Around 67 A.D. when Nero was Emperor, Paul was imprisoned in Rome. A few years prior, Peter had been crucified in Rome and a year or so following, Paul would also be put to death, most likely by beheading. We can only imagine the trials that he must have endured during this time, and it was at this time that Paul wrote the letter to Timothy that we read.
He says to Timothy, “Do your best to come to me soon, for Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry. I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus.” A few verses later he says, “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will pay him back for his deeds… At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me… Erastus remained in Corinth; Trophimus I left ill in Miletus. Do your best to come before winter.”
Paul does not strike me as a whiner, but in reading these verses you can hear the anxiety in his voice. He knows his death is near and he is mostly alone. There is mention of some others who are near, but many others have left, deserted, or betrayed him, and there is mention of only one that is with him: “Only Luke is with me.” Today is the Feast of St. Luke and there are many great things that we can say about him, but for me, that one line seems to sum them all up: Luke is with me.
For Paul, Luke was a friend, companion, ally, support, minister, etc. In short, Luke was the Church to Paul. We all know that the Church is not made of wood and stone, but of flesh and blood. We also know that it is not perfect, but rather a gathering of souls seeking God and His will. Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey said, “When I say in the Creed, ‘I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,’ I am saying that I believe that there is a divine society, the risen Christ is the glory in the midst of it, the Holy Spirit is at work within it. Wherever its members respond to the reality about themselves and their calling, the marks of saintliness do indeed begin to appear.”
The Church is made of flesh and blood and is not perfect, but it is a divine society made up of those who look beyond themselves and who see into the reality of the world around them and who desire to seek and serve Christ in all the various situations. They are ones and the church is one, that seeks saintliness. What might that look like? Luke’s example points the way. He demonstrates to us a life of sacrifice, a life that – even though everyone else may quit or abandon or betray – remains faithful, standing firm in Christ, and exhibiting the love of Jesus in his every deed and word.
We, as the disciples of Jesus, are called to be that Church. By so doing, as members of the Church, the Body of Christ, when any of us are experiencing those times of great joy or are in our darkest hour, we will be able to confidently say with Paul, “Luke is with me. ___ is with me. ___ is with me. The Church is with me. Christ Jesus… Christ Jesus is with me.” We will be confident in saying this, because each of us will have sought after that saintliness, not for our own glory, but the glory of God.