Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

Luke 6.20-31
All Saints Sunday - Year C

Other texts: 

These verses are also assigned for 6 Epiphany C (Lu 6:17-26) and 7 Epiphany C (Lu 6:27-38).


In Luke, the mountain is a place of prayer (6:12; 9:28). Jesus comes down from the mountain to be with people (see 21:37).

Just before this section, Jesus has chosen the twelve apostles from the disciples (6:12-16). Luke makes a distinction between "disciples" and "apostles". To these two groups, "a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon" are added in v. 17. They have come (1) to hear and (2) to be healed.

Jesus is healing a "great multitude of people," when he suddenly looks up at his disciples and speaks (v. 20).

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).

We might wonder how Jesus' teachings in our text relate to "healing diseases" and "curing those who were troubled with unclean spirits" (vv. 18-19).

BLESSINGS (vv. 20-26)

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

The Greek word for "blessed" used in our text is makarios. In ancient Greek times, that word referred to the gods. They had achieved a state of happiness and contentment in life that was beyond all cares, labors, and even death. To be blessed, you had to be a god, living in some other world.

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 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.

Forms of the beatitudes are found in Matthew (5:3-12) and in the Gospel of Thomas (54; 69:1-2; 68:1-2).


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. It could, perhaps, refer to the disciples who have left everything to follow Jesus.

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 "poor disciples," who 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 -- thus trusting God rather than their wealth?

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. Jesus' parables in 14:13, 21) indicated that we are obligated to do more for the poor than just bring them good news, but also invite them to dinner. Giving to the poor is part of the examples of the proper use of wealth (18:22; 19:8).

Can one -- or a congregation -- claim to be following Jesus if they are not contributing to the poor? or if they are rich? For Luke, it is from the poor that we can best learn about giving and living under God's reign (note the poor widow in 21:3).

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" 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 mistreatments 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.

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 who suffered the same things.

Could our lack of 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. I wonder if we shouldn't institute "liturgical leaping" in our services. What better way to indicate the presence of Jesus in the sacraments than to leap for joy as the fetal John did at the presence of the embryonic Jesus within Mary's womb? Or our belief in Jesus' word, that no matter how rotten life may be for us now, we have a great reward in heaven? I read once that the conscious act of smiling creates a happier disposition (rather than waiting for the disposition before showing it). I wonder if liturgical leaping would create feelings of blessedness among those who may not feel quite that way.

"Rejoicing" and "leaping for joy" are active verbs. They are actions that the hated do in the midst of their persecution. They are not waiting for their situation to change to express their 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 (evil & difficult) present.

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 three woes contain the same differences as in the blessings that I pointed out earlier:

What are the rich receiving? The Greek word is paraklesis. It is related to the word Paraclete. 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.

The two definitions given by Lowe and Nida for the noun are:

to ask for something which is being especially sought, e.g. "to ask earnestly for, to demand, earnest request"

to cause someone to be encouraged or consoled, either by verbal or non-verbal means, e.g., "to encourage, to console, encouragement"

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.

A difference in the second woe vs. the second blessing is that the woe uses empiplemi = "to fill, satisfy; enjoy" and the blessing uses chortazo = "feed, satisfy; eat one's fill". This second word refers more specifically to eating. The first word, while generally meaning "to fill with food," can also simply mean "to fill" or "to be satisfied". Related to what I said above about paraklesis, these may be people who have everything that 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 (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.

Who are the "you" in these blessings and woes? Are they addressed to specific groups among the disciples or the great multitude? Are they a general address to all people?

LOVE YOUR ENEMIES (vv. 27-31 [32-36])

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.

With the blessings and woes, Jesus announces the reversal of fortunes that God is going to bring about. With these verses, Jesus announces a reversal that is to be part of the lives of those who are listening to him. Remember that the people had originally come to listen to Jesus (6:18). A little later Jesus will talk about the importance of listening and doing (6:47, 49).

All of these verbs are present tense, which implies continued or repeated actions -- both the imperative verbs for our actions and the participles for our enemies' actions: keep on loving your enemies (a noun), keep on doing good to those who are continually hating you, keep on blessing those who are continually cursing you, keep on praying for those who are continually abusing you.

This is the first time "love" (agapao) is used in Luke. It is used twice in v. 32, and in v. 35, which is nearly identical to our verse.

The "good" in the phrase "do good" is actually an adverb that pertains to a high moral quality. This word (kalos) is used four times in Luke -- three of those in ch. 6.

Woe to you when all speak well of you... (6:26)

... do good to those who hate you (6:27)

... [that house] was well built (6:48)

Scribes say to Jesus, "Teacher, you have spoken well." (20:39)

I wonder how the last occurrence relates to the first one! -- and about the relationship between the middle two. Certainly the ability to "do good" is related to hearing Jesus words and acting on them -- thus building one's life on the solid foundation that can stand up to the storms that rise against it.

The word translated "bless" (eulogeo) literally means, "to speak well of," which, I think is more understandable to our hearers than "to bless." How do we speak about those who have "damned" us -- a more literal and colloquial meaning of (kataraomai = "to evoke a supernatural being to harm or injure someone")? This word is equivalent to the slightly more common "anathema," which has found its way into English.

I wonder how to present praying for abusers and turning the other cheek in such a way that it can empower victims/survivors of abuse, rather than adding to their suffering.

I think that the theme throughout vv. 27-30 is that we are not to let others determine our actions. As Jesus' disciples we are to love, do good, speak well of, and pray -- regardless of how others may treat us. When I am willing to let the other hit me again or to give to bullies more than what they take -- I am not letting them control my life. To go to an extreme, if I am willing to die, e.g., "go ahead and kill me," the "enemy" no longer has power over me.

Related to victims of abuse -- I think that the message, "Don't let the abuser control your life with threats of pain and death," can be empowering to break out of the relationship and seek the needed help. However, we need to recognize -- as a lady in our community who works with the abused noted -- such a person is much more likely to be killed when they try to break out of the relationship then by staying in it and taking the abuse.

With the interpretation I've suggested, it behooves us as Jesus' disciples to also love and do good for and speak well of and pray for the victimized and our friends -- but not only for our friends, but also our enemies. That's what sets us apart from the sinners (see vv. 32-36).

The final verse of our text, v. 31, offers a summary of what has gone before, and expands it. In essence, if we wish others not to be our enemies, not to hate us, not to curse us, not to abuse us, not to beat us, not to take from us -- then we have to act differently towards them: to love, to do good, to bless, to pray, to give. Will our actions make them change? Perhaps not. However, we can be certain that we won't change the world if we hate those who are hating us and strike back on those who are striking us, etc. Jesus followed his own advice and was crucified. Tiede (Luke) notes this: "The Messiah is announcing the law which he will fulfill." [p. 143]

The translation I suggested for the first blessing: "God rules over them," could be the theme of this second part of the text. Our lives are to be ruled by God, not by other people. This could certainly be a theme for the "saints." Especially if we take the basic meaning of hoi hagioi = "the holy ones" = "the saints" as people who are "set apart" = special people = people who are different. These verses certainly indicate ways that followers of Jesus are to be different -- controlled by a different ethic than the rest of the world.

Tiede (Luke) writes about vv. 22-23:

As ethics, this counsel is in the realm of law. The brilliant usage of these commands by Tolstoy, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King [Jr.] in developing the philosophy of nonviolence have demonstrated the power of the address as a strategy for social change. It offers an alternative vision, especially in Luke where the particularities of poverty, reprisal, extortion, and loan policy are so prominent. This address has provided centuries of believers with a mode of action quite contrary to the oppressive systems which needed to be changed. [pp. 142-3]

Jensen (Preaching Luke's Gospel) suggests:

If we choose to tell stories of contemporary people who live out this ethic of Jesus, we need to tell some micro stories along with the macro story of a person like King. We need, that is, to tell stories of ordinary people who have lived lives of reversal. The more local these people are, the more ordinary, the better. [pp. 81-2]

Jensen closes his section on verses 27-38 by suggesting these possible words from Jesus:

I call you to live your lives out of an alternative vision of reality. I call you to live your lives as lives that reverse the values of this culture. I call you to love your enemy; turn the other cheek; give your possessions to those in need and judge not the lives of others. Be merciful even as I am merciful. I have come to nourish your entire life with my mercy. I have come to empower you with mercy in order that you may, indeed, live a new kind of life in this world. [p. 82]

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 2215 S 8th Ave., Yuma, AZ 85364