gospel he left us, one notices the merciful tone of it. To begin with, we notice that the word mercy is used some ten times whereas the adjective merciful is used three times. More than that, and as Biblical scholars rightly pointed out, Luke’s Gospel has an entire chapter – fifteen – dedicated to God’s merciful love for those who leave his mercy, wherein we find the parable of the merciful father. and the prodigal son. The Father’s loving kindness who does not stop from loving and forgiving us all way through in our lives.

In Luke’s Gospel there is also the theme of forgiveness, the exemplar of such is Jesus himself, Who, when nailed on the Cross, prayed to His Father and Our Father: Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34). This powerful word, forgiveness, is so important in this Gospel that Luke uses it some twenty times! In simple words, this third evangelist is telling us that if we do not forgive, as our Father in Heaven forgives us, we are not living our dignity as the sons and daughters of our One Merciful Father. Moreover, we shall be in direct opposition to Jesus who, on the Cross, plainly and unconditionally forgave those who crucified Him.

Luke’s Gospel reminds us of the relevance of joy. The Christian is the son and daughter of Christian joy! The word joy is found some thirteen times in the entire Gospel text, and should be the distinctive mark of the followers of Jesus. In Luke’s chapter 15, joy is the response in Heaven for every person who turns back to the Father’s Heart! Let us taste this joy in the subsequent text taken from Luke chapter 15, the chapter entirely dedicated to God’s mercy!

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:4-10).

Christ’s catechetical discourse narrated by Luke boldly affirms the importance of women and outcasts in the birth, infancy, life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Back from my theology days, our New Testament lecturers kept harping on the fact that Luke’s Gospel is the Gospel of women. With how much power did Luke portray Mary, the Mother of Jesus the Son of God; Elizabeth; the widow of the parable; the widow who gave all she had as a gift to the temple treasury; Anna the prophetess; the widow of Nain; the women of Jerusalem; the women who sponsored Jesus in his ministry such as Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others (Luke 8:3), and women who were healed by Jesus himself, as the Gospel text openly tells us: also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Mag’dalene, from whom seven demons had gone out (Luke 8:2).

The third Gospel is filled with the theme that God’s most merciful and joyous salvation is for everyone! How beautiful and eloquent is the conclusion of this Gospel when Jesus says to his disciples before he ascended into heaven: Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:46-49).

It is precisely on this note with which the Book of Acts starts. And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5). But things took a definite turn when the Holy Spirit descended upon them in chapter 2. Let us appreciate Luke’s special and most exquisite rendering of this pivotal event in the life of the Church.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. And they were amazed and wondered, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Par’thians and Medes and E’lamites and residents of Mesopota’mia, Judea and Cappado’cia, Pontus and Asia, Phryg’ia and Pamphyl’ia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyre’ne, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” (Luke 2:1-12).

The Book tells us, in the most wonderful way, how God’s mercy, as shown in one’s repentance and forgiveness of sins by God, is really preached to all nations (see Luke 24:46-49), under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Luke uses the word Holy Spirit and Spirit some 57 times in the whole Book of Acts! Thus, the Church, although heavily persecuted, can expand and do all Jesus’ work thanks to and solely by his Holy Spirit!

Holy Spirit, transform me and us as a Church, in and through you, through the intercession of Mary, Our Mother, and St Luke, the third evangelist and the passionate writer of God’s mercy. Amen.

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.