It’s backwards. That’s the world Jesus describes in his “Sermon on the Plain” in Luke 6. He started down that path last week by describing what it means to be blessed and cursed. In my reflection for that text, I suggested a two-part series of sermons on these last two gospel readings to finish the season of Epiphany. This week Jesus continues by discussing the behavior of his people. He’s particularly interested in the way his people treat others—especially those who mistreat them. Like last week, the only way to describe it is backwards.
This text is particularly appropriate for Christians to consider today. It is increasingly popular in our day for Christians to decry the way they are treated in our increasingly post-Christian society. At times, when we experience mistreatment of various forms, we’re tempted to stand up and fight back. While there is a time and a place for peaceful resistance, and an even greater place for Christians to defend their neighbor, Jesus paints a very different picture of his people in this text. When it comes to the mistreatment that we experience (notice all the second person plural imperatives in this text), Jesus calls us to live as children of the Father.
The text could be divided into four parts. In verses 27-31, Jesus states his backwards directions for Christian living. In verses 32-34, he contrasts his expectations for Christian behavior with respect to the behavior of unbelievers. Then he explains what makes the difference (v. 35-36) and how that turns the whole world upside down (v. 37-38).
Verses 27-30 describe a variety of mistreatments Christians may receive. Jesus speaks of their enemies, those who hate and curse them, those who abuse, strike, and steal from them. In normal circumstances, people who act this way can expect similar mistreatment in return. But that’s not the world Jesus describes. To those who can hear it (namely, those whose ears and hearts have been opened to believe), Jesus says to treat those who mistreat them differently. Love them, he says. Do good to them. Pray for them. Give even more generously than they take from you. There are some clear similarities between these verses and 1 Peter 3:8-17.
Verses 32-34 consist of a series of three questions and subsequent statements. The idea is that Christians are different from non-Christians. Everyone loves those who love them in return, lends to those who lend in return, and does good to those who do good in return. There’s nothing backwards about that. But Jesus is ushering in a whole new world that does not operate by this world’s standards.
Verses 35-36 provide the theological foundation for the entire chapter. Jesus’ description of this backwards world flows from his understanding of the gracious nature of the Most High. The Father, Jesus says, is merciful. The word Luke uses for merciful (οἰκτίρμων) is rare. It expresses the state of being concerned about another’s unfortunate state. As a divine quality, it is what leads God to be kind to the ungrateful and the evil. And as the Father, so also the children. Or, at least, that’s how it should be.
Verses 37-38 describe the kind of world that results when the children of God are being the children of God. They neither judge nor are judged. They neither condemn nor are condemned. They forgive and are forgiven. That’s who the children of God are. That’s what they do. (Joseph is an example in the OT reading from Genesis 45.)
Last week I noted that Jesus’ entire sermon began with Jesus’ healing and exorcism (6:17-19). These actions justified Jesus’ speaking then, much as his resurrection justifies his speaking for all time. Reference to the epistle reading this week, therefore, would be appropriate. The risen one has already turned the world upside down through his victory over death. Through his teaching he continues to turn the world upside down for (and through) those who hear and believe.
After this Sunday the lectionary takes us to the Mount of Transfiguration and Lent. But the contemporary preacher won’t leave this chapter without attention to the parables that Jesus told as part of this original sermon after the pericope ends. Luke 6:39-49 provide Jesus’ own illustrations and should be considered for this sermon. These parables are familiar to many Christians, which makes their connection to this particular text worth highlighting.
The bottom line for a sermon on Luke 6 is Jesus’ words in verse 35-36. The good news, and that which turns the world upside down, is that the Father is entirely unlike us. He is merciful, kind, and gracious. This promise is most clear in the sending of his Son, and this should be the heart of the contemporary preacher’s sermon. In Christ, we experience God’s mercy. And this changes everything.
Concordia Theology: Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO, to assist you in preaching Luke 6:27-38.
Lectionary Podcast: Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 6:27-38.
Text Week: A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 6:27-38.