This coming Sunday is the 8th Sunday in Lectionary Cycle C. Again we are considering the “Sermon on the Plains” from the Gospel of Luke. Most years we do not celebrate the 8th Sunday because we will have already begun Lent. But this year, on the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday (2022) we again engage Jesus’ preparation of his disciples for mission.
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 to be disciples. 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 names 12 of the disciples as apostles.
In the 6th Sunday gospel and the 7th Sunday we have the Lucan version of the great interpretation of the Mosaic Law: The Sermon on the Plains. With the apostles the Sermon takes on the character of an official instruction for the whole church assembled under its leaders. Luke captures Jesus’ apostolic instruction or 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. Jesus points the disciples to understand the nature of their heavenly Father: love and mercy – even to those who do not deserve it – including ourselves. This is the transformation needed to become a disciple – and then go into the world to bring others into the Kingdom.
“And he told them a parable…” (v.39) Interestingly, nothing that follows is actually considered a parable; all are better seen as wisdom sayings, proverbs or similes. Be that as it may, the purpose of this part of the sermon is clear. Luke signals a change of direction within Jesus’ discourse and draws his speech to a close with a call to add obedience to the hearing of Jesus’ message. In verses 43-49 the word “(to) do” appears five times and becomes the catchword along with “doing good” that appeared earlier in the sermon. Herein appears a principal call of Luke-Acts: the practical demand of the gospel with emphasis on behavior – not a sole emphasis – but highlighted nonetheless. The issue is one of character and commitments becoming action in the life of the believer. To attempt to separate character/commitment/action is to succumb to hypocrisy (vv.41-42,46). A person’s heart will be revealed by the fruit of their actions (v.44).