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Luke 6:17-26
17 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, 19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all. 20 Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. 23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. 25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Background

We begin by finding Jesus, standing on “a level place” (or “a plain”). Matthew sets a similar picture in the sermon on a mount to emphasize that Jesus received those teachings from God (Matthew 5-7). The geographical setting has a different function in the Gospel of Luke. Some prophets use the word “level” that provides the background for its use in Luke-Acts (pedinos in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings). The word “level” often refers to places of corpses, disgrace, idolatry, suffering, misery, hunger, annihilation, and mourning (see Jeremiah 9:22; 14:18; 30:4; Daniel 3:1; Joel 1:10, 20; 2: 22; 3:19; Habakkuk 3:17; Zechariah 12:11).  To then rephrase this, while standing in a broken world, Jesus teaches the ways to find God.

Where Matthew begins the sermon on the mount with nine beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), Luke 6:20-26 begins the sermon on the plain with four beatitudes and four woes. The word “blessed” used here refers to being aware in the present of having a place in the community’s movement towards God. To be “blessed” does not mean an absence of struggle. Indeed, as 6:22-23 indicates, to be in the community moving towards God can invite hatred, exclusion, being reviled, and being defamed as others reject God and His witnesses. To be blessed is to live through such opposition aware that the struggle is only temporary and that “your reward is great in heaven,” that is, that God will gather the faithful into His Kingdom at the end.

To live under the verdict of “woe” means condemnation. Suffering under a curse in the present and receiving final judgement to eternal punishment after the conclusion of this world.  An interesting point is brought out here. The woeful may not experience apparent discomfort during their life. They will mistake the wealth, overflowing tables, good times, and prestigious relationships for God’s highest purposes. Like the rich person of Luke 16:19-31, they will awake to a fiery eternal existence.

To be clear, condemnation awaits all those who do not repent and place their faith in Jesus. Luke offers a longer view.  A person’s relationship with wealth and high social standing should reveal a concern. Luke wants such people to avoid condemnation by repenting and accepting/following Jesus. Simply put, it means putting one’s material resources at the service of the entire community (see Luke 3:10-14; 8:1-3; 12:13-21; 18:18-27; 19:1-10; Acts 2:42-47; Acts 4:35-5:11; 6:1-6; 20:33-35). Luke intends to shock persons with wealth into repentance and sharing their money and goods for the good of the church and world.

Items for Discussion

  • How is our world similar to the level places of the prophets and Luke?
  • How do we maintain the values and practices of a Godly life in the midst of the level places of this world’s life?
  • How would you explain the curse of abundance and power?
  • While we teach our children to strive for success, what advice is critical to keeping them from the “woes” that may lie ahead in their life?
  • How do we balance our life of relative comfort with a world that is “level?”
  • Why do you think that not enough people are concerned about what lies ahead in eternity?

Discussion Challenge

  • What are the principles in teaching, promoting generosity that lead one to true happiness?
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