Jesus came down from the mountain with them and stood on a large area of level ground. A great company of his disciples and a huge crowd of people from all around Judea and Jerusalem and the area around Tyre and Sidon joined him there. They came to hear him and to be healed from their diseases, and those bothered by unclean spirits were healed. The whole crowd wanted to touch him, because power was going out from him and he was healing everyone.
Jesus raised his eyes to his disciples and said…
(Luke 6:12-20a, CEB)
What time of day is it? Probably mid-morning. Jesus has spent all night praying, and made his important choice of apostles at dawn. Then he comes down the mountain to a “large area of level ground,” and a huge crowd of disciples and people seeking healing gather around.
This monologue is often called “The Sermon on the Plain,” in contrast with Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount,” but I suspect these are both true descriptions. People in Jesus’s day did not have microphones and loudspeakers, but they understood acoustics and the practice of speaking to large crowds. The Greeks had built amphitheaters all over their empire three hundred years earlier, so everyone knew that the optimal arrangement for public speaking is a bowl-shaped hollow.
If Jesus is on top of a mountain, speaking down to a crowd, his words will be lost in the wind. But you can find bowl-shaped places today around Galilee that are perfect for speaking to large groups. One famous Bible story has Jesus preaching from a boat to a crowd on the shore. I’ve seen the traditional place with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears. It makes perfect sense if you are familiar with how sound can carry over the water, especially if there is a wall or natural amphitheater behind you to reflect the sound. In both the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain, I suspect Jesus found an optimal natural amphitheater, where he could speak up to the gathered crowds—not down to them.
This is why it says he “raised his eyes to his disciples.” He was literally looking up at them.
I think this visual image is important, because it is a sharp contrast to the way modern public speaking happens. Our pulpits and stages are usually above the gathered audience, and the speaker is literally speaking down to us. This is only practical in modern buildings with electronic amplification. In old churches and cathedrals, they used domes or vaults of stone to create an artificial amphitheater over the heads of the congregation.
So in the great outdoors? I picture Jesus speaking up to his disciples and the gathered crowds. He looks tiny down there, one person among our many. He looks so… human. Like anyone else. Like one of us. So when he opens his mouth and the first words are “Happy are you who are poor,” I get chill bumps.
Incarnate One, thank you for coming down to our level and being one of us.