The Sermon on the Plain: Children of the Most High


If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate. (Luke 6:32-36 CEB)

  • In the previous section, Jesus told people to “turn the other cheek” and to give your shirt to someone who steals your coat. He also said a) love your enemies, do good to them, bless them, and pray for them, b) give without thought of reciprocity, and c) treat people as you would want to be treated (the “Golden Rule”). 
  • In this section, Jesus focuses on some of the same verbs he used in the previous section: love, do good, and lend. 
  • The repeated emphasis on lending is telling. Debt was rampant in the first century, just as it is today. Several of Jesus’s parables involve lending and debt. Endless cycles of debt created massive poverty. The idea of lending without expecting repayment challenges ideas—both then and now—about the way the market is supposed to work. 
  • Don’t miss the revolutionary character of these remarks. Remember, Jesus started off with “Happy are you who are poor.” In Luke, economics and power are always a subtext.
  • In this section, Jesus raises the ethical bar. Not only are we to treat people as we would be treated, but to “be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.” The Golden Rule is difficult enough. Loving as God loves is quite a reach! 
  • That’s why Jesus builds up to it. He is arguing from the lesser to the greater. He begins with three rhetorical questions, which amount to, “If you do what even sinners do, why should you be commended?” If all we are after is reciprocity or transactional relationships “do to others as you would have them do to you” is a great place to start. But it’s still transactional. Jesus wants us to desire something more. 
  • Jesus wants us to be Children of the Most High, carrying on the family tradition of being kind to ungrateful and wicked people, just like our Father. 
  • The word “sinner” here is not judge-y. Yes, we are all sinners. If moral character is a spectrum, we are all ungrateful and wicked compared to someone else. The point is that even people we think of as morally “worse than us” (sinners) are capable of transactional relationships: I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. 
  • Self-interested altruism is the floor, but there is no ceiling: “Love like God.” 
  • Instead of the word sinners, Matthew’s similar passage in the Sermon on the Mount uses the words “tax collectors” and “Gentiles”— that’s us non-Jews. (Click here if you want to compare the two). 
  • Children of the Most High is a beautiful phrase. I wonder how we would think of ourselves, and each other, if we began each day with a reminder that we are Children of the Most High
  • Like Matthew, Luke ties our behavior toward others with God’s indiscriminate kindness. We demonstrate we are God’s children when we love as God loves.

God, our compassionate Mother and Father, I am already your precious child. Help me to live into my divine heritage.