Luke 6: 17-28

27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.[e] Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

Well, this is the heart of Jesus’ teaching and acting: it’s how he lived and why he was so thoroughly disliked by many of his fellow Jews. For this is not the teaching of Moses and (most of) the prophets. For them, the enemy was to be smitten, by God if not by human beings. Given the amount of wrong and injustice borne by decent people, who wants to hear about the mercy of God? God’s not bearing this suffering, so who is he to expect us to love those who cause it? And as people who have borne a lot of suffering can tell you, love doesn’t work on evil people! Only threats of force and punishment have any effect. That’s right, isn’t it? OK Gandhi and Luther King were great people, but they were killed, and Nelson Mandela was engaged in armed struggle.

For Jesus, it comes back to God, the one he called Abba. He did not see God as separate from the life of the world. He numbers the hairs of our heads, he is involved in the fall of the sparrow, he clothes the flowers of the field. So, yes, God feels the suffering of his creatures but he does not remedy it by force majeure. No, rather he ceaselessly works to persuade his creatures that love is the way. Only human beings refuse to accept this wisdom: animals only kill for food or living space.

Jesus imagined that God was involved in his ministry. To trust in this sort of God is to believe that you are part of God’s evolution which leads to the “peaceable kingdom” envisaged by Isaiah, where “they shall not hurt or destroy for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.” Those who are part of this evolution do not want to suffer, but they are ready to suffer, if their part demands it.

Will it work? Nobody knows, but those who trust in the way of Jesus are prepared to take the risk. So, followers of Jesus will not say that it doesn’t work; they want it to work, and hope that it will, like the sower of seed hopes for growth.

Luke 6:17-26
6:17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.

6:18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.

6:19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

6:20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

6:21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

6:22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.

6:23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

6:24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

6:25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

6:26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

Luke’s version of the so-called beatitudes is different from Matthew’s which is better known. Basically, in Luke, the blessings are for disciples, and there are only four categories of them: the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the persecuted. In Matthew the blessings are for all who fit the categories. We can either say that Matthew spiritualised the categories of those blessed or that Luke materialised them. Matthew for example has “”the poor in spirit” while Luke has “you poor.” The temptation is to think, as did 19th century scholars, that there was a document containing sayings of Jesus, possessed by the two writers who then edited it in their gospels. I think this is unlikely, and that many other solutions are possible. Both writers imagine a “kingdom of God” which has material and spiritual dimensions. Luke includes a spiritual dimension here, by emphasising that Jesus was talking to committed disciples.

He is nevertheless concerned to depict Jesus as recognising the needs of the poor. The word used means “destitute”, “without resource“, as would have been the case with his companions in ministry. The coming of the kingdom is dependent on people who accept poverty for its sake, and not only poverty but hunger, sorrow and defamation. The kingdom will be “good fortune” for them, because it will supply all they have lacked.

It is notable that in Luke’s second volume, the book of The Acts, he shows the first Christian community as sharing all their resources with each other. Here indeed is God’s kingdom.

Luke saw the church as continuing the ministry of Jesus, as a sign of the viability of God’s kingdom in the world, a shared life rather than an impossible ideal. He saw this ministry as prophetic, pointing to what God will create. The blessings in Luke are not for societal groups of people but for people committed to God’s justice. In my sermon on this text I mentioned a residential care giver, doing the most important job in society for a minimum wage, out of commitment to needy people.

LUKE 5: 1-11

Once while Jesus[a] was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Mark, whose gospel was used by Luke as a source, has a simple story of Jesus calling his fishermen disciples, without any accompanying miracle. Matthew following Mark has a similar account. Luke has access to a fuller tradition, which may or may not have been associated with the call of the disciples before Luke. John knows the miracle story but places it after Jesus’ resurrection, which might be its original context. We can see that Luke, alone of the gospel writers, sees an important meaning of the story at this point in Jesus’ ministry.

Doubtless stories about unsuccessful fishing abounded in fishing communities then as now. There would be a sub -class where there was a surprising upturn of good fortune. In this case the upturn is due to Jesus, whose ability to direct the fishing is considered supernatural by Peter. The emphasis of the story is on a complete reversal of the failure which went before.

The action of Jesus does not make the long hard work in the darkness disappear, but it makes it worthwhile and joyful rather than simply negative. This prefigures the toil and darkness which is never far from Jesus ministry, culminating in the barren darkness of his death. But he is the bringer of life and abundance through his resurrection.

The fishermen lived in an economy of scarcity and thrift. The story of the miraculous catch signals that Jesus brings plenty, although there will still be times of hard toil and darkness. Placed at the outset of discipleship it offers a wonderful promise and a sober warning.