The Sermon on the Plain

This coming Sunday is the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time in Lectionary Cycle C. It is St. Luke’s version of the Matthean Sermon on the Mount, but referred to as the Sermon on the Plains (a stretch of level ground). In the 5th Sunday readings (Lk 5:1-11) 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.

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. Luke’s account 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.

With verse 17 (and the missing vv.18-19) Luke sets up the sermon by summarizing Jesus’ ministry activity (4:14-15, 31-32, 40-41).

17 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 (18 came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and even those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured. 19 Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all.)

Jesus’ ministry reflects the compassion and love he claims God has for humanity. So he heals people with disease and casts out demons. The text emphasizes the power that flows 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.

A note: the posts this week on the Sunday gospel are longer than average, go a little deeper, and I hope offer you some food for thought.

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