This Sunday (October 18) the church celebrates the feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist. Unfortunately, we do not have any books about the life of Saint Luke, though we have many books based on the stories in Luke’s Gospel. The truth is that we don’t know a whole lot about each of the Gospel writers as there is little historically reliable information about their lives. We do know from Scripture that Luke was a doctor (Colossians 4:14), a travelling companion of Saint Paul (Philemon 1:24, 2 Timothy 4:11), the author of both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, and it is suggested that Luke was probably a Gentile, making him the only non-Jewish Evangelist. Some tradition has suggested that he was also a martyr, but no significant details of his death are known.
Excerpted from Holy Women, Holy Men
Luke was a Gentile, a physician, and one of Paul’s fellow missionaries
in the early spread of Christianity through the Roman world. He has
been identified as the writer of both the Gospel which bears his name,
and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles. He had apparently not known
Jesus, but was clearly much inspired by hearing about him from those
who had known him.
Luke wrote in Greek, so that Gentiles might learn about the Lord,
whose life and deeds so impressed him. In the first chapter of his
Gospel, he makes clear that he is offering authentic knowledge about
Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, and resurrection. The Gospel is not a full
biography—none of the Gospels are—but a history of salvation.
Only Luke provides the very familiar stories of the annunciation to
Mary, of her visit to Elizabeth, of the child in the manger, the angelic
host appearing to shepherds, and the meeting with the aged Simeon.
Luke includes in his work six miracles and eighteen parables not
recorded in the other Gospels. In Acts he tells about the coming of
the Holy Spirit, the struggles of the apostles and their triumphs over
persecution, of their preaching of the Good News, and the conversion
and baptism of other disciples, who would extend the Church in
Luke was with Paul apparently until the latter’s martyrdom in Rome.
What happened to Luke after Paul’s death is unknown. Early tradition
has it that he wrote his Gospel in Greece, and that he died at the age
of eighty-four in Boeotia. Gregory of Nazianzus says that Luke was
martyred, but this testimony is doubted by most scholars. In the fourth
century, the Emperor Constantius ordered the supposed relics of Luke
to be removed from Boeotia to Constantinople, where they could be
venerated by pilgrims.
Respond to the Story
1. Luke and Letter writing: The Acts of the Apostles and Gospel of Luke are both addressed to Theophilus. Imagine you are writing a letter to a friend and telling them the most important stories about Jesus. What story would you tell? What story do you most want to know? What questions do you have about Jesus that are not answered in any of the Gospels? If you class would like, we can send these letters to people in our church who receive visitors, but are unable to come on Sunday mornings.
2. The Evangelists: An Evangelist is someone who shares the good news of God in Christ. Create books of the four evangelists by cutting out the images from this coloring page and gluing them on to different pages. You might call this a four-fold Gospel-writer codex (har.har.).
3. Icons of the Madonna and Child: Some traditions hold that Saint Luke was a friend of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and that he painted her first portrait. This is why images of Luke often show him painting Mary and Jesus. It is also why Luke is the patron saint of artists and iconographers. (When iconographers paint an icon it is called “writing” an icon.) Create your own image or write your own icon of Mary and Jesus. Writing an icon is very serious work. It isn’t just painting, an iconographer prays with every stroke, reflecting on the life and work of the person, scene, or story that is depicted. Icons are holy. If you do this activity, try to encourage a sense of calm and quiet in the class while you complete the work (play music on an ipad while working). Younger classes may need to use a coloring page like one of these. Try using the coloring sheet differently though, carefully gluing squares of tissue paper is a wonderful way to get a mosaic of Mary and Jesus.
4. Winged ox–The symbol for Saint Luke is a winged ox. All of the Evangelists (writers of the Gospels) have different symbols. Matthew is a winged human, Mark a winged lion, and John an eagle. The Patristic Fathers, beginning with Jerome, associated the four winged creatures with the creatures who draw the throne of God in Ezekiel 1. Luke’s symbol the ox was assigned because Luke opens up with the sacrifice of Zechariah. No source I found mentioned this, but the ox also seems to be appropriate to the Gospel in which the main character is placed in a feeding trough.
Discuss this symbol with your class and create a depiction of it individually or together. Tracing paper may be especially helpful for this one and is available in the supply closet. Make a large collage of the winged ox together. Create an image with acrylic paint or colored pencils, or a combination of different mediums. If you are interested in showing your class symbols for the remaining Gospel writers, you may find an image here. Churches and cathedrals often show all of the Evangelists together, some on all four corners of large, mosaic ceilings, an image of the cross central to the grouping (example here).
5. Gospel Writer Activity (Older children, This activity will take most if not all of a class period and may, if you choose, be separated into two weeks): Each of the four Gospels presents part of the picture of Jesus’ life and ministry. While many details and stories are shared among all the Gospels, there are also stories and details that are unique to each. Luke, for example, includes the story of the Annunciation, Mary’s visit with her cousin Elizabeth, and the story of Jesus’ birth and the shepherds visitation. In this activity, children will work as a group to consider the experience of the Gospel writers as they recorded details from the life of Christ. This activity will take your whole class.
Divide your class into two groups. One group of students should be assigned a text from the Gospel of Luke (A shorter selection from the stories in Luke 2:1-40 may be a good start). This group should go into the commons and work on acting out the story. The other group (of at least three or four students) should remain in the class. After 5-10 minutes, the first group returns to the class and acts out the selected scenes.
After the scenes are presented, teachers offer a few questions for consideration (don’t answer out loud yet!) What happened in the story? What did the story say about who God is? What was your favorite part of the story? What was your least favorite part? Those who remained in the class and did not act out the story then work in pairs to rewrite the story they saw. The writing groups should keep in mind the questions above as they work. Reconvene the large group, and share each story. What is common among all the stories? What details are left out of each telling? What details are added? How are these stories different? What does this activity suggest about the Gospel writers accounts of the story?
Finish with prayer and your feast.