Saint Luke and the Gospel of Mercy
As we near the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy next month on the Solemnity of Christ the King, today’s feast of Luke the Evangelist is particularly noteworthy. Just as Saint Luke’s second book, The Acts of the Apostles, has come to be known as the “Gospel of the Holy Spirit,” highlighting the mission of Christ’s disciples to be his Spirit-filled witnesses to the ends of the earth, the Gospel that bears Luke’s name is popularly called “the Gospel of Mercy” for the way the theme of the Lord’s mercy runs through the entire book.
Fittingly for this Jubilee in which we have been reflecting upon, experiencing, and sharing the Good News of God’s loving compassion, the Mass readings for this liturgical year are drawn from the Gospel of Mercy. The Collect for today’s feast captures well Luke’s attention to mercy:
Lord God, who chose Saint Luke to reveal by his preaching and writings the mystery of your love for the poor, grant that those who already glory in your name may persevere as one heart and one soul and that all nations may merit to see your salvation.
In his announcement of a Jubilee, which in the tradition of the Old Testament and the Church is “a year of the Lord’s favor,” Pope Francis pointed specifically to the Gospel of Luke and the passage in which Jesus announced his mission (Misericordiae Vultus, 16). Unrolling the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah, Jesus read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Rolling up the scroll, Jesus then said, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16-21; Isaiah 61:1-2).
In reading through Luke’s first book, we can find multiple examples of Jesus carrying out this mission of mercy, including accounts that are not found in the other three Gospels. Certainly the most well-known are the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son (Luke 10:29-37, 15:11:32). Recently at Sunday Mass we heard the account of Jesus healing the ten lepers, only one of which – a Samaritan – returned to thank the Lord (Luke 17:11-19). Another example is the powerful story of the healing of the widow of Nain’s only son (Luke 7:11-17). There is also the story of how Jesus asked to stay at the house of the socially ostracized Zacchaeus, saying, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:1-10).
Each of these stories, combined with many more in the Gospel of Luke, offers us a portrait of the many and varied ways of our Lord’s loving compassion for all of God’s children. These accounts also invite us to ask how and where in our own lives we can humbly experience that same compassion and also be agents of God’s tender mercies to others.
The desire of Pope Francis in proclaiming this Jubilee has been that over the past months we have reflected on the gift of mercy, how we have received it from God and how we share it with others. Hopefully we have come to appreciate that a merciful love is the particular gift of the Christian to all those he or she encounters.
What Luke proclaims is that the way in which Jesus sought out the lost, the brokenhearted, those seeking to be healed or hungering for forgiveness are all manifestations of the kingdom of God. Listeners of his Gospel are thus given a blueprint for their own life as a disciple. In every action, our starting point and goal is Jesus Christ.
In the same way that Jesus sought out Zacchaeus, we are asked to be particularly attentive to those who are alone, isolated, living at the periphery, as Pope Francis often implores. We cannot simply pass by the afflicted, but like the Good Samaritan, are expected to be moved by compassion at their sight to give of ourselves and care for them. Like the son who left home and sank into iniquity, it is essential that we realize our need to return to our Father and like him, also be patient and forgiving of others.
In our community, we can make the stories of Saint Luke’s Gospel of Mercy come alive in a twenty-first century expression. We can be “an oasis of mercy” (cf. Misericordiae Vultus, 12). In this way, by becoming a sign of Divine Mercy in our lives, we become participants in our salvation and in the salvation of the world.