The Sermon on the Plain: Why We Read Critically


Illustration by Utagawa Kunisada


We’ve come to the end of the Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. It is shorter than Matthew’s more famous version, but I hope that it’s clear how they are each important in their own way. (You can click the links to read them in full).

I also hope that it’s clear that we choose how to hear Jesus’s words. Even the gospel authors made choices about how to interpret Jesus’s sayings. They placed these sayings in particular contexts based on their own understanding of what Jesus meant.

Here’s the structure of the Sermon on the Plain, which is found in Luke 6:

  • Happy are you who are oppressed (v 20-23).
  • How terrible for you who oppress (v 24-26).
  • Stage 1: Love your enemies and treat people the way you want to be treated (v 27-31).
  • Stage 2: Actually, love the way God loves; be children of the Most High (v 32-36).
  • Give everyone the grace you would want for yourself (v 37-38).
  • Don’t presume you are morally superior to others (v 39-42).
  • Focus on what’s going on inside yourself (v 43-45).
  • In order to put these words into action, dig deep. Only then can you claim to be a follower of Jesus (v 46-49).

There’s a lot of nuance missing in this summary, of course. There is always a background of social justice and liberation in Luke’s gospel, as we’ve seen. I invite you to read the whole thing again (click here), to put it all together and reflect on what we’ve explored.

If you’re comparing the Sermon on the Plain to the Sermon on the Mount, you may also be wondering: What happened to all that other material from Matthew’s gospel? What happened to the Lord’s Prayer? The light under a bushel? What happened to “Ask, seek, knock?”

Luke put them in different places. Again, he heard something different in Jesus’s words, and so he gave these sayings a different context.

That is where we will turn next.

Jesus, your words have power to heal and transform. Help me hear them in many different ways, and not just with my ears, but with my inner self.

PS: I’ll be doing a comparative reading of the Bhagavad Gita and the Bible starting May 6.