Monday, May 21, 2012

Luke Chapter 6 – The Sermon on the Plain

The Sermon on the Plain in Luke collects some of Jesus' most well known teachings, and parallels the more commonly known Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7. The two are extremely similar, but the differences show the marked difference between Luke's message compared to Matthew.

Jesus comes down from the mountain in Luke, rather than ascending a mountain as he does in Matthew. Matthew's gospel emphasizes Jesus' sovereign kingship and authority, and his role as a new and greater prophet like Moses. Having him deliver teachings from a a mountain accomplishes both. Luke emphasizes Jesus' humanity. In Luke, Jesus teaches and touches all of humanity, including outsiders and foreigners.

In Luke, far less of a distinction is made between Jesus, the disciples and the multitudes. Jesus teaches a mixed multitude in Luke, including ethnic and religious outsiders, Gentiles from Tyre and Sidon, as a human and for all humanity in common.

The sermon begins with the great theme of Luke – Justice for the poor and the oppressed.

Luke 6:20-26 (ESV)
20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21  “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

24  “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

Mary's prayer in Luke 1, John the Baptist's teachings in Luke 3, Jesus' sermon in Luke 4, and these Bleasings and Woes make it clear that God's new Kingdom will cause a great reversal in the order of the world as it is.

While Matthew's beatitudes can be (correctly) spiritualized and internalized, Luke's blessings and woes have great practical and measurable consequence to those that hear them. Matthew describes the "poor in spirit", and those who "hunger and thirst for righteousness". But when Luke says poor, hungry, weeping, rich, full, or laughing, he means practical circumstances in a material reality. The words "now" and "you shall" demonstrate that the circumstances if the materially rich or poor are temporary, and promises an eternal change in these circumstances.

This is not to say that Jesus is suggesting that poverty in itself is a somehow holy or fortunate circumstance. If this were so, he would be proclaiming a woe to the rich about a coming circumstance to which they should aspire. Furthermore, it would not be at all congruent to the context of the great reversal described in the rest of Luke. So we conclude that it is the oppressive rich to whom he speaks, and the poor who suffer the consequences of their oppression.

Since we do not interpret this passage as describing poverty as something inherently holy or pious, we also do not accept that it suggests that one should apathetically accept one's lot in life in the hope of some better life after death. On the contrary, Jesus is warning of a real, practical, measurable change that is coming into the order of things, one that will affect the redistribution of wealth and power. This change is a good thing. It would be right and good for the hearers of the message to get on the right side of the change *now*, to become active in seeing God's Kingdom demonstrated *now*, not sit back and suffer in hope for a better life later. Their is an inevitable change coming by the power of the work of the Holy Spirit on the earth, and this is both a warning, and invitation to participate.

John told the affluent to give away one coat if they have two. Jesus is pronouncing a severe *woe* on those who do not.

Jesus continues with a challenging application of the great reversal and the upside-down kingdom. He tells us to love our enemies. The following verses are descriptions of non-violent resistance, not non-resistance, a practical teaching for the multitudes living under military occupation.

Being hit – Jesus is referring to a common offense of the more powerful occupying Roman citizens physically abusing and demeaning the Jewish residents. To slap with the back of the hand (to specify the right cheek means they’re hitting this way, since the right hand is dominant) shows dominance. To offer the other cheek (left) is to invite the offender to slap or hit with the palm or fist, and treat the offended as an equal.

Coat taken – A legal reality that overtaxed citizens could be sued for everything they had except one piece of clothing to pay their debt. To give the last piece of clothing is enormously generous on one hand, and leaves you naked on the other. The nakedness exposes to shame the oppression of the dominant force. Exodus 22:26-27, Deuteronomy 24:12-13 forbid keeping someone’s cloak overnight.

Give to all who ask – The first had to do with oppression from those with greater power. This deals with those with lesser power who may intrude into the disciple’s life. Jesus gives us no opportunity to judge the merit of the request. We are to give. Not because it is deserved, but because it is asked. Luke 6:34 indicates this is a person unlikely to repay. Luke 6:35 extends the loans to enemies as well. This is a generosity that goes even beyond "common sense". We cannot pat ourselves on the back for this sort of generosity.

There is nothing we have in our possession in this temporary existence that we should not hold loosely.

This is the jujitsu of love.

God does this exact same thing for us. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” - Romans 8:28 ESV

Overcome evil with good – Romans 12:21

Jesus is our example of this kind of generosity
1Peter 2:20-25
2 Peter 2:1
Romans 5:8-10

Love fulfills the law – Romans 13:8-10, James 2:8, Matthew 22:36-40

Love for enemies – Exodus 23:4, Proverbs 25:21, Genesis 45:1, 1 Samuel 24:7, 2 Kings 6:22

No one needs more love than one consumed by hatred.

This love is active. We are not only to resist evil nonviolently, but pursue love, prayer, blessing, and good deeds toward our enemies.

Romans 12:17-21 (ESV)

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Verse thirty-one is commonly called the golden rule, and appears often in the gospels. It is commonly quoted as "do unto others as you would have them do into you." Jesus may be familiar with the popular teaching of a contemporary Jewish Rabbi Pharisee named Hillel, who gave a very similar teaching at the same time. However, Hillel's uses negative language (do not hate) and is not universally applicable. Here, Jesus uses positive language, and his radical statement is applicable to everyone, everywhere.

Luke uses the phrase "even sinners so that" three times where Matthew instead used the word "Gentiles". Luke's language is more precise, and we are reminded that he is writing to a gentile audience, and that Luke himself is also a gentile.

Jesus commands us to be merciful, as our Father is merciful (v36). He defines this mercy as the kindness of the Most High on the ungrateful and the evil. It is appropriate, then, that he should turn at the end of his sermon to righteous judgment and humility (vv37-45). Each one of us is imperfect and in need of God's grace. In fact, Jesus demonstrates his love most toward those who are most fiercely judged and excluded by the world. It seems the only qualification for the love and mercy if God is that we humbly admit that we are in need of it. From this state, we are unable to judge. Judgment is evidence that we have not truly received God's grace. Words of judgment from our mouth reveal the state of our own heart, not the state of the one we judge. Sober words.

Finally, Jesus makes it clear that his words are meant to be heeded and put into action. This is not a rhetorical exercise (vv46-49). The Kingdom of Heaven is coming. And it is here. It would be wise to get on the right side of it, or we will indeed find ourselves mourning and weeping as the rich Jesus' describes at the opening of his message.

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