This coming Sunday is the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time in Lectionary Cycle C. The gospel taken from St. Luke is a continuation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount whose most remembered part is in the gospel of the 6th Sunday. The remainder of the Sermon is covered on the 7th and 8th Sundays, but they are not always celebrated. The Ordinary Time Sunday readings for the period between the Baptism of the Lord and Ash Wednesday depend on the date established for Easter. In 2022, Easter falls relatively late and so this is one of those years when we celebrate the 7th Sunday (…and the 8th!)
This gospel reading exists in a larger context of Luke’s constructed narrative. Let us review that context. In the 3rd and 4th weeks in the lectionary cycle, Jesus has been in Nazareth engaging the citizens of his hometown (4:14-30). As Jesus indicated, no prophet is accepted in his own native place (v.24). Leaving Nazareth, Jesus moved on to Capernaum. Again, he amazed people while teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. While present, there was a man with the spirit of an unclean demon (v.33). Jesus casts the demon from the man, again amazing the people: For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.”(v.36) Also while in Capernaum, Jesus cured Simon’s mother-in-law (vv.38-39) and all manner of people sick with various diseases (v.40) and chased out other demons (v.41).
42 At daybreak, Jesus left and went to a deserted place. The crowds went looking for him, and when they came to him, they tried to prevent him from leaving them. 43 But he said to them, “To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent.” 44 And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.
This is the first place in Luke where Jesus mentions proclaiming the Kingdom of God as a compelling necessity – something that will become a hallmark of later sections of Luke’s gospel.
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 seen 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’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 the grace of 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.
The gospel for the 7th Sunday marks a second part of the “Sermon on the Plains.”