28 July 2015

Luke 6:17-26

“Then he looked up at his disciples and said ...” (v. 20)

Psalm: Psalm 51


The writer of Luke's Gospel has chosen a different way of gathering Jesus' teaching together from that found in Matthew's Gospel. There we have what is often called 'the Sermon on the Mount' (it starts in Matthew chapter 5) and the two collections have some interesting differences.

In this version, Jesus has been praying all night (Luke 16:12), apparently in preparation for choosing his 12 closest followers (Luke 16:13-16), and comes from that to offer teaching to the crowds. They, of course, have gathered for more healing and other miracles! The calling of the 12 is believed by some scholars to indicate an intention to create a new Israel, since the number matches the number of the tribes, but it is interesting that none of the lists that have been recorded for us quite agree about names!

The series of blessings, frequently called 'The Beatitudes' are differently recorded by Matthew, and none of the following 'Woes' (verses 24-26) are with them - though that writer has a later, longer list of woes directed at Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-36). But here, both are addressed to the newly called followers rather than to the crowd, and would seem to be both promise and warning about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

It has also been suggested that the blessings are an invitation to an upside down way of life, where prosperity gets in the way, and the key to life in all its fullness is to admit one's need. Some later writers have also suggested that the woes were added by the early Church, because they believed that this reversal of expected blessing was about the life after death and therefore some description of eternal woe was also required.

Whether this is about life now, or the life of the world to come, it is clear that the rewards are in the relationship with God.

To Ponder

  • War, violence, oppression, hunger and homelessness - at home and throughout the world. In this context, how difficult do you find the idea of these blessings?
  • Reflect on who you think needs to hear the woes? Where do you feel you stand?

Bible notes author

Revd Alison Tomlin

Alison Tomlin is a supernumerary Methodist minister, who was president of the Methodist Conference in 2010/2011. She has been involved for the last 25 years in leading retreats and offering prayer, accompanying both groups and individuals.