Sunday, April 19, 2009

THE GREAT SERMON (Luke 6:12-49)

1. CHOOSING OF THE TWELVE (6:12-16=Mark 3:13-19a)
12. Into the hills (RSV) rather than into a mountain (KJV).
13. Jesus chose twelve from among a much larger group (cf. vs. 17). Apart from Peter, the sons of Zebedee, and Judas Iscariot, the members of this inner circle remain little more than names. Apocryphal "Acts" of Andrew, Matthew, Thomas, and others proliferated in the third and later centuries. Paul's use of "the twelve" (I Cor. 15:5) as a title for the disciples makes improbable any hypothesis that the number was arbitrarily fixed by the early church. It is possible that Jesus himself intended "the twelve" to symbolize the true Israel that would enter God's kingdom. In early church usage apostles included Paul and Barnabas and other missionaries (Rom. 16:7). The limitation of the title to the original group (Matthew 10:2; Mark 6:30; Rev. 21:14; and six times in Luke) would therefore appear to be late. It is an anachronism on Luke's part to assert that Jesus conferred it.
14-16. Peter ("rock") is almost certainly a translation of the Aramaic "Cephas" (John 1:42 and often in Galatians and I Corinthians). The nickname may represent an estimate of the disciple's character, despite his behavior at Gethsemane and after Jesus' arrest. More probably it recalls the fact that, as the first disciple to be called, or as the first of Jesus' followers to be convinced of his Lord's resurrection (24:33-34; I Cor. 15:5), he was "the rock" on which the church was built (Matthew 16:18). The gospel tradition differs as to when the name was conferred: according to the Fourth Gospel, at Jesus' first encounter with him (John 1:42); according to Mark and Luke, when the twelve were chosen (although most Lukan MSS read "Simon Peter" in 5:8); and according to Matthew, after he had confessed Jesus' messiahship at Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:18). Andrew is a pure Greek name. Since Luke had not reproduced Mark's earlier reference to him (Mark 1:16), he now identifies him for the readers of the Gospel as Peter's brother. James and John have already been introduced as "sons of Zebedee" (5:10), and that title is not used in this instance. Mark's enigmatical "sons of thunder" is also omitted. Philip--another pure Greek name--is described in John 1:44 and 12:21 as a native of Bethsaida. The disciple is not to be confused with the evangelist of Acts 6:5; 8:4-13, 26-40. Bartholomew is patronymic (perhaps "son of Ptolemy"). Matthew has sometimes been identified with the "Nathanael" of the Fourth Gospel, since both names mean "gift of God." Thomas is a Hellenized form of the Hebrew word for "twin" (cf. John 11:16; etc.). It is arbitrary exegesis to identify James the son of Alphaeus with either "Levi the son of Alphaeus" (Mark 2:14) or "James the younger" (Mark 15:40). The second Simon in the list is called "the Cananaean" in Mark, a title that is probably the transliteration into Greek of an Aramaic word (ananq) that Luke translates the Zealot. The title may have been nothing more than a nickname, for there is no evidence that members of the revolutionary party in Palestine were known as "Zealots" before A.D. 66. No doubt Judas the son of James is the "Judas (not Iscariot)" of John 14:22, although it is clear that there has been some primitive confusion about the name of this particular disciple. He is called "Thaddaeus" in most MSS of Mark and Matthew, and the Codex Bezae text of those Gospels has "Lebbaeus." The second Judas in the list is called "the son of Simon Iscariot" in John 6:71, etc. Iscariot is probably a Hebraism meaning "man of Kerioth"--a village on the southern fringes of Judea. Another list of the same names, in slightly different order, and omitting Judas Iscariot, appears in Acts 1:13.
2. INTRODUCTION TO JESUS' SERMON (6:17-19, based on Mark 3:7-10)
17-19. After a night of prayer in the hills, Jesus had summoned his disciples and chosen an inner circle. Then he came down with them and stood on a level place. "The sea" is the setting in Mark, and "the mountain" in Matthew 5:1. Surrounded by the twelve, the larger company of his followers, and a multitude of people representative of the entire nation, he healed the sick and then "lifted up his eyes on his disciples" and spoke to them.
It is clear that some common source underlies Luke's "Sermon on the Plain" (6:20b-49) and Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount" (Matthew 5:3-7:27). Both discourses begin with beatitudes. Both have sections, in the same relative order, on love for one's enemies and on passing judgment. Both have the parable of the healthy and the diseased trees. And both end with the parable of the two houses. Only three of the thirty verses in Luke's sermon (6:39, 40, 45a, 45b) appear in other contexts in Matthew, and only six and one half are missing altogether (6:24-26, 27b, 28a, 34, 35a, 37b, 38a). On the other hand, of the much longer sermon in Matthew (107 verses), one quarter (27 verses) is paralleled in Luke's version, slightly more than one third (37 verses) can be found in various other Lukan contexts, and the larger part (43 verses) is peculiar to the First Gospel. The most probable solution of the literary problem involved is that Luke took over the sermon much as it stood in Q, and that Matthew expanded it. Luke's sermon consists of (a) introductory blessings and woes (vss. 20-26); (b) ethical legislation (vss. 27-45); and (c) concluding parable (vss. 46-49). In the central section of the Sermon on the Mount Matthew stresses the superiority of the new righteousness to the teaching of the scribes (Matthew 5:17-48) and to the practice of the Pharisees (Matthew 6:1-18), but no Jewish foils are used for the legislation in Luke. Although Luke presupposes a crowd of auditors in the background (7:1), Jesus' words were directed in the first instance to his disciples--the larger company referred to in 6:13, 17. (See also Vol. VII, pp. 155-64, 278-79.)
3. THE BEATITUDES (6:20-23=Matthew 5:3-6, 11-12)
The beatitudes in Luke are four in number, are addressed in the second person to the disciples, and emphasize the reversal of values that will take place in the age to come, whereas Matthew's are nine, refer--except in the last instance--to the faithful in general, and stress the spiritual and moral qualities that characterize those who will enter the kingdom of heaven. Luke's version looks the more primitive.
20. There may be a reminiscence of this beatitude in Jas. 2:5. It has often been pointed out that the Hebrew word for "poor" (!yyn[) had come in late Judaism (Pss. 9:12; 35:10; etc.) to mean "saintly" or "pious," and that Jesus may have used an Aramaic original of our Greek in some such sense. This interpretation has the doubtful merit of harmonizing Luke's first beatitude with Matthew's but the antithesis in vs. 24 shows that Luke had in mind those who were poor in money and possessions. Jesus elsewhere asserts that riches constitute an almost insuperable barrier to the kingdom of God (18:24-25: Mark 10:23, 25).
21. Luke's second and third beatitudes have also been "spiritualized" in Matthew's version. For hunger now there is "hunger and thirst for righteousness," and for weep now and laugh, "mourn" and "be comforted."
22-23. Exclude you, i.e., from the synagogue. Cast out your name as evil is probably a Semitism meaning "issue an evil report about you" (cf. Jas. 2:7; I Pet. 4:14). This beatitude may not have been original with Jesus. Its references to hatred, excommunication, reproach, and slander appear to imply forms of persecution experienced by the early church, and their fathers is a phrase that reflects a sense of alienation from the Jewish community.
4. THE WOES (6:24-26)
24-26. The woes have no parallel in Matthew and are exact antitheses to the preceding beatitudes. Men who find complete satisfaction in this world's goods will be excluded from God's kingdom. People who are content to satisfy only their physical needs in the present age will experience a time when God will send "a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD" (Amos 8:11). Concentration on the pleasures of this life will lead to deep distress when the new age dawns: "My servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry for sorrow of heart, and shall howl for vexation of spirit" (Isa. 65:14). Flattery in ancient times was the reward of false prophets, and universal acclaim should therefore lull no man into a sense of complacency.
5. THE LAW OF Love (6:27-35=Matthew 5:39-47)
27-28. Does vs. 27a imply a return to the source after a rhetorical apostrophe? Love your enemies is not a sentiment. It is a strategy to combat attitude, utterance, and act. Abuse (RSV) in the sense of "mistreat" (cf. KJV).
29-30. A separate section in Matthew, where it illustrates the principle of non-resistance to evil. The second singular imperative--in contrast to the second plural of the preceding and following verses--also points to some editorial rearrangement on Luke's part. Cloak was the outer garment and coat the undergarment or "tunic." Vs. 29b appears to postulate an act of robbery, while Matthew's version--where the garments are mentioned in reverse order--implies a dispute before a magistrate. Matthew's parallel to vs. 30 enjoins a readiness to give and to lend. This may be primitive, for 30b appears to reproduce the thought of 29b.
31. In a different context and relative order in Matthew's sermon (Matthew 7:12). Luke omits the statement that "the Golden Rule" is the quintessence of Scripture. A non-Jew once offered to become a proselyte if Hillel (ca. 20 B.C.) could teach him the law while he stood on one leg. The rabbi said to him: "What you do not like, do not to your neighbor. That is the entire law, and all the rest is commentary" (Shabbath 31a). A negative version of the maxim is also credited to Confucius in the Analects (V. 11; XII. 2; XV. 23), the Great Learning (X. 2), the Li Ki (XXVIII. 1), and the Doctrine of the Steadfast Mean (XIII. 3).
32-34. Three examples show that mere reciprocity is not an adequate ethic for Jesus' followers. Credit, i.e., "in the sight of God." Sinners (vs. 32) is a generalization of Matthew's "tax collectors." Vs. 34 intrudes the motif of lending that had been omitted in the parallel to Matthew 5:42 (vs. 30)--another indication that Luke has reworked his material. From whom you hope to receive, i.e., "who will repay."
35. Expecting nothing in return (RSV) is a translation that is based on the rendering in the Vulg. This is the only occurrence in the N.T. of the verb that is involved. Elsewhere it always means "despairing." Hence Goodspeed: "never despairing." The RSV mg. translates a variant that is found in some MSS: "despairing of no man." The medieval church interpreted the phrase as prohibiting the collection of interest on loans. Vs. 35b looks like a prosaic abbreviation of the saying in Matthew 5:45 (the sun and the rain). Jesus' ethic is not based on any calculation that it will convert enemies into friends or overcome evil with good (contrast Paul's teaching in Rom. 12:20-21). It is an imitation of God's generosity.
6. THE LAW OF MERCY (6:36-45; cf. Matthew 5:48; 7:1-5; 15:14; 10:24-25; 7:16-20; 12:33-35)
36. A new theme, to which a variety of somewhat refractory didactic matter has been subordinated. Matthew reads "perfect" instead of merciful; there the verse concludes the preceding section on the law of love.
37. Connected with the foregoing in most Greek MSS by the conjunction "and." The passive construction in late Jewish literature is sometimes a device for avoiding the use of the divine name, and so most interpreters understand it in this sequence. Judge not "that God may not judge you," etc. More probably the sayings are bits of practical Jewish wisdom, comparable to much in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus (cf. Goodspeed: "Do not judge others, and they will not judge you").
38. The metaphor is borrowed from the grain trade. Read with Goodspeed "they will pour" (cf. KJV) rather than with the RSV. Lap is perhaps the best that can be done with a word that means a large pocket or fold that overlaps a girdle on a garment. Also used metaphorically in Isa. 65:6-7; Ps. 79:12; etc. The proverb in 38b has a different application in Mark 4:24b.
39. The disastrous consequences of judgment for both the judge and the object of his criticism. Matthew used the proverb to criticize the leadership of the Pharisees (Matthew 15:14; cf. also Matthew 23:16).
40. An obscure saying in its Lukan context. Are blind guides compared to teachers who cannot impart more to their pupils than they themselves know? Matthew adds his version to the account of the mission of the twelve (Matthew 10:24-25), where it means that no disciple can expect a better fate than his master's.
41-42. These verses follow immediately upon the prohibition of judgment in Matthew's Gospel. Any useful criticism must begin with self-examination and reform. The speck (RSV) and the beam (KJV), the gnat and the camel (Matthew 23:24), and the camel and the needle's eye (18:25; Mark 10:25) are hyperboles in Jesus' teaching that reveal a gentle touch of humor.
43-45. The conjunction for links the parable with vss. 41-42. A transposition of the clauses in vs. 43 would have made for a better connection. A bad man cannot utter a good precept. In Matthew's Sermon on the Mount, the sayings (Matthew 7:16-18) enforce the warning against false prophets. Vs. 45 has a parallel only in another Matthaean version (Matthew 12:33-35). Heart in Semitic anatomy was the seat of the intellect. In view of the final clause of the generalization, produces good must mean "utters good words," but Luke's context justifies a wider reference: Character makes the man!
7. PARABLE OF THE Two HOUSES (6:46-49=Matthew 7:21, 24-27)
46. A saying that is pregnant with pathos in Luke's version, but impersonal in Matthew's. Lord originally meant no more than "sir" or "master," but would be filled with much richer content by readers of the Gospel. All MSS support the double form of address.
47-49. The one house had a foundation upon rock, the other was built ... on the ground, and the disaster was due to a flooded river. More typically Palestinian topography and climate are reflected in Matthew's version, where one house was built on rock and the other on sand, and the disaster was caused by the impact of winter storms. Luke may have edited the original to stress the importance of good construction rather than the selection of a good site. Because it had been well built is the better attested reading. A similar parable has been preserved in rabbinical tradition: "To whom can we compare a man who has studied diligently in the Law and has many good works? To a man who has laid a foundation of stones and built upon them with unbaked bricks. Even if great floods come and wash against them, the stones will not be dislodged. And to whom can we compare a man who has studied the Law but has no good works? To a man who has built first with bricks and then with stones. Even a little water will cause the stones to tumble at once" (Aboth R. Nathan 24).

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