Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Sermon / Homily on Luke 6:12-23

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours

by David Ewart,

Luke 6:17-26

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.

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.

Why here?

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.

Double yikes!

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 concerned 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 Rorhbaugh 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?

Triple yikes!

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.

See Also:

More Sermons and Commentaries on Luke 6:12-23 (12 Apostles Feast)

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