SCRIPTURE: Luke 6:17-26
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VERSES 17-49: THE SERMON ON THE PLAIN
Much of this material is also found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Luke's less familiar version is known as the Sermon on the Plain, because Jesus "came down with them and stood on a level place" (6:17). Luke's version is much shorter than the Matthew's, but includes some distinctive material, such as the Woes (6:24-26).
VERSES 12-16: JESUS CHOOSES THE TWELVE APOSTLES
While verses 12-16 are not included in today's Gospel lesson, they are important as background. Jesus spent the night on a mountain in prayer and chose the twelve apostles from a larger group of disciples that was present with him (v. 13).
VERSES 17-19: HE CAME DOWN WITH A CROWD OF DISCIPLES
17He came down with them, and stood on a level place, with a crowd of his disciples, and a great number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; 18as well as those who were troubled by unclean spirits, and they were being healed. 19All the multitude sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.
Jesus "came down with them, and stood on a level place" to deliver his sermon (v. 17a). The words, "with them," refer back to 6:12-16, where Jesus chose twelve apostles.
A clue to the location of this sermon is Luke's comment, "After he had finished speaking in the hearing of the people, he entered into Capernaum" (7:1).
"with a crowd of his disciples, and a great number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon" (v. 17b.)
Judea is the southern province. Jerusalem, located in Judea, is the home of the temple and represents the religious status quo –– Jesus' opposition.
Tyre and Sidon are Gentile cities north of Capernaum.
Together, these four places emphasize the breadth of Jesus' ministry –– from far north to far south –– from orthodox Jews to Gentiles.
"who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; as well as those who were troubled by unclean spirits, and they were being healed" (v. 17c-18). They came to Jesus because they had heard that he could help them –– and help them he did!
"All the multitude sought to touch him (Jesus), for power came out from him and healed them all" (v. 19). Jesus has come to teach but the crowd has come to be healed. Jesus heals them and then teaches them as well. There is a lesson here for the church.
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VERSES 20-26: BLESSINGS AND WOES
20He lifted up his eyes to his disciples, and said,
"Blessed (Greek: makarioi) are you who are poor,
for yours is the Kingdom of God.
21Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22Blessed are you when men shall hate you, and when they shall exclude and mock you, and throw out your name as evil, for the Son of Man's sake. 23Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven, for their fathers did the same thing to the prophets.
24"But woe to you who are rich!
For you have received your consolation.
25Woe to you, you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26Woe, when men speak well of you,
for their fathers did the same thing to the false prophets."
Look at Matthew 5:1-12 to see how Luke's version of the beatitudes differs from Matthew's.
Some modern translations use the word "happy" instead of "blessed" to translate makarioi. That is an "unhappy" choice, given the connotations associated with the word happy in our culture. The blessing here is the security of knowing that one is right with God.
Both the beatitudes and woes describe already established reality instead of calling us to new behavior calculated to garner blessings and to avoid woes.
There is no mention of reward and punishment here. Instead, Jesus describes a reversal that is simply a fact of life ––a mirror-image world where everything is backwards. We know how things work in the kingdom of this world. Now Jesus tells us how they work in the kingdom of God.
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God" (v. 20).
Who are the poor? "They are the pious poor... –– those who belong to God" (Bock, 122). While they include the financially impoverished, Jesus likely intends them also to include other disadvantaged people –– powerless people –– marginalized people.
Why would God bless the poor? Our spiritual sensitivity tends to be inversely proportional to our financial prosperity. Our awareness of our need for God tends to rise in lean years and fall in fat years. Our compassion for the needy tends to wax when we ourselves are needy and wane when we are not.
Luke presents a strong emphasis throughout this Gospel on the great reversal that the kingdom of God will bring (see 1:50-54, 74-77; 12:13-21; 16:1-13, 19-31; 18:1-8, 15-17; 19:11-27; 21:1-4). This encourages disciples, who might be suffering but who know that they belong, not to the kingdom of this world, but to the kingdom of God (see 5:11). However, Luke does not idealize poverty. The emphasis is on not being possessed by possessions.
"Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be filled" (v. 21a). Luke on several occasions uses the metaphor of a messianic banquet to portray the blessings that await the faithful (see 12:37; 13:29; 14:14-24).
"Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh" (v. 21b). "Weeping and mourning are stock responses to rejection, ridicule, and loss" (Green, 268), so the promise of joyful laughter suggests that these people will enjoy acceptance, affirmation, and the restoration of that which was lost –– plus much more!
"Blessed are you when men shall hate you, and when they shall exclude and mock you, and throw out your name as evil, for the Son of Man's sake" (v. 22). This beatitude is different in that it promises a reward to those who endure rejection or persecution because of their faithfulness to Christ.
The person who faithfully calls people to quit sinning can expect opposition. Jesus reassures the disciples that, if they experience opposition because of their faithfulness, they can expect great rewards in heaven (v. 23).
Luke's church, in the midst of persecution, needs to hear this promise. We need to hear it too. There are unsung heroes among us who have suffered because the world did not appreciate their Christian values and principles. Jesus says, "Rejoice in that day (of persecution) and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven, for their fathers did the same thing to the prophets" (v. 23).
"But woe to you who are rich! For you have received your consolation" (v. 24). Jesus has pronounced four blessings (poor, hungry, weep, hated). Now he pronounces four corresponding woes (rich, full, laughing, well-spoken).
The rich include those who are financially prosperous, but that term also "connotes belonging and power (and)...a sense of arrogance that does not require the visitation of God (see 1:53; 12:16, 21; 14:12; 16:1, 19, 21-22; 18:23, 25; 19:2; 21:1)" (Johnson, 108).
"Woe to you, you who are full now, for you will be hungry" (v. 25a). This woe emphasizes the passing nature of privileged living. Those who have become accustomed to having plenty of food find it especially difficult to tolerate half rations.
"Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep" (v. 25b). This woe corresponds to the beatitude, " Blessed are you who weep now" (v. 21b).
"Woe when men speak well of you, for their fathers did the same thing to the false prophets" (v. 26). Humans are prone to speak well of those who agree with them or those who might give favors in return for flattery. God, however, will reward those who speak the truth rather than the false prophets who speak what people want to hear.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Barclay, William, The Daily Study Bible, The Gospel of Luke (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1953)
Bock, Darrell L., The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Luke, Vol, 3 (Downers Grove, Illinois, Intervarsity Press, 1994)
Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; McCann, J. Clinton; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV –– Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)
Craddock, Fred B., Interpretation: Luke (Louisville: John Knox Press,(1990)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)
Culpepper, R. Alan, The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume IX. (Nashville: Abingdon , 1995)
Evans, Craig A., New International Biblical Commentary: Luke (Peabody, MA, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1990)
Fitzmyer, Joseph A., S.J., The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to Luke I-IX (New York: Doubleday, 1970)
Gilmour, S. MacLean & Bowie, Walter Russell, The Interpreter's Bible, Volume 8. (Nashville: Abingdon , 1952)
Green, Joel B., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997)
Hendriksen, William, New Testament Commentary: Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978)
Holwerda, David E., in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday's Text. The Third Readings: The Gospels (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Johnson, Luke Timothy, Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991)
Nickle, Keith F., Preaching the Gospel of Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000)
Nolland, John, Word Biblical Commentary: Luke 1 –– 9:20, Vol. 35A (Dallas: Word Books, 1989)
Ringe, Sharon H., Westminster Bible Companion, Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press)
Stein, Robert H., The New American Commentary: Luke (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992)
Tannehill, Robert C., Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Luke (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996)
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