In the first of three sessions on the gospel of St. Luke, Brother John of the Trinity emphasized Luke’s skill as a scholar and a storyteller. Where Matthew addressed the Jews and Mark brought the good news of Christ’s message, Luke presents a history, rich in parables, with the theme of salvation. As we all know, Luke opens with a birth narrative, which he may have had from Mary herself, or from the companions of John. Brother John told us that the Greek in which Luke writes this story is street Greek, not the literate Greek of the rest of his gospel … something that would have been obvious to his first listeners.
John began our session however, not at the opening of Luke’s gospel, and not at the baptism of Christ, as he had intended, but with the story of the ten lepers, Luke 17:11, which was the gospel lesson that morning. John said, “You can enter scripture anywhere, just as you can enter a church through any door.” This story is very short:
Ten lepers saw Jesus and called to him for help. He told them they were healed and bade them to show themselves to the priests, to be declared clean. One turned back to praise God and thank Jesus … and he was a Samaritan.
It is hard for us to realize now the terrible conditions then imposed upon lepers … or upon those with any skin disease, for they were treated the same. They could not interact with anyone; they could not work or buy food. Like Lazarus at the rich man’s gate, they waited to share scraps with the dogs. The gospel makes clear that they did not approach Jesus, nor did he touch them to heal them; but he did heal them, all ten of them, even the Samaritan. In his sermon that Sunday, Chris spoke of a community among lepers, one place where Jews and Samaritans might mix. John suggests that such intermingling would have been as shocking among lepers as among the general populace. How striking then, that Jesus would heal a man who was both a leper and a Samaritan, showing that salvation is universal, and not just for the Jews.
For the second session, John suggested that we compare the story of the woman who was a sinner, Luke 7:36, with the story of the ten lepers. This was the woman who came into the Pharisee’s house while Jesus was at dinner there, washing his feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, and anointing them with expensive perfume. To her, and to the one Samaritan leper who turned back, Jesus says, “Your faith has saved you.” Both were offered spiritual healing; the leper who turned back was healed twice. He asked us to think about what it means to us to be saved.
In the second instance, Jesus carried on two separate conversations – the one with the woman, and the other with his hosts, the Pharisees. He compares their hospitality with hers … they did not greet him with a kiss, or offer to wash his feet. But, he says, because much has been forgiven the woman, she shows great love to him. Jesus says that she has been saved, but he does not say that the Pharisees have been saved, however righteous their behavior may have been.
We asked if salvation, according to Luke, was universal – but not to Pharisees? Brother John replied that salvation is always available, but if we do not acknowledge our need of it, we cannot receive it. And having received it, if we are not grateful to it, what good is it doing us? John emphasized again the close parallels between Luke’s teaching and the letters of Paul, whose companion Luke was. Good works do not save us, but if we know that we are saved, the works we do become an expression of that gratitude.
The last section of each of Paul’s epistles, John explained, answer the question “What should we do to live out the Christian life?”. Salvation is a new birth … we don’t make ourselves. Once born, or saved, we can do all things. John shared a story of a troubled teenager in a school where he once taught. No one could get the young man to open up. They were in Buffalo, in the wintertime. John slipped on a very long flight of outdoor steps, and rolled to the bottom. Miraculously, no bones were broken, and book bag firmly in hand, he somehow bounced to his feet at the bottom, just as the young man exited into the pathway. “Did you like that trick?”, asked John; and the young man laughed and laughed. Later, he began to talk to others—this was his breakthrough. God will always break through to us, somehow.
In the third session, we compared the treatment of Mary in the gospels of Mark and Luke. Luke portrays her as a model disciple, and does not portray her slightingly in any way. In the story of Jesus’ relatives trying to get to him through a crowd of enthusiastic followers, found in two parts in Mark, at Mark 3:20 and Mark 3:31, and in Luke at Luke 8:19. In both cases, someone tells Jesus his mother and brothers are here, and want to see him. In both cases, Jesus replies with a question: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” In Mark, the answer is those who are with him, those who do the will of God. Mark 3:20 says the family has come after Jesus because they fear he is possessed, with the implication that Mary may have thought the same. In Luke, there is no accusation of possession, and the answer is those who hear the word and put it into practice, which may include Mary and his brothers. Mark places the story soon after the parable of the sower … the good are those who hear the word, keep it in their heart, and do it. Writing of Mary, Luke several times says that she stored or pondered things in her heart … at the Annunciation, and on returning to the Temple to find him, when he was twelve, among the scholars. Mary can be taken, then, as a model of discipleship, as she listens, reflects, and acts on what she has heard.
John of the Trinity shared some of his personal story with us: he was born in the south end of New Bedford, and entered St. Joseph’s Novitiate in Newton at 17; he transferred to a facility in Maryland for a further two years, after which he was professed as a monk in the order of the Conventual Friars. He completed his undergraduate degree at St Hyacinth’s College in Granby and taught in a Catholic high school for some years. He completed a master’s degree in theology at St. Anthony on the Hudson, in Rensselaer, NY, where he was ordained into the priesthood. He completed a master’s in education at Boston College, while serving first, briefly, as a parish assistant and then again as a high school teacher in New Britain, CT. In 1988, John volunteered for mission work in the Philippines, where he taught novices. His time there was cut short by his mother’s illness. He returned to New Bedford to care for her until her death in 1999, making several short visits to the Philippines to offer courses there. In 1999, his request to live as a hermit was approved. He worked at St. Luke’s, and completed a doctorate in scripture at Newburgh Theological Seminary in Indiana through independent study. In 2009 John was received into the Episcopal Church by Bishop Cedarholm.