February 13, 2022
Sunday between February 11 and February 17 inclusive
Not used if assigned date follows Ash Wednesday.
May be replaced by Transfiguration Sunday if the assigned date is the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday.
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Luke 6:17-26, The Message or Luke 6:17-26, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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This passage begins Luke's version of Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount."
Like Matthew, it begins with beatitudes and ends with a parable about building a house on a sound foundation. Unlike Matthew, it is considerably shorter (Luke 6:20-46 compared with Matthew 5:1 - 7:29), and takes place on a plain.
It is quite possible that Jesus told these teachings more than once as he travelled about the countryside. But both Matthew and Luke place their recollection of these teachings after Jesus has called together his group of disciples and before he begins his final journey to Jerusalem.
Luke tells us why he is writing his account of Jesus' life in the opening verses (Luke 1:1-4):
1 Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
And so, unlike Matthew, we know that Luke is writing to someone of high social standing - possibly or probably one the non-Jewish, gentile, converts to the new Christian community - someone who is being instructed in the way of Christ.
Luke also gives us his understanding of Jesus' mission (Luke 4:18-21):
18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
So we need to hear Luke's Sermon on the Plain through the ears of a high-standing elite person seeking to know the truth of Jesus' way. What does it mean for such a person to join the Jesus community? What does it mean for such a person to fulfill the words of Isaiah 61:1-2 which Jesus reads from the scroll? The lesson we have today spells that out in stark choices.
There are many interesting differences between Luke's beatitudes and Matthew's (Matthew 5:1-12).
But I think it is more interesting to ponder this text from the position of the one to whom it is written, Theophilus.
Is Theophilus poor, hungry, weeping now? No.
Is Theophilus rich, full, happy now? Yes.
And as the concluding parable of this collection makes clear, what makes all the difference is not just hearing these words, but ACTING on them.
These teachings tell us how we must behave in order to fulfill Jesus' mission. They come after Jesus has formed his group of disciples and before he heads off to Jerusalem because without these lived practices there is no foundation of non-violent justice lived in community to be an alternative to the violent non-justice of society.
Malina and Rohrbaugh (Page 250, see footnote below.) explain that the underlying Greek words that are translated as "blessed" and "woe" are better understood as "How honorable ..." and "How shameless ..."
Luke's beatitudes are statements consoling and supporting the socially disadvantaged
Needless to say, the beatitudes are also a reversal of who was considered honorable and shameless at the time of Jesus. (And possibly even in our time? I'm just asking.)
What's at stake for high-status Theophilus is revealed in Verse 22:
"Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude you, revile you,
and defame you on account of the Son of Man
Because for Theophilus that is exactly the fate that awaits if he joins the Jesus community.
As Malina and Rohrbaugh comment:
The social ostracism in Verse 22 is always the fate of the poor in agrarian societies. ... social ostracism may become the fate of the rich who join Jesus groups that include the poor. Luke knows the terrible costs involved for rich Jesus group members, but is uncompromising in his demand that these costs be paid.
Might social ostracism still be the fate of those who befriend the poor?
So there are at least two sermons in today's text. One comforting and one possibly discomforting. Blessed indeed is the preacher with the courage to preach both.
Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, pages 249-250; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. See link below.
Luke 6:17-26 (NRSV)
17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20 Then he looked up at 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 will be filled.
"Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 "Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude you, revile you,
and defame you on account of the Son of Man.
23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy,
for surely your reward is great in heaven;
for that is what their ancestors 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 will be hungry.
"Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 "Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Luke 6:17-26 (The Message)
17 Coming down off the mountain with them, he stood on a plain surrounded by disciples, and was soon joined by a huge congregation from all over Judea and Jerusalem, even from the seaside towns of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come both to hear him and to be cured of their ailments. Those disturbed by evil spirits were healed. 19 Everyone was trying to touch him—so much energy surging from him, so many people healed! 20 Then he spoke:
You're blessed when you've lost it all.
God's kingdom is there for the finding.
21 You're blessed when you're ravenously hungry.
Then you're ready for the Messianic meal.
You're blessed when the tears flow freely.
Joy comes with the morning.
22 "Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable. 23 You can be glad when that happens—skip like a lamb, if you like!—for even though they don't like it, I do... and all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this.
24 But it's trouble ahead if you think you have it made.
What you have is all you'll ever get.
25 And it's trouble ahead if you're satisfied with yourself.
Your self will not satisfy you for long.
And it's trouble ahead if you think life's all fun and games.
There's suffering to be met, and you're going to meet it.
26 "There's trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.