Commentary on Luke 6:20-31
Jesus is looking. What does he see? While this pericope begins with Jesus looking at the disciples, we can surmise that he sees much more than disciples. There were actually three groups of people gathered around Jesus at this moment: a crowd, disciples, and apostles. So, when Jesus looked out at all of the people, he saw: men and women, boys and girls, young and old, Jew and Gentile. He also saw their needs. Each of these groups of people needed very different things from Jesus.
The first group was the crowd. In verse 17, we read that the crowd was made up of people from Judea, Jerusalem and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. While they wanted to hear what Jesus had to say, the purpose of their presence was very pragmatic; they first and foremost needed Jesus to heal them. Some had various illnesses and diseases. Others had unclean or evil spirits from which they wanted relief. While we don’t know exactly how many people were in the crowd, we do know that Jesus healed all of them. Jesus met their physical needs, which likely healed them emotionally while also restoring them to fullness of life in their communities.
The second group was the disciples. Disciples were those who followed Jesus and not only wanted to hear what Jesus had to say, they also wanted and needed to learn from him. With their learnings they would be able to shape and change their thinking and living to comport with the will of God that Jesus communicated to them.1
The third group was composed of the newly appointed twelve apostles. While all apostles were also disciples, not all disciples were apostles. These were people hand-selected by Jesus to be his emissaries, to continue to do the work he began during his earthly ministry.2
As Jesus preached this Sermon on the Plain, each group was listening with different purposes and levels of engagement. The crowd was likely listening just for what they needed to get from Jesus in order to be healed. The disciples were listening much closer. They were listening for understanding so they could take Jesus’ teachings and apply them to their own lives. The apostles were likely not only listening even closer than the disciples, they were also watching Jesus’ actions intently because they were expected to do what he did in the world.
In every Christian community there is a crowd and there are disciples and apostles. Preachers can ask members of their community whom they consciously desire to be. Do they want to be part of the crowd? Are they coming to worship and participating in community just to get what they want and need at any given time and place without a real commitment to allowing the Word of God to change every aspect of their lives? Or is their goal to be a disciple? Are they willing to continually examine all of their thoughts and actions to determine how they are and are not living up to their commitment to follow Christ? Are they attending worship to learn how to apply Jesus’ teachings to their own lives? Or do they want to go all in? Do they feel called to not only apply Jesus’ teachings to their own lives, but perform some of the same ministry functions that Jesus did, such as teaching and/or preaching the Gospel?
As each of the three groups listened to Jesus’ sermon, they were informed of Luke’s view of Jesus’ purpose and mission. The focus of the sermon was consistent with Jesus’ declaration in Luke 4:16-18 in the temple in which he read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and proclaimed that he was sent by God to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free. In this Sermon on the Plain, Jesus focuses on the conditions in which people find themselves: poverty, sorrow, hunger and marginalization. This distinguishes the Sermon on the Plain from the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew focuses on issues of piety such as mourning, meekness, mercy and peacemaking. In Luke, Jesus’ mission is a prophetic one that changes the lived experiences of the people who believe in and follow him, in addition to attending to matters of the Spirit.
The news that Jesus announced in this sermon was for those whom he chose to actually participate in the kingdom of God by living according to Jesus’ teachings as disciples and for those who answer the call of apostleship. While poverty, hunger, sadness and being marginalized are not “blessed” states of being, Jesus’ announcement of blessedness was linked to adverse conditions as a promise of a glorious future that would be realized when Jesus’s teachings were actually realized.
At the same time, the “woes” that Jesus proclaimed were not a complete rejection of wealth, adequate or abundant food resources, happiness or having a good reputation. Rather, Jesus was warning those who were fortunate enough to live under these conditions that they would be expected to live differently. The rich would be expected to share their wealth with the poor. Those who had adequate or abundant food resources would be expected to share their food with the hungry. Those who were happy would be expected to attend to the emotional needs of those in sorrow. Those who had good reputations would be expected to leverage those reputations on behalf of those who found themselves in challenging circumstances.
Jesus’ sermon challenged those who were watching and listening to think and live differently. His words also challenge those of us who are committed to following his teachings and those who have answered the call to do the work that Jesus did in the world, to think and live differently. We know that the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed has not yet come into its fullness. Yet, we must believe in the power of God to make Jesus’ vision a reality and accept his invitation to participate in its realization.
- Walter A. Elwell, and Barry J. Beitzel,” Disciple,” in Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 629-630.
- Ibid, “Apostle,” 131-32.