Reading for Monday, March 12: Luke 6
Chapter 6 opens with Jesus in conflict with the Pharisees over Sabbath-keeping. It’s often easy to paint the Pharisees as strict legalists, the Torah watchdogs who want to murder Jesus for His less strict interpretations of Jewish custom. But it’s really not that simple. For the most part, the Pharisees were well intentioned. They simply wanted to obey God’s Word. Where they got a little sideways was in their over-the-top effort to ensure obedience. As it pertains to the Sabbath, it is said that the Pharisees of Jesus’ day had determined 39 different types of work — things that COULD NOT be done on the Sabbath. Jesus, as “Lord of the Sabbath”, doesn’t play by the same rules. THIS is the root of the problem for the Pharisees as it pertains to Jesus. For Jesus, the Sabbath was originally intended as a reprieve for an oppressed people fleeing Egyptian slavery. In that spirit, the Sabbath is intended to give life; in Pharisaical interpretation, the Sabbath was life-draining.
Once again, Luke gives us insight into the interior spiritual life of Jesus. Prior to the selection of the Twelve, Jesus spends an evening in prayer with the Father (6.12). This time alone with God seems to fuel Jesus, propelling Him forward in His ministry. And the crowds are drawn to Him, “for power came out from him and healed them all,” (6.19).
Luke records “The Sermon on the Plain”, the name for the teaching that follows 6.17, “And he came down with them and stood on a level place…”. These teachings, although similar to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, are distinct in several places. In these Beatitudes, Jesus speaks a word of blessing on “the poor” (contrasting with “poor in spirit” in Matthew). With His opening blessings and woes, Jesus speaks of a reversal of fortunes. In the Kingdom of God, the poor and the hungry and the weeping will find security and provision and comfort. And many who are now rich and full and jovial will be brought low in God’s power.
The ethical content of God’s Kingdom is easily summarized in 6.31, “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” Self-giving love (agape) is the hallmark of God’s Kingdom. Those who would claim to follow Christ must heed His example of nonviolent love and mercy. Rather than retaliating, the Christian seeks to do good to those who hate, turning the other cheek when stricken, giving when asked, blessing when cursed, praying when abused. This is possible because we take the Lord at His word: “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you,” (6.38). Cognizant of our need for the Lord’s forgiveness, we seek to forgive others.
This is the kind of fruit we should bear. Jesus underscores the importance of obedience to His call: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” Through obedience, we build our lives on the solid foundation of God’s promises — the only place worth standing in the end.