In our church’s Wednesday evening Bible study for adults, we’re working our way through Luke’s gospel.
I serve as the facilitator. I introduce the biblical passage each week, read it aloud and then kick-start the discussion. If the conversation veers wildly off topic, I try to guide it back to the text.
We’re now studying what Luke describes as a sermon Jesus preached on a plain. It’s similar to a sermon that Matthew says was delivered on a mountain.
A mountain, a plain or both — it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that this sermon forms the heart of Jesus’ larger message of good news. It tells us what it means to be and act like true children of God.
Frankly, I maintain a love-hate relationship with the sermon.
Love it, because I recognize its beauty, power and wisdom. I aspire to live out its commandments.
Hate it, because it’s so hard. Despite my best efforts, I can’t consistently obey it.
Anyway, as all of us continue trying to navigate an increasingly fractious society, and as we also are drawing closer to the day on which we celebrate Jesus’ birth, I thought it might be good to reconsider his famous sermon.
The excerpts below are from Luke 6.
▪ “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
▪ “Blessed are you when people hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their ancestors used to treat the prophets.”
▪ “But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.”
▪ “Woe to you when people speak well of you, for their ancestors used to treat the false prophets in the same way.”
▪ “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
▪ “Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either.”
▪ “Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.”
▪ “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.”
▪ “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. ... But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil people.”
▪ “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.”
▪ “Give, and it will be given to you. ... For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”
▪ “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? … You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”
In Jesus’ economy, the poor are more blessed than the rich.
And we’re all probably doing better when the majority thinks we’re misfits than when we’re popular and honored, because the majority usually is nuts, and whatever or whomever it admires often is as screwy as the ones throwing flowers and cheering.
We’re to be kind even to those who don’t deserve kindness. We’re never to return insult for insult, but instead should repay insults and slanders with prayers and forgiveness.
We’re never to judge others, because we have no idea what brought them to the shape they’re in. If we’d been through what they’ve been through, we might have fared even worse than they have. And besides, to judge them is to assume—with shameful narcissism — that we’re intrinsically better than they are, which could be self-delusion.
We’re to quit trying to fix everybody else’s sins, and concentrate on fixing our own. Only when we’ve done the long, honest and laborious work on ourselves are we in any position to help our neighbors.
I think that if more of us self-professed Christians listened to Jesus and followed his laws, we’d be way less smug. Churches and society at large would run more peaceably. And by watching our example, a lot more people might come to believe there is a God.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.