Sermon on the Plain

by Pat Lee

(Based on Luke 6:39-49)

Today Jesus continues his teaching in the Sermon on the Plain, telling us about judging others and using parables as examples of the kinds of things that we need to avoid.
Matthew Henry, theologian, calls these parables “Sentences like Solomon’s proverbs”. Other commentaries on these verses endorse this, calling them ‘wise sayings’.
In the commentary A Plain Account1, the writer says, “There are four short sayings here and each is a kind of ‘wisdom saying’. The analogies themselves are straightforward and easy to understand. V40 – good and bad teachers (be careful who you follow); v41-42 – good and bad judgement (be careful to recognize your own faults first); v43-45 – on good and bad hearts  (be careful to develop your inward character); v48-49 – on good and bad foundations (be careful to protect yourself from trial by acting on Jesus’ words).

“Notice that v46-47 are not an analogy. … These two verses reveal the theme for Luke’s conclusion to the Sermon on the Plain. Jesus asks the question, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.” If these words bring to mind the judgment scene of Matthew 25:31-46, it’s because the concern of Matthew and Luke in the Sermon on the Plain are closely related.”

The two verses that precede today’s reading help set the scene. Jesus gives us a stern warning. It comes in the last part of v37, followed by v38: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.” Then comes the crunch. “… for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” These words could be a little daunting, but, if the following guidelines are observed, then we should have no problems.

Back to the four analogies. First, v40, on good and bad teachers. As a teacher, I know the  importance  for children to have a good teacher. On more than one occasion I had to pick up the pieces for the children who had had bad experiences. Some of these kids had gone backwards rather than forwards.
In every walk of life people need to be given good guidance. Have you ever given advice to someone without knowing all their circumstances? I must confess that I have, and I’ve been on the receiving end of bad advice as well. So, we need to be careful about the advice we give, but also about who is giving us advice. We all need advice from time to time, but is the person who giving it actually the right one? How often have you heard someone say, “My advice to you is….”, and it has turned out to be the wrong advice?

Second, v41-42, on good and bad judgement. Isn’t it easy to see the speck in another’s eye, but not see the plank in our own? When I first became a Christian, things were not good in my marriage at the time, but changed dramatically when Michael gave his heart to the Lord, some months later. Till then, my life had changed but Michael’s hadn’t, and he kept finding fault with everything I did. A Christian friend who was staying with us at the time said something I have never forgotten. He told me that Michael could see problems that he thought I had because they were actually the problems that he had, and, this friend, as an outsider, could see both of us. I think that is a very important truth. It is our own problems that we tend to see in another person, but can’t see them in ourselves.
So, be careful to recognize your own faults first.

Third, v43-45, on good and bad hearts. Be careful to develop your inward character. If we read St Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we will find a list of the ‘bad’ fruit. Things like jealousy, drunkenness, dissensions, and strife, but there are others not mentioned in the list like lying, cheating, stealing, pride, overwhelming desire for power, murder, and so on. We  need only to look around and see what is happening in our world today. Our news on TV at night is full of examples of people who exhibit bad fruit, and our prisons are overflowing because of it.
But, in Galatians 5:22, we read this: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These are the ‘good’ fruit we need in our lives. As Luke 6 v45 says, “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil, for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.” These are the inward characteristics we need to develop. So, we need to guard our mouths lest they betray  what is really in our hearts.

Fourth, v48-49, on good and bad foundations. (Be careful to protect yourself from trial by acting on Jesus words). As a child, I remember singing the song, The wise man built his house upon the rock, with actions, but I didn’t have the foggiest idea what it meant. However, I have come to understand that the foundation we need to build on is Jesus. He is ‘the Rock’;  he is also the corner stone, and for some, he is a stumbling block. When we build on ‘the  rock’ foundation, we can be assured that we are on solid ground and no matter what happens – and the floods will definitely happen – we will stand firm. Our faith will hold.
Some of us have been, and are going through some pretty awful trials in our lives. Our faith may be shaken for a time but it will bring us through because Jesus, ‘the Rock’, is what we found ourselves on.

In Resources for Preaching on the Parables of Jesus, William Powell Tuck says, “Jesus himself is the foundation on which life is built. Jesus had just delivered the Sermon on the Mount [referring to Matthew’s Gospel – today’s reading comes from Luke’s ‘Sermon on the Plain’]. He had presented his chief teachings, and then he declared that the foundation that undergirded life was his teachings and his way of life. Jesus was declaring, ‘I am the foundation upon which life is built.'”

Further on in Luke (11:27, 28), Jesus addresses a crowd and it says, “A woman called out, ‘Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.’ He replied, ‘Blessed  rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.'” This echoes v46-47, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.”
The writer of the commentary in A Plain Account suggests that, “These two verses should precede all four of our comparison analogies.” So, I stress, Jesus urges, whoever “hears my words, and acts on them …” Some versions use the word ‘obey’ instead of ‘acts’. Some people don’t like the word obey, because it seems to take away our free wills, our ability to choose for ourselves. Does it really? Or does it instead give us the security we need in our lives?  Look what happened to Adam and Eve when they disobeyed in the Garden of Eden. They lost their freedom and became enslaved to the power of sin.

When we obey (act on) Jesus’s words, we are on the way to living a Christ-like life. The word ‘obey’ and its extensions are used over seventy times in the Bible, so we need to take heed.

Are we willing to act on Jesus’s words?   


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