Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

Luke 6.17-26
6th Sunday after the Epiphany - Year C

Other texts:

Our text begins Luke's "Sermon on the Plain" (6:17-49). The Revised Common Lectionary divides the sermon into three readings over the next three weeks. Unfortunately, we do not celebrate the 7th and 8th Sundays after the Epiphany this year so we will not deal with the rest of the "sermon". Part of this lesson is also assigned for All Saints Day C (6:20-31).

In Luke, mountains are places of prayer for Jesus (6:12; 9:28). It is down the mountain where Jesus is with people (6:17; 9:37; 19:37; 21:37). Thus, he places Jesus' "sermon" down from the mountain on a level place (unlike Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount"). For Matthew, I believe that the mountain helps convey the idea that Jesus is a new Moses, who received the Law from God on Mt. Sinai. For Luke, John the Baptist, quoting a section of Isaiah that the other gospels omit, says: "and the rough ways made smooth" (Lk 3:5d). The word for "smooth" (leios) is nearly synonymous with the word translated "level" (pedinos) in our text. Jesus, through this teaching, is making rough ways smooth or level.

Green (The Gospel of Luke) introduces the "sermon" with this paragraph:

In debate with some of the Pharisees and scribes (5:17-6:11), Jesus has rejected what is for his interlocutors a divinely ordered understanding of the world and the practices it generates. Rejecting their view of the world, he undercuts the dispositions that orient the actions and inclinations that make up their daily lives. Unfortunately for Jesus and his movement, the worldview of these Pharisees and scribes is widespread and has become institutionalized in patterns of expected behavior reinforced by social sanctions. Those who do not discriminate in their choices of table companions, those who do not fast, those who do not observe the Sabbath -- such people are defined as outsiders, people of low regard in this system. Jesus now counteracts those negative sanctions by doing nothing less than redefining the world, positing as the foundation of this world the OT affirmation of the merciful Father (6:36) and erecting on this foundation a new set of dispositions out of which will flourish new practices, perceptions, and attitudes. Having named a new leadership for God's people (6:12-16), he now defines in positive terms both the new conditions of existence in his community and the general shape of the behaviors and appreciations that will come to seem natural for those who participate in this community. [pp. 260-1]


There are similar verses in Mt 4:24-25 and Mk 3:7-12.

While v. 17 indicates three different groups: "them" = the newly chosen apostles (apostolos), "a great crowd of his disciples" (mathetes), and "a great multitude of the people (laos)," there seems to be no distinction between the groups. They have all come (1) "to hear him" and (2) to be healed from their diseases (v. 18).

Verse 17 also suggests that the people were both Jews: from Judea and Jerusalem; and Gentiles: from the coast of Tyre and Sidon. Luke has an emphasis on the universality of Jesus' concern.

Two different words for "heal/cure" are used: iaomai (vv. 18-19) (from which we get the English suffix -iatrics, like in pediatrics;) and therapeuo, (v.18) (from which we get English words like "therapeutic").

Classically, iaomai, is more connected with the art of healing. Related words are translated with: "physician," "surgery," "curable".

therapeuo originally referred to a servant or attendant (a meaning still found in the NT -- Ac 17:25). Such a person might care for a sick person, which led the meanings of "to tend (the sick)," "to treat medically," "to heal, cure".

While I have occasionally been critical of "consumer" Christians (in contrast to "contributing" Christians); these people come to receive from Jesus. They are consumers! They come to hear and to be healed.

How do we offer "hearing" and "healing" to the people who come to us?

At least in my basic definition of worship; it is a "consumer" oriented event. Worship is primarily a place and time where we come together to receive from God -- through Word and Sacrament -- and sacramentally, we literally "consume" God! Secondly, worship offers us the opportunity to respond to God's presence: through confession, praise, prayers, offerings, etc.

One might want to keep in mind this introduction by Luke that people have come to receive from Jesus before moving into the beatitudes.

Both Jesus' touch and his power are frequently related to healings. The word for touch (hapto) has an active meaning of "to light" or "to ignite." It is used this way in Lk 8:16; 11:33; 15:8. In the middle voice, it can mean "to take hold of," "to touch;" and also "to harm" or "to injure."

It seems to me that "lighting" something in the ancient world meant passing on the fire from one source to another by touching to two things, e.g., spreading the light at a candlelight service. There is a sense that the "touch" expressed by this word, passed on a power (dynamis in 5:13; 6:19; 7:14; 8:44, 45, 46, 47; 18:15; 22:5) that brought healing.

In these verses Luke has emphasized Jesus' authority and power in his deeds. Next it will be emphasized in his words.

BLESSINGS (vv. 20-26)

Are these teachings addressed only to the disciples? Although v. 20 only mentions the disciples, the people/crowds have not departed. Are they still standing around overhearing what Jesus is saying to the disciples?

In Matthew, Jesus and his disciples have separated themselves from the crowd by going up on the mountain (5:1-2).

I have shared this before, but I share it again: The evolution of the meanings of makarios = "blessed".

In ancient Greek times, makarios referred to the gods. The blessed ones were the gods. They had achieved a state of happiness and contentment in life that was beyond all cares, labors, and even death. The blessed ones were beings who lived way up there in some other world. To be blessed, you had to be a god.

That word took on a second meaning. It referred to the "dead". The blessed ones were humans, who, through death, had reached the other world of the gods. They were now beyond the cares of earthly life. To be blessed, you had to be dead.

Finally, in Greek usage, the word came to refer to the elite, the upper crust of society, the wealthy people. It referred to people whose riches and power put them above the normal cares and worries of the lesser folk -- the peons, who constantly struggle and worry and labor in life. To be blessed, you had to be very rich and powerful.

When this word, makarios was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, it took on another meaning. It referred to the results of right living or righteousness. If you lived right, you were blessed. Being blessed meant you received earthly, material things: a good wife, many children, abundant crops, riches, honor, wisdom, beauty, good health, etc. A blessed person had more things and better things than an ordinary person. To be blessed, you had to have big and beautiful things.

In all of these meanings, the "blessed" ones existed on a higher plane than the rest of the people. They were gods. They were humans who had gone to that other world of the gods. They were the wealthy, upper crust. They were those with many possessions.

Jesus uses this word in a totally different way. It is not the elite who are blessed. It is not the rich and powerful who are blessed. It is not the high and mighty who are blessed. It is not the people living in huge mansions or expensive penthouses who are blessed. Rather, Jesus pronounces God's blessings on the lowly: the poor, the hungry, the crying, and the hated. Throughout the history of this word, it had always been the other people who were considered blessed: the rich, the filled up, the laughing. Jesus turns it all upside-down. The elite in God's kingdom, the blessed ones in God's kingdom, are those who are at the bottom of the heap of humanity.

Green (The Gospel of Luke) states: "Luke ... portrays Jesus as redefining, both now and for the eschatological future, the way the world works; he is replacing common representations of the world with a new one." And a little later: "... Jesus' claims clearly do not represent 'conventional wisdom.' Is not wealth a sign of God's blessing (Deuteronomy 29)? How then can the poor be declared fortunate and the wealthy be warned of God's curse? From this perspective, Luke has recounted 'anti-beatitudes'" [pp. 264-5].

The poor (ptochos) -- "destitute" might be a better way of translating this word. Of the different Greek words that depict the poor, this word refers to the most destitute and poverty stricken of them all. It implies a continuous state of poverty. This does not refer to those who may not have enough money to buy everything they want; but it refers to those who have no money, who have no job, who have no possessions, who are on the street begging for the essentials of life. This is the word used of "Poor Lazarus" (16:20, 22). If we know of someone with less than we have, then we are not "the poor" as this word depicts them.

This blessing is different from the next two in that the promise is in the present tense. "Yours is the kingdom of God." This can be translated: "The kingdom of God belongs to you" or, with a more active sense of basileia "God rules over you."

Are these words addressed just to the "disciples," who are poor because they have left everything to follow Jesus (5:11, 28)? Are they the ones who truly live under God's rule in the present time? Are they addressed to all the poor throughout the world? Are they addressed to all who place their lives and possessions under God's rule?

Certainly this statement is a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, quoted by Jesus (4:18, see also 7:22) about bringing good news to the poor. They are invited to a banquet in Jesus' parables (14:13, 21). Giving to the poor is part of the examples of the proper use of wealth (18:22; 19:8). The poor widow is the example of giving (21:3).

Green (The Gospel of Luke) suggests that "the poor" in Luke refers to "those who have been marginalized in the larger world, whether on the basis of economic or other measures, those for whom only God can bring good news" [p. 267].

Are the "hungry" and "weeping" separate groups of people, or do these terms denote characteristics of the "poor" from the first beatitude? If they are connected, and "the poor" refer to the disciples, is Jesus indicating that there are greater troubles ahead for them? And, at the same time, pronouncing the promise of a reversal of fortunes for them?

These two beatitudes are different from the first in the following ways:

This promise to the hungry fulfills a promise from Mary's song (1:53). "Being hungry" is something Jesus experienced at the beginning of his temptation (4:2 -- "was famished" in NRSV).

"Being filled" (chortazo) is the word that is used of the feeding miracle (9:17) -- Jesus filled up the hungry crowd. It is the word that is used of the desire of the "prodigal son," who would have gladly filled himself with the pig's food. He discovered there was a much better meal to be had back at his father's house. It is the word that is used of Lazarus who longed to fill himself with the food that fell from the rich man's table. It is the plight of the poor not to be able to fill themselves with food.

"Weeping" (klaio) is a term that has an emphasis on the noise accompanying the weeping. This isn't just a simple sob that one can barely hear, but loud weeping, perhaps even wailing. It is used of the sound of parents at a child's death (7:13; 8:52). It is the sound Peter when he realizes that he denied Jesus three times -- as Jesus had predicted (22:62). It is the sound Jesus makes when he sees Jerusalem (19:41).

The word for "laugh" (gelao) occurs only here and in v. 26. The meaning most fitting here is "the sound that reflects happiness and joy," rather than a laughter that indicates ridicule.

There are four verbs related to the next blessing:

The construction of "hotan + subjunctive" presents the condition "when" or "if" something happens. In this case, these verbs present the conditions for being blessed.

How do we talk about these types of persecutions to people who have not suffered such conditions on account of the Son of Man? I can't say that I have ever been hated (or excluded, insulted, or defamed) on account of the Son of Man. I have suffered such things for other reasons. (Are they natural results of being a pastor serving a congregation?)

To a group of disciples who were suffering persecutions, this blessing makes more sense -- a word of encouragement to hang in there. They are simply following a long line of God's messengers to suffer the same things.

Could our lack of suffering or taking risks that could bring suffering on account of Christ also lead us to miss the "rejoicing" and "leaping for joy" that are also part of this blessing?

"Leaping for joy" (or "dancing for joy" -- skirtao) is the same actions of the fetal John the Baptist when Mary comes to see Elizabeth (1:41, 44). These are all the uses of this word in the NT.

"Rejoicing" and "leaping for joy" are active verbs. They are something the hated do in the midst of their persecution. It is not waiting for the situation to change to express one's joy. That joy comes not because of the present difficulties, but because of the promise of a future reward that makes it possible to rejoice in the present.

Green (The Gospel of Luke) presents a slightly different interpretation:

People of the old order speak well only of those who follow its routines and conform to its canons. Those whose behaviors are grounded in a contrary worldview can expect defamation. ... the day of one's opposition, then, is a time of joy, not because rejection entitles one to a reward, as though Jesus had introduced a moral contract, but because persecution "on account of the Son of man" authenticates one's identification with God's purpose. [ p. 268]

THE WOES (vv. 24-26)

These verses are unique to Luke. The word for "woe" (ouai) was an expression of pain or anger. It is a word that anticipates disasters, horrors, pain, anguish.

These woes, for the most part, reflect the opposites of the blessings.

The second two woes are different from the first in the following similar ways to the differences in the blessings:

What are the rich receiving? The Greek word is paraklesis. It is related to the word Paraklete. The related verb, parakaleo, literally means "to call to one's side." The reasons for "calling to one's side" are varied and lead to a number of meanings for this word: "to invite, to help, to encourage, to console, to exhort, to request, etc."

Thus the noun takes on a variety of meanings. The two definitions given by Lowe and Nida for this word are:

The image I get from this woe is that the rich already have everything they could ask for -- or at least think they do. The encouragement or consolation they need for their lives they find in their wealth. They have no need for God in their lives.

The rich (plousios) appear often in Luke -- in many instances in opposition to the poor: 12:16; 14:12; 16:1, 19, 21, 22; 18:23, 25; 19:2; 21:1. A difference in Luke about the rich is that there is the example of Zacchaeus properly using his wealth (21:1) and the possibility that the rich man, by helping poor Lazarus, could have saved himself from future torment (16:19-22).

A difference in the second woe vs. the second blessing is that the woe uses empli(m)plemi = "to fill, satisfy; enjoy" and the blessing uses chortazo = "feed, satisfy; eat one's fill". This second word refers more specifically to eating. It is related to chortos = "grass, vegetation". The first word, while generally meaning "to fill with food," can also simply mean "to fill" or "to be satisfied". It is the word used in Mary's song: "he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty" (1:53). Related to what I said above about paraklesis, these may be people who assume that they have everything they need -- enough to be satisfied.

A difference in the third woe vs. the third blessing is the addition of pentheo -- "to mourn." This is the same word used in Matthew's beatitude: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (parakaleo!) (Mt 5:4). It is a word that denotes more of the inner sadness that is outwardly expressed by weeping or wailing.

The fourth woe follows the grammar of the fourth blessing: hotan + subjunctive = the condition "when" (or "if") something happens. What happens to you when all the people speak well of you? Luke indicates that when this happens, you are likely to be a false prophet.

NOTE: Immediately after the "woes," Jesus says: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you" (6:27-28). These "woes" need to be interpreted as words of love from Jesus.


The following quotes come from Walter Pilgrim (Good News to the Poor: Wealth and Poverty in Luke-Acts).

The clear social distinctions drawn here are between the haves and the have-nots, the possessors and the impoverished, those favored by society and those despised. The new and surprising element is the way in which the norms and values of society are turned upside down. The promised blessings belong to the suffering poor, while the coming woes are pronounced upon the contented rich. According to one commentator, this marks the first time in Jewish religious literature that the poor are directly called the blessed (Hengel Property). [p. 76]

...we have argued that the Lukan beatitudes are addressed to people who are literally poor and persecuted. Yet their poverty is blessed within the context of their response to the ministry of Jesus and the call to the kingdom of God. Thus it is not just poverty or riches per se that is blessed or condemned, but poverty in the context of trust in God and riches in the context of rejection of God. The two go hand in hand for Luke. [p. 77]

"For Luke, the kingdom belongs to the poor, but the rich share in it by virtue of their treatment of the poor and needy" (Thomas Hoyt, The Poor in Luke-Acts, p. 167) [quoted by Pilgrim on p. 160]

Who are the poor for Luke and what is the good news proclaimed to them? If, as we have shown, the poor includes those who belong to the lowest social and economic level, what is the good news addressed to them? We would suggest three dimensions of this good news in Luke-Acts.

While the basic message of Jesus' ministry in Luke's gospel centers around the theme of good news to the poor, his extensive discussion of wealth and poverty is addressed primarily to the rich. We have interpreted this to mean that Luke is using this material to speak to well-to-do Christians in his own day. What Luke has in mind is nothing less than an urgent call for a new evaluation of possessions and their place in the Christian life and Christian community.

Luke has two major themes regarding possessions. The first is a warning about their radical danger to Christian discipleship. ... the danger of possessions carries with it a summons for rich believers to take heed, to be on guard and to be open for the necessity of an urgent reordering of priorities in their lives

The Lukan response to possessions is not the call to total abandonment, but what we choose to term the discipleship use of one's wealth. What Luke commends for Christians in his day is a style of life in which possessions are placed radically at the service of those in need. While possessions in themselves are not evil, their true worth is to be measured by their use. [pp. 163-165]

Luke addressed himself to the rich Christians in his day. He does not insist that they give up all their possessions, nor does he require an elimination of all economic differences in the community. But Luke does say this to rich Christians: "Your abundance and the poverty of other Christians are not in accordance with God's will or with the spirit of Jesus. You must relinquish your abundance for the sake of the poor and work toward greater economic equality in God's world." Back to the tough question once again, can one remain wealthy and be a faithful Christian? We interpret the Zacchaeus episode as Luke's no/yes response. No, in that the rich cannot go on living as before. A new ordering of priorities is necessitated. The rich cannot be saved with their riches intact. They must get free from the burden and seduction of wealth and spend themselves in the service of others. Only costly sharing of wealth will do as a response to the call of Jesus into a life of discipleship. "But yes, the rich can be saved, as they are freed by God's unconditional grace in Christ to trust the Father for life's sufficiencies and as they respond in love to make friends with their wealth through wise and sacrificial giving, remembering always the poor and the powerless. [p. 170]

If an individual or a congregation is not helping the poor, how well have they listened to Jesus? Are they in bondage to their wealth? their own survival?

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901