30 April 2021

The Sermon on Flat Ground

While Matthew's Gospel tells a story of Jesus giving a long sermon on a mountain, Luke records a shorter version of this sermon occurring "on a level place" (Matthew 5-7; Luke 6:17-49). Luke's sermon is not only shorter, but it includes two stories which Matthew's sermon does not.

Jesus opens his sermons with the familiar beatitudes. Blessed are his disciples who follow in the way of the prophets, but woe to those who seek an easy path (6:17-26). He then tells them what the path of the prophets will entail. He tells them to love their enemies, lend without expecting repayment, answer mistreatment with mercy and generosity, and offer neither judgment nor condemnation, but forgiveness and compassion (6:27-42).

You can tell Jesus' disciples by the message they preach, "for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of" (6:43-45). Those who offer condemnation, easy answers based on law, and whose generosity is limited to only those they deem worthy do not speak the message of Jesus. They are trees bearing bad fruit. Those who live the message of Jesus, who see with compassion, offer to help bear a burden, who are generous to even those who are undesirable, and forgive those who mistreat them, they are trees bearing good fruit.

Jesus calls his disciples to be generous, not only to benefit others, but for their own sake as well (6:46-49). When trouble comes and shakes the lives of every individual, those who stand together find that they can whether the storm. A generous community can even afford to help a selfish few. But a "community" of individuals, who want only for themselves, who care nothing for their neighbors will find themselves swept away by the storms of life. This is why it is better to be generous than selfish.

While it is not a very long passage, it is a very important lesson. It is not obvious why we should love our enemies, give generously to everyone in need, and refrain from judging others. In looking out for the good of others, whether we approve of them or not, and in tolerating those who look out only for themselves, we build a community that people want to be a part of, a community which will only grow. When trouble comes to that community, it will survive and even thrive on the great stores of goodness which it has built up for just such a time as this.

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Please remember to be kind to your brothers and sisters in Christ.

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