20Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 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. 23Rejoice 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. 24“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 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. 26“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
27“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Translation: And he lifted up his eyes to his disciples (and) was saying, "Blessed (are) the destitute, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed (are) the ones that hunger now, for you will be fed. Blessed (are) the ones who weep now for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they may separate you and reproach you and throw out your name as evil on account of the Son of Humanity. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for behold! your reward (is) great in heaven, for this is how your fathers did to the prophets."
"Moreover, woe to you, to the rich ones, for you have your comfort. Woe to you, the ones who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe, the ones laughing now, for you will mourn and you will weep. Woe when all human beings may speak well of you, for this is how your fathers did to the false prophets."
"But I say to you, the listening ones, love your enemies, do good to the ones hating you, bless the ones cursing you, pray concerning the ones falsely accusing you. To the one who smites you on the cheek, give the other, and to the one taking your garment, you may not forbid the tunic. Give to everyone who asks from you, and to the one taking away your goods, do not demand back. And just as you wish people might do to you, you do to them in like manner.
Background and situation: The "sermon on the plain" has its source in Q. The parallel, of course, is in the "beatitudes" of the "sermon on the mount" in Matthew 5. Other important background texts would include the Magnificat (1:46-55) and Jesus' inaugural sermon with its "good news to the poor" (4:18-19).
Jesus is directly addressing the disciples in 6:20, though the larger context includes "a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people" (6:17). It would appear that the designation of "disciple" would include many more people than the Twelve.
Text: Jesus looked up to speak to his disciples, meaning that he was most likely sitting down as he spoke. Sitting was the authoritative posture for a teacher in those days. They didn't stand to say something important, as we would do today. They sat down.
Jesus is on a "level place" as he makes these pronouncements. This is in contrast to Matthew where Jesus delivers a similar sermon "on the mount." Luke wants to accent that Jesus is on the same level as the people. This "sermon on the plain" underlines Jesus' close relationship with people in the "real world" where they live.
Unlike the beatitudes in the sermon on the mount in which there are nine blessings, Luke's version has four blessings and four woes, which makes these "beatitudes" more pointed than those in the "sermon on the mount." The two versions are similar in content, with Luke's version being sharper and more direct, while Matthew's version is generally more positive in tone and feels more polished rhetorically.
The poor: These four blessings are consistent with Jesus' over-all mission, announced in his inaugural speech in Luke 4, to bring "good news to the poor." The blessings refer essentially to the same demographic, i.e. the destitute poor (ptochoi). After saying "blessed (are) the poor," the other blessings flesh out exactly who the poor are. They are those who are "hungry now," "weep now," and are looked down upon because of their association with Jesus.
According to Joel Green, the poor would include all those "who have been marginalized in the larger world" (p. 267). This marginalization is both economic and social. Indeed, the two are symbiotic. Loss of economic status leads inevitably to loss of social status. The poor would also, incidentally, likely apply to the "disciples" to whom Jesus is speaking. They had, after all, "left everything" to follow Jesus, thereby becoming poor themselves (5:11).
The fourth beatitude--"blessed are you when people hate you"--is accompanied by a call to "rejoice" and "leap for joy," which is the only exhortation included in this section (vss. 20-26). This blessing appears intended for beleagued Christians in Luke's world. Luke was written c. AD 85. After the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, Jews and Christians started to go their separate ways. In some cases, families were split and communities divided--"when they may separate you"--with increasing enmity between the two groups--"and reproach you and throw out your name as evil on account of the Son of Humanity."
The rich: The four beatitudes are balanced by four woes which are directed toward the rich and those with places of honor in society--"when all speak well of you." As the poor lost status when they lost money, the rich maintained and enhanced their status through wealth accumulation. In fact, as Jerome Neyrey argues, the basic purpose of wealth was precisely to get honor and status.
Luke works the rich over pretty well throughout the book of Luke. In the Magnificat (1:46-55), Mary sounds a theme which will recur throughout the book: "He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty." The same terms which enliven the Magnificat--blessing, hungry, filled, rich--also appear in these blessings and woes in chapter 6.
Issues of poverty and wealth resound throughout the book of Luke. One of seven passages deals with this theme, and are typified by the story of the rich man and Lazarus in chapter 16. The rich man goes to Hades not for being a bad person necessarily, but because he was indifferent to the poor man Lazarus. In chapter 18, it is not even possible for a rich person to enter into the new reign of God. Nevertheless, Luke supplies a loophole, even for the rich. Even though it is impossible for a rich person to grasp what the reign of God is all about, nevertheless, God is the master of impossible situations (18:27).
"But I say to you, the listening ones, love your enemies, do good to the ones hating you, bless the ones cursing you, pray concerning the ones falsely accusing you.
In 6:18, Luke had referred to the great crowds which "had come to hear him." Now, he speaks to those who have heard, i.e. "the listening ones." Throughout the four gospels, Jesus will often refer to those who "hear" or complain about those who don't.
The reason for these exhortations to hear is because what Jesus had to say was hard to hear. He is talking about a massive paradigm shift, the complete inversion of the conventional wisdom of his day (and ours).
The ones on the top will soon be at the bottom and the ones on the bottom will soon be on top. Not only that, but the ways that typify conventional society--violence, hatred, insult, economic theft--are not to typify the followers of Jesus. These default mechanisms of our social life are so ingrained that people have difficulty hearing, or even conceiving, of a different way. Yet, for those who can hear, followers of Jesus are to do everything they can to subvert these mechanisms.
Luke continues to work in groups of four. In the four beatitudes, the first is for the poor, which is then defined in three ways--the hungry, the sorrowful, the hated. In the four woes, the primary thematic "woe" is for the rich, which is then defined in three ways--"full," "laughing," and honored.
In terms of loving enemies, the same four-fold pattern is used. The first statement is a general teaching--"love your enemies." This establishes the pattern which is then defined in three specific ways--doing good, blessing, and prayer, all for your enemies.
All of the teachings of Jesus can be found somewhere in the prophets--with one exception: love for enemies. Everything else came from the existing prophetic tradition. Love for enemies is new and unique.
One will note that loving of enemies is not characterized by passivity. Jesus does not call for weakness and submission, but rather active mission on behalf of enemies. Followers of Jesus are to "do good" to those who hate them, "bless" those who curse them, and pray for those who lie about them.
To the one who smites you on the cheek, give the other, and to the one taking your garment, you may not forbid the tunic. Give to everyone who asks from you, and to the one taking away your goods, do not demand back. And just as you wish people might do to you, you do to them in like manner.
This same principle is applied in certain specific situations--those who smite you on the cheek, take your garment, or take your goods. In the first century world, a strike on the cheek was likely to be a back-handed slap. It was an insult, designed to put one in one's place.
Turning the other cheek is an act of provocation. It is a form of active resistance. "Hit me again" is a way of saying, "Take me seriously, look at me, I am somebody." If they take your cloak, give them your shirt. Stand there naked, but stand! Take the vicious and acquisitive energy of your enemies, let it flow into absurdity, but do not be dismissed.
The Golden Rule in verse 31 is a subversion of accepted social practice in the ancient world. One's typical social posture in that world (and ours) was to bless those who bless you and curse those who don't. Doing to others as you yourself would like to be treated, whether friend or enemy, was a radical re-interpretation of this social practice. One's relationship with others is not determined by their past actions, but rather by the new reign of God in which the poor are blessed and enemies are loved.
Image: Wassily Kandinsky, "All Saints"