On the plain: context

And he came down with them and stood on a stretch of level ground. A great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and even those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured.  Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all. And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.  Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.  Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.  But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.  But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.  Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.

Introduction. In the 5th Sunday readings (Lk 5:1-11; last week) we have the account of the calling of the first apostles from their labors as fishermen: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” (v.10). Luke 5 quickly recounts miracles that we see as Messianic signs (curing a leper, curing the man on the stretcher/forgiving sins, answering why He ate with sinners), and then moves into Luke 6 where he narrates encounters with the Pharisees and scribes who question Jesus on the Mosaic Law. And then, Jesus “reconstitutes” a new Israel as he calls 12 apostles.

In the 6th Sunday gospel (Luke 6:17, 20-26) we have the Lucan version of the great interpretation of the Mosaic Law: The Sermon on the Plains (Matthew’s account is referred to as the Sermon on the Mount). With the apostles the Sermon takes on the character of an official instruction for the whole church assembled under its leaders.

Luke places the choice of the Twelve just before the “Sermon on the Plain” so that it can take on the character of an official instruction for the whole church assembled under its leaders. The importance of Jesus’ decision in selecting the Twelve is underscored by mention of his all-night vigil. The fact that there are Twelve is itself important, because these Christian leaders are to rule over the renewed Israel in place of the patriarchs of old (Luke 22:29–30). The Twelve are called “apostles,” from the Greek word apostello, meaning “to send out.” Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” sets forth Jesus’ apostolic instruction/ethic for daily life in detail. The sermon begins with a recognition of the disciples’ blessing as a result of God’s grace. The rest of the sermon gives the ethical response to being such a beneficiary. Disciples are to live and relate to others in a way that stands out from how people relate to one another in the world. They are to love and pray for their enemies. Righteousness requires that they respond wisely to Jesus’ words by building their lives around his teaching. In sum, disciples are to live and look different from the rest of the world, even as they reach out compassionately to that world.

A Summary of Jesus’ Ministry (6:17-19). Luke sets up the sermon by summarizing Jesus’ ministry activity (4:14-15, 31-32, 40-41). Jesus ministers on a plain. The term topu pedinou refers to a level place, but can refer to a plateau area in mountainous terrain (Mt 14:23 compared to 15:29; Is 13:2 LXX; Jer 21:13 LXX). Beyond this no specific locale is given. Jesus’ ministry reflects the compassion and love he claims God has for humanity. So he heals people of disease and exorcises demons. The text emphasizes the power that flow out from him. Whether they are apostles, disciples or part of the crowd, all sorts of people receive Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ teaching and ministry extends beyond insiders. He attempts to reach those outside his new community.

Notes

6:17 them…crowd…people: While the verse indicates three different groups: “them” = the newly chosen apostles (apostolos), “a great crowd of his disciples” (mathetes), and “a great multitude of the people (laos),” there seems to be no distinction between the groups. They have all come (1) “to hear him” and (2) to be healed from their diseases (v. 18).

6:18 from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon: This suggests that the people were both Jews (from Judea and Jerusalem) and Gentiles (from the coast of Tyre and Sidon). Luke continues to accent the universality of Jesus’ concern that all be afforded salvation.

healed…cured: Two different words for “heal/cure” are used: iaomai (from which we get the English suffix -iatrics, like in pediatrics;) and therapeuo, (from which we get English words like “therapeutic”). Classically, iaomai, is more connected with the art of healing. Related words are translated with: “physician,” “surgery,” “curable”. therapeuo originally referred to a servant or attendant (a meaning still found in the Acts 17:25). Such a person might care for a sick person, which led the meanings of “to tend (the sick),” “to treat medically,” “to heal, cure”

6:19 power came forth from him and healed them all: Both Jesus’ touch and his power are frequently related to healings. The word for touch (hapto) has an active meaning of “to light” or “to ignite.” It is used this way in Lk 8:16; 11:33; 15:8. In the middle voice, it can mean “to take hold of,” “to touch.” In the ancient world it refers to passing on the fire from one source to another by touching to two things, e.g., spreading the light at a candlelight service. There is a sense that the “touch” expressed by this word, passed on a power (dynamis in 5:13; 6:19; 7:14; 8:44, 45, 46, 47; 18:15; 22:5) that brought healing. In these verses Luke has emphasized Jesus’ authority and power in his deeds. Next it will be emphasized in his words.

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