Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain” in Luke parallel’s the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew, although it is much shorter. Either way, this passage contains some of the most-quoted words of Jesus. We could devote thousands of words to almost every snippet of what Jesus says, but since most of the words are so well-known, my plan for much of this section will be to heavily quote the words straight from the text with only short interjections of thought. My reason for this is essentially the core of this project: some of Jesus’ words and deeds we’ve overlooked and never given proper consideration, but even some of his most famous words are basically ignored (and in many ways completely contradicted) by American culture.
The first section of the chapter features a story about Jesus and his followers “working” on the Sabbath, which upsets his ongoing antagonists, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. The disciples picked and ate grain as they walked through a field and Jesus healed a man’s shriveled hand, with Jesus using both situations to show that “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (5).
I believe this passage highlights our ongoing struggle to experience Sabbath the way God intended: as a time to take a break from our daily lives and work to rest and take pleasure in God’s presence and creation. Very few of us do that even for relatively short breaks, and we almost never do it for a full day. I know for me growing up I thought of Sunday as the Sabbath because that was the day we went to church. I don’t know if others feel the same way, but that was my thought process. I still regularly attend (and often serve) at church gatherings (currently online from the couch, but someday we’ll be back in person), so in no way am I saying we should not regular participate in a gathering of believers, but I know for me church can easily become part of the routine of daily life. Further, it can feel like missing a week is something for which I will be judged (not necessarily by others, but potentially by God). But I believe that thought process is completely wrong. In fact, I think it shows that for someone in my situation it may be necessary to take an occasional Sabbath break from going to church and instead take a relaxing day for a peaceful hike to focus on encountering God’s beautiful creation. That may not be the case for everyone, but it is something I need to keep in mind.
Now that I’ve used 300 words on the first section without even discussing Jesus’ famous sermon, here we go:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets. (20-23)
Somehow, our current “Christian” culture leans heavily into the premise of rejection “because of the Son of Man” while actively ignoring the rest of the message. At least, that is the evidence from the political stances of the vast majority of self-identified Christians in our country. While some might argue that politics are different than religious beliefs and the two policy approaches don’t necessarily align, the vast majority of Christians in our country disagree with that by their words and actions: publicly tying their faith to Republican politics and support for Republican politicians and publicly claiming America is a Christian nation.
Unfortunately, if American Christians continue to cling to that one snippet talking about rejection for the name of Christ while neglecting the rest of the message, we’re actually not being rejected “because of the Son of Man,” because we’re not following any of his message. At that point, we’re merely being rejected because we’re cruel, and when we’re told that our message doesn’t align with the words of Jesus, well, that’s accurate. In fact, Jesus’ next words should make that even more clear when contrasted with the vast majority of Christian political policy stances in our country:
But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets. (24-26)
Jesus goes on to tell us to love our enemies, extend the same mercy we receive from God to others – even those we despise – and to not be hypocritical in the way we judge and treat others, “for with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (38). Each of these passages show Jesus’ expectation for us to live in a way that benefits others before ourselves in all circumstances and seeks to find (and improve) our own faults before turning our attention to others.
Further, Jesus warns that there’s a very easy way for people (and God) to spot whether or not we are living up to his call:
No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. (43-45).
Our words and actions – our fruit – reflect who we are. Unfortunately, this is hugely problematic for supporting political leaders but saying, “I just wish he would stop tweeting.” Our words reveal who we are: if someone’s tweets make you uncomfortable, you shouldn’t wish they would stop so you can live in ignorance while supporting them; you must wrestle with the fact that perhaps they are not someone you can support.
Our words and actions are not meaningless; they reflect the deepest core of who we are. Similarly, the words and actions of people we follow, actively listen to, or support politically reflect on the deepest core of who we are. We are choosing to be identified with them. That becomes especially true when we show an unwillingness to speak out against anything they say or do.
Finally, Jesus uses a parable of wise and foolish builders, and the end result of their decisions, to again emphasize that our words and actions reflect whether or not we actually follow him:
Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete. (46-49)
I believe these words are highly prescient, as we see our “Christian” culture in America embrace policy stances that do not align with Jesus’ words and trade decency and dignity for political power, which completely contradicts the way Jesus chose to revolutionize the world.
If it happens, and our “Christian” house built on a weak foundation collapses into complete destruction, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves and no way to say we weren’t warned. It’s not like Jesus’ words have changed much over the past 2,000 years.
On that happy note, let’s take this opportunity to repent and return to the words Jesus called us to follow. Let’s recognize the Lord of the Sabbath and find rest and joy in the presence of God and the beauty of God’s creation and seek to be good trees that produce good fruit at all times.