The Sermon on the Plain

Jeffrey Glen Jackson


These studies will examine Luke's "Sermon on the Plain"  (6:20-49).   We will also look at the parallels in Matthew and Mark, especially Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount", although we won't look much at the material unique to Matthew's "Sermon".

Beatitudes (Lk 6:20-26)

Mark Luke Matthew
The Sermon on the Plain
6:20 Then67 he looked up68 at his disciples and said:

“Blessed69 are you who are poor,70 for the kingdom of God belongs71 to you.

5:2 Then3 he began to teach4 them by saying:
5:3 “Blessed5 are the poor in spirit,6 for the kingdom of heaven belongs7 to them.
6:21  “Blessed are you who hunger72 now, for you will be satisfied.73
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.74
5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger9 and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.8
5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
6:22 “Blessed are you when people75 hate you, and when they exclude you and insult you and reject76 your name as evil77 on account of the Son of Man! 5:11 “Blessed are you when people10 insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me.
6:23 Rejoice in that day, and jump for joy, because78 your reward is great in heaven. For their ancestors79 did the same things to the prophets.80 5:12 Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.
6:24 “But woe81 to you who are rich, for you have received82 your comfort83 already.
6:25 “Woe to you who are well satisfied with food84 now, for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you85 who laugh86 now, for you will mourn and weep.
6:26 “Woe to you87 when all people88 speak well of you, for their ancestors89 did the same things to the false prophets.

Blessings (Luke 6:20-21)

If they hungry are blessed because they will be well fed (vs. 21a) and the well fed are cursed because they will be hungry (vs. 25a), are we doomed to repeat an eternal cycle of alternating between being hungry and well fed?  Such literalism would be ridiculous.   Of course this is not the point Jesus is making.  If Jesus is speaking of eschatological rewards and punishment, should we join a monastary, take vows of poverty, and practice an extreme asceticism to get into heaven?  Such a reading would be contrary to the rest of scripture.

To get behind the words to Jesus' meaning, let us consider the economic culture of the first century (and for that matter, most centuries since then).  The peasants and artisans of the villages were dirt poor.  They could barely subsist.  They had no political power.  They had little or no rights.  In short, they were an oppressed class that consituted the bulk of society.  In contrast to them, the powerful were rich.  The owned most of the land.  They were collaborators with the hated Romans.  They were the courts, the priests, the government officials, the army commanders.  There was no in between, no middle class like in 21st century western civilization.  Only this elite had power, and it was they who controlled the temple cult, who sat in the seat of Moses, who held the keys to the Kingdom, and regulated access to God.

It was to this situation that Jesus is speaking.  Hearers of these words through the centuries have misunderstood Jesus' point all to readily.  In his own time, many undoubtedly suspected that he was speaking of revolution.  The powers that be would be eliminated in a bloody coup and David's throne would be reestablished in Israel as a literal kingdom.  Many would-be messiahs led many revolts throughout the 1st century A.D. right up to the Bar Kochba revolt was put down in 135 A.D.  Rome brutily ended them all.  Jesus' speech here is provacative and undoubtedly made many people nervous.  But this is not what Jesus meant.

Dispensationalists of our own day see the fulfilment as purely eschatological.   Only in the afterlife will the evil get the due and the righteous get their reward.   However, salvation is not simply a matter of the hungry going to heaven and the well fed going to hell.  Certainly Jesus did believe and teach in heaven and hell as our ultimate reward and punishment, but that is not the focus here.

Jesus' mention of the "Kingdom of God" is the key to understanding this. "Blessed69 are you who are poor,70 for the kingdom of God belongs71 to you" (vs. 20a).   As I discussed in my Bible study on Mark 13, (see comments on Mark 13:24-27), Jesus does not mean some eschatological (post-end-of-the-world) situation, but the rule of God here and now.  In that previous study I wrote:

They expected a literal, political, theocratic kingdom, but Jesus proclaimed something very different.  He began his ministry by proclaiming "the kingdom of heaven is near" [Mt. 4:17, et al].  He said, "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it." [ Mt. 11:12] "But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you."   [Mt 12:28] Look at the many parables about the kingdom of heaven in Mt. 13.   Perhaps most telling is Luke 17:20-21 ....

20 Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you."

Jesus was saying something very radical when he said that the Kingdom of God belongs to the poor.  The elite thought that they owned the Kingdom, they ruled on God's behalf.  The priests controlled the means to salvation, and the peasants were dependant on them.  Like John the Baptist, who preached a gospel of forgiveness independant of the temple cult, Jesus proclaimed a Kingdom independant of the ruling elite.  Note even the tense used here:  the Kingdom "belongs".   It is not the Kingdom "will belong".  It is a present reality for those who will accept it.  And what is this Kingdom like?  Consider the following passage from Acts 2:44-47.

2:44 All who believed were together and held everything in common, 2:45 and they began selling their property and possessions and distributing the proceeds to everyone, as anyone had need. 2:46 Every day they continued to gather together by common consent in the temple courts, breaking bread from house to house, sharing their food with glad and humble hearts, 2:47 praising God and having the good will of all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number every day those who were being saved.

Is this not the very fulfillment of these blessings?  People living as though God is their king?  People fulfilling the requirements of true religion (James 1:27)?

Matthew 5:2-10

The parallel in Matthew as been the subject of much ink.  Skeptics often point to this, attribute both Luke and Matthew's versions to the hypothetical Q source, and claim this is an example of how free the evangelists felt to change (and distort) their source materials.

Given how faithfully Luke and Matthew follow Mark when they copy from him, we should be very skeptical of reconstructions of Q that require one of them to grossly missrepresent that source.  Matthew's list of blessings in these verses have parallels to Luke's three, but they are in a different order, and even contain another blessing in their midst.  They are in third person, instead of in Luke's second person.  And of course, they make very different points.

Rather than copying, and modifying, these from a single, common, written source (Q), I believe we must attribute them to separate sources.  As such, they are not separate, contradictory, accounts of a single sermon, but are independant memories of similar sayings of Jesus.

Matthew 5:6 uses hunger (and thirst) metaphorically.  Given Luke 6:21a's literal version, someone generated the metaphorical version.  Why should not  Jesus, the master of parable and aphorism,  be that someone?

Matthew 5:3's "poor in spirit" in place of Luke's "poor" is not an awkward softening of a hard to understand or accept saying.  The phrase "poor in spirit" is used by the Qumran community in the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Its exact meaning is not clear from its context there (the sentence it occurs in has a lacuna), but it is clear that it is part of the Aramaic idiom of the time and that it could be used as the self identity of a group that stood in opposition to the leadership of the Temple cult.  Rather than having to do with literal financial poverty or with lacking in spirituality, I think we should look for its meaning to Jesus in the contrast between the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Lk 18:9-14, that is in contrast to the spiritual leaders that Jesus (and the Qumran community) was in conflict with.

Persecution (Luke 6:22-23)

This beatitude is very close in wording to Mt 5:11-12.  It would seem to thus derive from the hypothetical Q source.  Matthew has pared down the wording some, as his is practice.

Here Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man.  We know from Mk 13:26 and parallels that Jesus used this as a messianic title derived from the prophecies of Daniel.  This usage of the phrase is found in apocryphal writtings, such as the book of Enoch.  However, that isn't necessarily how these early audiences understood it.   Witness the usage in the book of Ezekiel where the prophet is designated the son of man (93 times in the NIV).  If the crowds viewed Jesus as a prophet, then they may have viewed his usage to be like that of Ezekiel's, meaning basically a human being.   The phrase was probably a calculated ambiguity.  See Luke 8:9-10 and John 16:29-30.

Jesus is here anticipating the persecution that his followers would experience.  Such language is often dismissed by skeptics as an invention of the later church in response to the persecutions they experienced long after Jesus, beginning with Nero in 64 AD.  They assume that such language would not fit the historical circumstances of Jesus' ministry.  This ignores John the Baptist's execution early in Jesus' ministry, the plot by Herod to kill Jesus (Luke 13:31) that the Pharisees warned Jesus about (the early church would hardly have made up a positive story about the Pharisees like this), and ultimately, Jesus' own crucifixion.  Jewish history and tradition has many accounts of martyrdom of Prophets and other holy men.  An expectation of persecution does fit the historical circumstances of Jesus' lifetime.

Note that Matthew 5:10 also blesses those who are persecuted, and the blessing is the same as in Lk 6:20 || Mt 5:3.  In contrast, the blessing in Lk 6:22-23||Mt 5:11-12 is eschatological.  The reward for martyrdom is intrinsically in the afterlife: note that Jesus speaks of heaven hear and not the Kingdom of God/Heaven.  It seems unlikely that Lk 6:20-21, Lk 6:22-23, Mt 5:3, Mt 5:10 and Mt 5:11-12 would all be used in the same sermon.  Rather we see here Luke and Matthew collecting together similar and related sayings into one block, and, presumably, following a "typical" outline for a typical sermon of Jesus.  Jesus certainly used all of them, as well as variations and other beatitudes that haven't been preserved in numerous sermons over the course of his three years or so ministry.

Woes (Luke 6:24-26)

The pronouncement of woes is also a characteristic of Jesus' preaching.  Matthew doesn't have any corresponding to his list of beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, but see Mt 23 and Lk 11 for other blocks of woes.  Luke's woes here correspond one for one with the beatitudes he lists, including the one from the hypothetical Q.  This practice of pairing of blessings and curses can be seen in Moses, when he had half the tribes stand on Mount Gerizim and prounce blessings, and half the tribes stand on Mount Ebal and pronounce curses (Dt 27:12-13).

The rich, well-fed, and ostensibly happy in first century culture are the oppressors of the peasants.  They are the leadership of the temple, the collaborators with Rome, the tax collectors, and the land owners.  They thought themselves blessed by God, if they thought of God at all, by all their great wealth and power.  They thought themselves righteous, if they thought of morality at all.  These are the ones Jesus had great harsh words for.  See Luke 18:11-12 for an typical, if perhaps stereotypical, example.

Today we live in the 21st century, a culture very different from the situation in first century Galilee.  We have a large middle classes bridging the gap between the poor peasants and the rich elite.  Do these verses still offer encouragement or judgement to people today?  Before answering this I offer the following two sayings, a quotation from the Old Testament and a retelling of a parable that was originally told by Jesus.

"There is nothing new under the sun."  [ Ecc 1:8c, NIV ]

"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a Christian. The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous people, adulterers. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’  The Christian, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, I thank you I am not like this Pharisee!’ [ cf. Luke 18:10-13, NET.  Thanks to Luke Timothy Johnson for the idea ]

The blessings and woes aren't about being rich or poor per se.  They are about what one counts as one's riches.  The exact economic circumstances that Jesus was speaking to may not exist today.  But make no mistake.  The fact that we live in one of the richest, most powerful nations on earth where we have the freedom to worship God without the mediation and permission of the government is not a blessing from God that we recieve from God because we are so good, righteous, and perfect.  We must beware least these "blessings" turn out to be curses from Satan to lead us astray.  The kingdom of God belongs to the poor.  When they are hungry and we do not feed them; when they are thirsty and we do not give them drink; when they are a stranger and we do not receive them as a guest; when they are naked and we do not clothe them; when they are sick or in prison and we do not visit them; then, we steal the Kingdom from them.   [See Mt. 25:31-46].  We are called upon to implement the Kingdom here and now and not just wait for some future Armagedon to wipe out the world for Jesus Christ to establish his rule.

Treatment of Enemies (Luke 6:27-36)

5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor48 and ‘hate your enemy.’
6:27 “But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies,90 do good to those who hate you, 5:44 But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you,
6:28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat91 you.
5:45 so that you may be like49 your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’41
5:39 But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer.42 But whoever strikes you on the43 right cheek, turn the other to him as well.
6:29 To the person who strikes you on the cheek,92 offer the other as well,93 and from the person who takes away your coat,94 do not withhold your tunic95 either.96
5:40 And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic,44 also give him your coat.
5:41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile,45 go with him two.
6:30 Give to everyone who asks you,97 and do not ask for your possessions98 back99 from the person who takes them away. 5:42 Give to the one who asks you,46 and do not reject47 the one who wants to borrow from you.
6:31 Treat others100 in the same way that you would want them to treat you.101 7:12 In15 everything, treat others as you would want them16 to treat you,17 for this fulfills18 the law and the prophets.
6:32 “If102 you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners103 love those who love them.104 5:46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors50 do the same, don’t they?
6:33 And105 if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For106 even sinners107 do the same. 5:47 And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they?
6:34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to be repaid,108 what credit is that to you? Even sinners109 lend to sinners, so that they may be repaid in full.110
6:35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back.111 Then112 your reward will be great, and you will be sons113 of the Most High,114 because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people.115
6:36 Be merciful,116 just as your Father is merciful. 5:48 So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.51

Relationship of Luke 6:27-36 to Matthew 5:17-48

The structure of Matthew 5:17-48 is an introductory section headed by

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish but to fulfill. [Mt 5:17]

followed by a series of sections each headed by an Old Testament law:

You have heard that it was said to an older generation,21Do not murder,’22  [Mt 5:21]

You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’35 [Mt 5:27]

It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document.’37[Mt 5:31]

Again, you have heard that it was said to an older generation,38Do not break an oath, but fulfill your vows to the Lord.’39 [Mt 5:33]

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’41[Mt 5:38]

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor48 and ‘hate your enemy.’ [Mt 5:43]

These are followed by a teaching introduced by "But I say to you".   These teachngs are often then followed by additional sayings whose relationship to the original teaching is more periphery.  For example a saying about reconciling with your brother is followed by a saying about being reconciled with an accuser in court (Mt 5:23-26).  This later saying, which has nothing to do with hate and murder, but rather is more of a metaphor for settling accounts with God, so to speak, before you die.   Not only does it look like an independent saying, but it also has a parallel in Luke, indicating it probably cames from Q (the hypothetical source that Matthew and Luke may both have drawn upon for many sayings of Jesus), whereas the other parts of the passage are not paralleled, suggesting they are Special Matthew meterial (the hypothetical source used in Matthew, but not by the other Gospel writers).

Luke 6:27-30 are probably also Q sayings that Matthew incorporated with Special Matthew materials to form Matthew 5:38-48.  The fit is so good, there may even be some Q/Special Matthew overlap.

Love Your Enemies (Luke 6:27-28)

6:27 “But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies,90 do good to those who hate you, 6:28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat91 you.

Jesus' teachings about loving one's enemies are probably the hardest ones.  To hate in response to being hated is seemingly a natural response. It is a cycle that must be broken, and can only be broken by one party deciding to love instead of hate.  This is what Jesus demands here. 

Jesus goes beyond just demanding a difference in mental state towards one's enemy; that is beyond just feeling "warm fuzzies" instead of hate.  He demands specific actions:  doing good things for them, blessing them, and praying for them.  What James 2:14 says about faith applies also to love "Show me your faith without works and I will show faith by my works."  Show me your love without actions and I will show my love for you by the good and blessings and prayers I do for you.

A Tale of Two Countries


Rwanda is populated primarily by two ethnic groups, the Hutu, about 90% of the population, and the Tutsi, about 10% of the population.  Traditionally the Tutsi minority has had social, economic, and political ascendancy over the Hutu agriculturalists.  From 1894 till 1918 Rwanda was part of German East Africa, then Belgium became the administering authority.  Under Belgium's rule, the Tutsi hegemony became more burdensome.  In 1959, a peasant revolt began among the Hutu, resulting in the overthrow of the Tutsi monarchy and indepenedence in 1962 as a republic.  Thousands of Tutsi fled the country by 1964.  In 1990, the Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR) invaded from Uganda.  An agreement permitting multiparty participation in the government was reached in 1991, and the creation of a transitional goverment that would include the Tutsi FPR was agreed on in 1993.  In April 1994, the Hutu president of Rwanda's plane was shot down, probably by Hutu extremists who opposed sharing power with the Tutsi.  The government had been stockpiling weapons and passing them on to Hutu militias.  Both Tutsi and Hutu who favoured genuine democracy were targeted by killer squads who killed a half million..  The FPR fought back and eventually gained control of virtually all of Rwanda.  About one million were killed, and nearly two million fled the country.  There were reprisals and massacres against Hutus.  47,000 were arrested and imprisoned, charged with genocide against the Tutsis.  By 1997, the number had risen to 90,000.  [ Above information is from "Rwanda", Encyclopedia Britanica ].

We visited Ntarama, a village near the capital, Kigali, where Tutsi had been mown down in a church.  The new government had not removed the corpses, so that the church was like a mortuary, with the bodies lying as they had fallen the year before during the massacre.  The stench was overpowering.  Outside the church building was a collection of skulls of some of those who had been brutally done to death -- some of the skulls still had pangas (machetes) and daggers embedded in them.  I tried to pray.  Instead I broke down and wept.  [ Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness, pp. 257-8 ]

South Africa

South Africa was settled by Europeans in the 17th century as part of the trade route to India.  A long history of conflict followed, resulting in by 1900 there being no autonomous African societies left in the subcontinent.  When South Africa gained independance in 1910, for all intents and purposes, only whites had political power.   The segregation laws that eventually became apartheid began in this period.   Economic policies insured the whites became richer while blacks, coloureds, and Indians were impoverished.  In 1948, the National Party gained control of the government.  What few coloureds could vote were disenfranchised in 1956 and 1959.   Laws were passed that classified South Africans by race and segregated them in every sphere of life.  The Suppression of Communism Act and later laws gave the police the right to arrest and detain people without trial or access to their families or lawyers.

Passive Resistance was practiced by the ANC and PAC.  On March 21, 1960, the PAC launched a fresh campaign. Thousands of unarmed Africans invited arrest by presenting themselves at police stations without passes; at Sharpeville, near Johannesburg, the police opened fire on such a crowd, killing at least 67 and wounding more than 180 Africans, most of whom were shot in the back as they were running away. Thousands of workers then went on strike, and in Cape Town 30,000 Africans marched in a peaceful protest to the centre of the city. The government reestablished control by force: it mobilized the army, outlawed the ANC and the PAC, and arrested more than 11,000 people under emergency regulations.   From then on there was violence practiced by both sides.  Over the years South Africa came under increasing pressure from inside and from the international communitity to end apartheid.  For three years beginning in 1985 police and soldiers patrolled the African townships in armed vehicles, destroying black squatter camps and detaining, abusing, and killing thousands of Africans, while the army also continued its forays into neighbouring countries. Rigid censorship laws tried to conceal those actions by banning television, radio, and newspaper coverage.

In 1989 F.W. de Klerk was elected president.  He began the process of dismantling apartheid and freed many political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, who had been in jail for 27 years.  In 1991, Mandela became president of the ANC.  In April 1994, South Africa had its first election with universal sufferage.  The ANC won 63% of the vote, the National Party only 20%, and Mandela became president of South Africa.    [ Above information is from "South Africa", Encyclopedia Britanica ].

But how were they to avoid the massacres and violence of Rwanda when the former overlords were now a minority?  A bold experiment was negotiated: forgiveness.   The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed which offered Amnesty to anyone, black or white who would come forward and confess their crimes against humanity.

In September 1992, what came to be known as the Bisho massacre happened.  Bisho was in the Eastern Cape, the capital of the "independent" homeland of Ciskei ruled by Brigadier Oupa Gqozo.  At first he was friendly toward the ANC but relations soured, especially when he degreed the Ciskei a virtual "no go" area for the party.  The ANC decided to stage a march on Bisho to highlight its campaign for free political activity in all the homelands and particularly Ciskei, Bophuthatswana, and KwaZulu.  (These and other homelands were established under apartheid's "divide and rule" master plan, which sought to strip all black South Africans of their citizenship and make them citizens of a patchwork quilt of ethnically based Bantustans scattered around South Africa.  KwaZulu resisted government efforts to make it take "independence" but the leaders of all three felt threatened by the ANC.)

Thirty people died as a result of what happened on the day when the ANC marched for free political activity and Ciskeian Defense Force soldiers fired on unarmed demonstartors.  Twenty eight protesters died in the immediate aftermath of the shootings, together with a CDF soldier shot by his colleagues.  Another ANC supporter died from his injuries in 1995.

The commission held two hearings on the Bisho massacre....  One of the first witnesses was the former head of the CDF, Major General Marius Oelschig, who incensed the audience not so much by what he said but as by how he said it....  This may be how soldiers should conduct themselves, but when people have been traumataized and their feelings raw, such an attitude comes across as hard, unsympathetic, and cynical.  The temperature had gone up a few degrees by the time he finished testifying.

The next witnesses were former CDF officers, one white and the others black.  The white officer, Colonel Horst Schobesberger, was their spokesperson.  He said that it was true that they had given the orders for the soldiers to open fire.  The tension became so thick you could, as they say, cut it with a knife.  The audience could not have been more hostile.  Then he turned twoard the audience and made an extraordinary appeal:

"I say we are sorry.  I say the burden of the Bisho massacre will be on our shoulders for the rest of our lives.  We cannot wish it away.  It happened.   But please, I ask specifically the victims not to forget.  I cannot ask this, but to forgives us, to get the soldiers back into the community, to accept them fully, to try to understand also the pressure they were under then.  This is all I can do.   I'm sorry, this I can say, I'm sorry"

The crowd, whcih had been close to lynching them, did something quite unexpected.   It broke out into thunderous applause!  Unbelievable!  The mood change was startling....

No one else could have predicted that day's turn of events at the hearing.  It was as if someone had waved a special magic wand which transformed anger and tension into this display of communal forgiveness and acceptance of erstwhile perpetrators.  We could only be humbled by it all and be deeply thankful that so-called ordinary people could be so generous and gracious.  [ Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness, pp. 149-151 ].


The difference between Rwanda and South Africa is in how they dealt with their enemies after the majority became enfranchised in the political processes.  In Rwanda it was with hate and reprisal.  Hundreds of thousands died and even more became refugees.   In South Africa, Jesus' teaching was put into practice.  Forgiveness was offered for the price of confession.  While South Africa may not be the ideal civilized society yet, the difference between it and Rwanda is striking and serves as an important lesson for the world.

Osama bin Laden

If ever we had an enemy, it would be Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and the Taliban.  To suggest that we should love them seems treasonous.  Yet that is what Jesus has told us to do.  Not only to feel an emotion for them, but to do good to them, to bless them and to pray for them.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How many Christians have even thought about praying for Afghanistan?   Why or why not?
  2. What does it mean to bless someone?  How can we bless bin Laden?
  3. What good can we do for bin Laden?

Many in history have taken Jesus' teaching here to require complete pacifism.  Does love and forgiveness require us to grant license to evil-doers to do anything they want?  Pacifism would answer that question with "yes".

Turn the Other Cheek (Luke 6:29-30)

6:29 To the person who strikes you on the cheek,92 offer the other as well,93 and from the person who takes away your coat,94 do not withhold your tunic95 either.96  6:30 Give to everyone who asks you,97 and do not ask for your possessions98 back99 from the person who takes them away.

These two verses continue what seems like a pacifistic message from Jesus.  I doubt anyone who processes to be a Christian can read this passage without a twinge of guilt.  No one lives up to this.  If Christians adopted the plain literal meaning of these verses as their lifestyle, then we'd all be destitute, stark naked, and wondering the streets without a penny to our names.

Let us first examine the cultural background of these says before discussing what Jesus' point was in them.  Striking on the cheek was probably less an issue of physical violence than a symbolic act symbolizing insult.  Compare Isaiah 50:6 or even more recent culture where a challange to dual was made by striking someone on the cheek with a glove.

Isaiah 50:6 I offered my back to those who attacked,
       my jaws to those who tore out my beard;
       I did not hide my face
       from insults and spitting.

Jewish law provides a background for the sayings about the coat & tunic and about lending.  See Exodus 22:25-27.

Exodus 22:25 If you lend money to any of my people who is needy among you, do not be like a money-lender to him; do not charge him interest. 22:26 If you do take the garment of your neighbor in pledge, you must return it to him by the time the sun goes down, 22:27 for it is his only covering—it is his garment for his body. With what else can he lie down? And when he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am gracious.

As Jesus does elsewhere, Jesus goes beyond Old Testament law, taking it to extremes.   Rather than just forbide charging interest, he forbids charging the principle as well.  Rather than forbidding the lendor from taking of the borrower's only garment in pledge, he requires the borrower to not take advantage of this protection and yield both cloak and coat..

But what is Jesus' point in this teaching?  Does he intend for the first unscrupolous person to come along to rob his followers, leaving them bruised, naked, and homeless?  Or is he perhaps engaging in hyperbole to make a point?  Consider the use of  hyperbole in Lk 6:41-42, where Jesus refers to having a log in one's eye; Mt 8:22, where Jesus advises a would-be disciple to "let the dead bury their own dead"; Lk 18:25, "it is easier for a camel to go through they of a needle"...;  Mk 9:42 ff, "if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off...".  For a clue, we must examine how Jesus' followers actually applied this teaching.  For an example of that, we turn to Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians 6:1,4-8.

1 Co 6:1 When any of you has a legal dispute with another, does he dare go to court before the unrighteous rather than before the saints? ... 6:4 So if you have ordinary lawsuits, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? 6:5 I say this to your shame! Is there no one among you wise enough to settle disputes between fellow Christians? 6:6 Instead, does a Christian sue a Christian, and do this before unbelievers? 6:7 The fact that you have lawsuits among yourselves demonstrates that you have already been defeated. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 6:8 But you yourselves wrong and cheat, and you do this to your brothers and sisters!

The point would seem to be to rather suffer personal wrong than do something that would injure one's witness to the world.  Avoid vendictiveness and revenge.  Do not spitefully retaliate.  I doubt the intent was for Christians to be mendicant nudists.

Golden Rule (Luke 6:31)

6:31 Treat others100 in the same way that you would want them to treat you.101


Be Good to Your Enemies (Luke 6:32-36)

6:32 “If102 you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners103 love those who love them.104  6:33 And105 if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For106 even sinners107 do the same.  6:34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to be repaid,108 what credit is that to you? Even sinners109 lend to sinners, so that they may be repaid in full.110 6:35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back.111 Then112 your reward will be great, and you will be sons113 of the Most High,114 because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people.115 6:36 Be merciful,116 just as your Father is merciful.

This passage is essentially repeats much of what came before.  This is probably an independant attestation to the same teaching, and Luke collected the related teachings together here.

The command to love and do good for one's enemies is not license.  Yes, we must love our enemies, but that does not mean we don't love those who aren't our enemies either.  Do we show love to innocent people of we allow an evil person to massacre them?  Is it merciful to allow a tyrant to abuse his people, a rapist to rape freely, a thief to take pillage?

Forgiveness is not license.  Let's take a rather extreme example to provide a black-and-white situation to draw principles from.  A man on the roof of a building has a crowd trapped in a courtyard with no way to escape or hide.  He is methodically shooting into the crowd, killing victim after victom.  You have a clear shot to take him out.  Would anyone doubt that the right and just thing to do is to take the shot?

To simply forgive the shooter and do the good to him of refrain from shooting him would not be a loving act for his victims.


Luke 6:37-42 (Don't Judge)


6:37 “Do117 not judge,118 and you will not be judged;119 do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive,120 and you will be forgiven.  

7:1 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.1

4:24 And he said to them, “Take care about what you hear. The measure you use will be the measure you receive,26 and more will be added to you. 6:38 Give, and it will be given to you: a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over,121 will be poured122 into your lap. For the measure you use will be the measure you receive.”123  

7:2 For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive.2

6:39 He also told them a parable: “A blind man cannot lead a blind man, can he?124 Won’t they both fall125 into a pit? 15:14b If a blind man leads a blind man17 both will fall into a pit.”
6:40 A disciple126 is not greater than127 his teacher, but everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher. 10:24 “A disciple is not greater than his teacher, nor a slave44 greater than his master.
10:25a It is enough for the disciple to become like his teacher, and the slave like his master.
See Mk 6 Synopsis 10:25b If they have called the head of the house ‘Beelzebul,’ how much more will they defame the members of his household!
6:41 Why128 do you see the speck129 in your brother’s eye, but fail to see130 the beam of wood131 in your own? 7:3 Why3 do you see the speck4 in your brother’s eye, but fail to see5 the beam of wood6 in your own eye?
6:42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while you yourself don’t see the beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. 7:4 Or how can you say7 to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own?
7:5 You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
7:15 “Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves.19
7:17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad22 tree bears bad fruit.
6:43 “For132 no good tree bears bad133 fruit, nor again134 does a bad tree bear good fruit, 7:18 A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. 12:33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad50 and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is known by its fruit.
6:44 for each tree is known135 by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered136 from thorns, nor are grapes picked137 from brambles.138 7:16 You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered20 from thorns or figs from thistles, are they?21
6:45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart139 produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure140 produces evil, for his mouth speaks141 from what fills142 his heart. 12:35 The good person51 brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure.
12:34 Offspring of vipers! How are you able to say anything good, since you are evil? For the mouth speaks from what fills the heart.
12:36 I52 tell you that on the day of judgment, people will give an account for every worthless word they speak.
12:37 For by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned.”
3:9 Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees,27 and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be28 cut down and thrown into the fire.” 3:10 Even now the ax is laid at15 the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. 7:19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
7:20 So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.
6:46 “Why143 do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’144 and don’t do what I tell you?145 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’23 will enter into the kingdom of heaven, only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
6:47 “Everyone who comes to me and listens to my words and puts them into practice146—I will show you what he is like: 7:24 “Everyone26 who hears these words of mine and does them is like27 a wise man who built his house on rock.
6:48 He is like a man147 building a house, who dug down deep,148 and laid the foundation on bedrock. When149 a flood came, the river150 burst against that house but151 could not shake it, because it had been well built.152
7:25 The rain fell, the flood28 came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock.
6:49 But the person who hears and does not put my words into practice153 is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When154 the river burst against that house,155 it collapsed immediately, and was utterly destroyed!”156 7:26 Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.
7:27 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!”29

Luke 6:43-45 (Fruit)

Luke 6:46-49 (Building on Sand or Rock)