Sunday, February 6, 2022

Reality and Ideality

Note: I continue to have some trouble responding to your comments. Please know that I am reading them and am working on the problem, although I admit it is not a project that is on my front burner. Thanks for bearing with my comment silence. 

Below is a rough translation and way too many preliminary comments over Luke 6:17-26, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the sixth Sunday after the Epiphany of Year C. 

I see Jesus’ words here as bringing together reality and ideality. I tend to hear references to “heaven” less as spatial references and more like platonic ideals. The dissonance between heaven and earth is the difference between the is and the ought, life as we know it and life as it is intended to be. I will say a little more about how I think the complexity of this text is important below.

17Καὶ καταβὰς μετ' αὐτῶν ἔστη ἐπὶ τόπου πεδινοῦ, καὶ ὄχλος πολὺς μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ, καὶ πλῆθος πολὺ τοῦ λαοῦ ἀπὸ πάσης τῆς Ἰουδαίας καὶ Ἰερουσαλὴμ καὶ τῆς παραλίου Τύρου καὶ Σιδῶνος, 
And having come down with them he stood on a level place, and a large crowd of his disciples, and a large plethora of the people from all of Judea and Jerusalem and the coast of Tyre and Sidon
καταβὰς: AAPart nsm, καταβαίνω1) to go down, come down, descend 
ἔστη: AAI 3s, ἵστημι,1) to cause or make to stand, to place, put, set 1a) to bid to stand by 
1. Luke seems to be aiming for “lots of all kinds” – as my children used to say. The twice-used adjective “large” (πολὺς/πολὺ) might not seem necessary to describe “crowd” (ὄχλος), or with the people (λαοῦ) from four different areas – Judea, the region south of Galilee and Samaria; Jerusalem, the principle city in Judea, and Tyre and Sidon, which are way up north of Galilee in what is now Lebanon.  Just as a point of reference, it is over 300 miles from Jerusalem to Sidon. Luke does “immense popularity” well.
2. What Luke may not do quite so well is geography. For example, in c.4 Jesus is in the region of Galilee. In c.5 Jesus is standing by the Sea of Galilee preaching. But, the last verse of c.4 says, “So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.” A jaunt around Judea would take Jesus a long way away. One gets the impression that Luke is not terribly familiar with the landscape of Israel. I would take the specific references with a grain of salt and see that the point is that Jesus is quite popular among many types of people. 

18οἳ ἦλθον ἀκοῦσαιαὐτοῦ καὶ ἰαθῆναιἀπὸ τῶν νόσων αὐτῶν: καὶ οἱ ἐνοχλούμενοιἀπὸ πνευμάτων ἀκαθάρτων ἐθεραπεύοντο
who came to hear and to be healed from their diseases; and those who were disturbed by unclean spirits were being restored. 
ἦλθον: AAI 3s, ἔρχομαι,1) to come  
ἀκοῦσαι: AAInf, ἀκούω,1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf
ἰαθῆναι: APInf, ἰάομαι,1) to cure, heal  2) to make whole 
ἐνοχλούμενοι: PPPart npm, ἐνοχλέω,1) to excite, disturbance, to trouble, annoy
ἐθεραπεύοντο: IPI 3p, θεραπεύω,1) to serve, do service 2) to heal, cure, restore to health 
1. These two verses are difficult to translate because there are multiple subjects. In the nominative case – which usually shows the subject – are “a large crowd (of disciples), and a large plethora of the people from v.17. Then, v. 18 begins with a reflexive pronoun οἳ , which I usually translate as ... who .... But, with multiple subjects, to which subject is the 'who' referring? I suppose the right answer would be "lots of all kinds." Some came to hear, some also came to be healed or restored. 
2. The meaning, though, is rather clear – in addition to teaching, Jesus was able to grant relief to people who were vexed by disease or unclean spirits.   

19καὶ πᾶς ὁ ὄχλος ἐζήτουν ἅπτεσθαι αὐτοῦ, ὅτι δύναμις παρ' αὐτοῦ ἐξήρχετο καὶ ἰᾶτο πάντας. 
And all the crowd were seeking to latch onto him, because power was going out and was restoring all of them. 
ἐζήτουν: IAI 3p, ζητέω,1) to seek in order to find 
ἅπτεσθαι: PMInf, ἅπτω,1) to fasten to, adhere to  
ἐξήρχετο: IMI 3p, ἐξέρχομαι,1) to go or come forth of 
ἰᾶτο: IMI 3s, ἰάομαι,1) to cure, heal  2) to make whole  2a) to free from errors and sins, to bring about (one's) salvation 
1. The infinitive verb ἅπτεσθαι can certainly be translated “touch” as most translations show. But, it has a connective quality to it, like a flame lighting a candle. It is the term that a Pharisee uses to criticize Jesus since a sinful woman is washing his feet. Somehow “touching” alone doesn’t capture the fullness of her actions. We might say today that they wanted to "connect" with Jesus, which seems to have a more enduring quality than to "touch." Screaming crowds may have wanted to touch the Beatles as they hastened by, but this moment involved more of a transfer of enabling power. 
2. This notion that power “goes out from” Jesus is a curious phrase. We find it in the story of the woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years, (Mk 5:25-34; Mt 9:20-22; and Lk 8:43-48). Luke has Jesus saying that the power had gone out of him when asking who touched him. Mark has the narrator saying that power had gone out of him. And Matthew shortens the story a lot, with not mention of a transfer of power. It seems curious because in that healing story, it is almost as if Jesus has no will in the matter, that it happened without his intention. That may be the way to read this comment as well - by virtue of touching Jesus, people were healed or liberated from demonic oppression. I must confess, that is a very magical description of Jesus' work that is a bit hard for progressive types like me to accept in stride. 
3. The verb ἐξήρχετο (going out) can be translated “departed,” as it is in 5:8 (“Depart from me), which would give even a stronger sense of Luke treating Jesus’ power almost as a definable entity that can enter and leave, much like evil spirits. 

20Καὶ αὐτὸς ἐπάρας τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς αὐτοῦ εἰς τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ ἔλεγεν, Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοί, ὅτι ὑμετέρα ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. 
And having lifted his eyes to his disciples he said, Blessed the poor, because yours is the reign of God. 
ἐπάρας: AAPart nsm, ἐπαίρω,1) to lift up, raise up, raise on high 
ἔλεγεν: IAI 3s, λέγω,1) to say, to speak
ἐστὶν: PAI 3s, εἰμί,1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
1. Speaking of multiple subjects, the ones to whom Jesus is speaking now are "his disciples." Do we interpret that in a small way, that the earlier teaching and healings were to the large crowds, but now this teaching is for the smaller group who have left everything to follow him? Or, are all the folks who have come seeking him now "disciples" in the sense that they are now receiving his teaching? I think the elasticity of the word "disciples" is an ongoing interpretive challenge in the Scriptures. Here, however, I think the larger view is clearly Luke's intent. He makes reference in v.17 to, "a large crowd of his disciples," and after this teaching he says in 7:1, "After he finished all of these sayings in the hearing of the people ..." 
2. There is no verb in the clause, “Blessed the poor.” For the sake of readability some translations add the verb “are.” And, since the latter part of this verse is directed toward the second person plural, some translations make it “you who are poor.”  
3. To complicate matters, I am getting conflicting information from and One of them lists the verb οἱ πτωχοί, as well as participles πεινῶντες and κλαίοντες in the next verse, as in the vocative voice, the other as in the nominative voice. The distinction is often a judgment call rather than identifiable visually, I think (I am a little rusty on this). If one reads them as the vocative voice, as I do, it is another reason for translations like “you who are poor” as opposed to simply “the poor.” 
4. The word Jesus uses, typically translated as “Blessed,” is Μακάριοι. Hence, these blessings are often called makarisms. K.C. Hanson has an article that is primarily about Matthew’s makarisms in c.5 and reproaches (woes) in c.6, but still worth the effort of reading with regard to Luke’s presentation. Among other things, Hanson argues that the Hebrew ashrê and the Greek makarios do not refer to ritual “blessings,” as if they confer anything as a pronouncement that charm or curse someone, but are more like value judgments. Nor, he argues, should they be translated to mean “happy.” In Matthew, Hansen argues that the makarisms/woes set out the parameters of honor and shame within which Jesus’ public teachings flow. Instead of “blessed” or “happy,” Hanson offers “How honorable!” See
5. The verb ἐστὶν in the 2ndpart of the pronouncement is in the present tense, “Yours is the reign of God.” That will be different from what follows.  

21μακάριοι οἱ πεινῶντες νῦν, ὅτι χορτασθήσεσθε. μακάριοιοἱ κλαίοντες νῦν, ὅτι γελάσετε
Blessed you who hunger now, because you will be fed. Blessed you who weep now, because you will laugh. 
πεινῶντες: PAPart vpn, πεινάω,1) to hunger, be hungry 1a) to suffer want  1b) to be needy  2) metaph. to crave ardently, to seek with eager desire 
χορτασθήσεσθε: FPI 2p, χορτάζω,1) to feed with herbs, grass, hay, to fill, satisfy with food 
κλαίοντες: PAPart vpn, κλαίω,1) to mourn, weep, lament 
γελάσετε: FAI 2p, γελάω,1) to laugh 
1. In these two statements, Luke introduces a temporal distinction through the word νῦν (now) and the future tense of the verbs χορτασθήσεσθε (will be fed) and γελάσετε (will laugh). While the reign of God may belong to the poor, there is recognition that fullness and laughter are not present realities for many.
2. The fact that χορτασθήσεσθε (will be fed) is in the passive voice implies that God, or whatever power is behind these pronouncements, is the active agent at work here. It does not say, “for you shall seize your share one day” or something like that. I am not implying that Jesus expects the hungry to sit idly by and wait for something great to happen. My point is that the implication is that however this day of rectification happens, God is at work in it. 
3.The verb χορτάζω (will be fed) here is different from the participle ἐμπεπλησμένοι (have your full) in v.25. 

22μακάριοί ἐστε ὅταν μισήσωσιν ὑμᾶς οἱ ἄνθρωποι, καὶ ὅταν ἀφορίσωσιν ὑμᾶς καὶ ὀνειδίσωσιν καὶ ἐκβάλωσιν τὸ ὄνομα ὑμῶν ὡς πονηρὸν ἕνεκα τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου: 
Blessed are you when people may hate you, and when they may exclude you and may revile you and may throw out your name as evil on account of the son of man. 
ἐστε: PAI 2p, εἰμί,1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
μισήσωσιν: AASubj 3p, μισέω,1) to hate, pursue with hatred, detest  
ἀφορίσωσιν: AASubj 3p, ἀφορίζω,1) to mark off from others by boundaries, to limit, to separate  1a) in a bad sense: to exclude as disreputable 
ὀνειδίσωσιν: AASubj, ὀνειδίζω,1) to reproach, upbraid, revile 
ἐκβάλωσιν: AASubj 3p, ἐκβάλλω,1) to cast out, drive out, to send out 
1. Now the conditions are neither present (yours is the reign of God) as in v.20, nor “now” with future tense as in v.21. The verbs here are subjunctive, which means they are conditional. I try to make that very plain by using the word “may” but really the condition that the subjunctive mood introduces is already present with “when people hate” and so forth.
2. The language of “throw out your name as evil” should be jolting. It uses the verb ἐκβάλλω, which we see often in the gospels. In Luke, it is the verb used to describe the people of Nazareth throwing Jesus out of the city. More pointedly, it is typically the verb used to speak of “casting out devils.” That seems to me to be the implication of this verse, that Jesus’ followers – or at least their name - will be treated as evil spirits. Since the power to cast out evil spirits is one sign of the reign of God at hand, this could point to a serious challenge of legitimacy that Jesus’ followers would face within the faith community. It reminds us that more than once Jesus was accused of being in league with devils. 
3. It is certainly possible that Luke is employing this set of makarisms to address the ongoing, real experience of the Theophilus community. 
4. Jesus uses the 3rdperson “son of man” title to refer to himself several times throughout Luke, as well as in Mark and Matthew. I’m never sure if by capitalizing it we are damaging its meaning. If the purpose is to humanize and humble Jesus, wouldn’t making this a title seem to undo that to some extent? 

23χάρητε ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ καὶ σκιρτήσατεἰδοὺ γὰρ ὁ μισθὸς ὑμῶν πολὺς ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ: κατὰ τὰ αὐτὰ γὰρ ἐποίουν τοῖς προφήταις οἱ πατέρες αὐτῶν. 
Rejoice in that day and leap, for behold your reward great in the heavens; for according to the same their fathers were doing to the prophets. 
χάρητε: APImpv 2p, χαίρω, 1) to rejoice, be glad
σκιρτήσατε: AAImpv 2p, σκιρτάω,1) to leap 
ἰδοὺ: imperative of aorist, middle of εἶδον (to see), a particle serving to call attention
ἐποίουν: IAI 3p, ποιέω,1) to make  
1. “Leap!” The verb is only used in Luke – here and with reference to the fetus John the Baptist leaping for joy when Elizabeth is greeted by Mary. From Elizabeth’s perspective, “breakdance” might work. 
2. The difference between one’s name being cast out as evil on earth and one’s reward being great in the heavens can be one example of the dissonance that one prays to be overcome in the Lord’s Prayer by petitioning, "May your reign come." (11:2). 
3. To critique the fathers is quite a claim in a culture that values heritage. Jesus makes reference to “your fathers” again in a strong diatribe in 11:45-52, which also speaks of the fathers’ treatment of the prophets.  

24 Πλὴν οὐαὶ ὑμῖν τοῖς πλουσίοις, ὅτι ἀπέχετε τὴν παράκλησιν ὑμῶν.
Moreover, woe to you the rich, because you have your consolation. 
ἀπέχετε: PAI 2p, ἀπέχω,1) have 1a) to hold back, keep off, prevent 
1. The definition offers for Πλὴνis ("moreover") is that it can be used adverbially, “at the beginning of a sentence, serving either to restrict, or to unfold and expand what has preceded: moreover, besides, so that, according to the requirements of the context, it may also be rendered but, nevertheless.” I could see how "moreover" or "conversely" would both work here. 
2. I’m sure it will be tempting to mesh Luke’s use of παράκλησιν with John’s use in John 14. But, I’m not sure if that’s entirely legitimate. The difference is between the “comforter” and the “comfort.” Luke’s only other use of in this form is in 2:25, when Simeon was awaiting the “consolation of Israel.” 
3. It seems that the effect that the rich can expect is a lack of hope. Perhaps it is the despair of knowing that what they have now is as good as it gets. Maybe?  

25οὐαὶ ὑμῖν, οἱ ἐμπεπλησμένοι νῦν, ὅτι πεινάσετε. οὐαί, οἱ γελῶντες νῦν, ὅτι πενθήσετε καὶ κλαύσετε.
Woe to you, who have your full now, because you shall hunger. Woe to the ones who laugh now, because you shall mourn and weep. 
ἐμπεπλησμένοι: PerfPPart, vpn, ἐμπίπλημι, to fill in, make full. Passive to be filled (as with food).
πεινάσετε: FAI 2p, πεινάω,1) to hunger, be hungry 
γελῶντες: PAPart vpn, γελάω,1) to laugh
πενθήσετε: FAI 2p, πενθέω,1) to mourn κλαύσετε: FAI 2p, κλαίω,1) to mourn, weep, lament 
1. The participle ἐμπεπλησμένοι (have your full) here is different from the verb χορτάζω (will be fed) in v.21. Perhaps the point is to describe profligacy, rather than simply eating. 

 26οὐαὶ ὅταν ὑμᾶς καλῶς εἴπωσιν πάντες οἱ ἄνθρωποι, κατὰ τὰ αὐτὰ γὰρ ἐποίουν τοῖς ψευδοπροφήταις οἱ πατέρες αὐτῶν.
Woe when all the people speak well of you, for according to those things their fathers did to the false prophets. 
εἴπωσιν: AASubj 3p, λέγω,1) to say, to speak 
ἐποίουν: IAI 3p, ποιέω,1) to make  

Within these makarisms and reproaches are present tense, future tense, and the subjunctive, conditional mood. Together, they point to a complex reality that one might not want to wrap up into a simplistic singular unit. Perhaps the paradoxical phrase popular in theology, “Yet but not yet,” is as close as we can get to a description. The complexity is powerful – the poor are honored, the hungry will be filled, and when they reject you, your reward will be great in heaven. There is a present and a future and a conditional element to it all, the rich complexity of which is lost if one emphasizes only one and not the others. If we only emphasize the present, we will have to “spiritualize” the blessings and woes because poverty, hunger, and oppression really do exist. If we only emphasize the future, our faith really can be an opiate of the masses, drugging them to accept their present injustice. What the subjunctive mood adds to this is that there is interplay between what is and what ought to be. Likewise, that complexity includes both the material and the spiritual, speaking of real poverty and hunger, as well as living for the sake of the son of man. What a powerful text. 

Part of the challenge of preaching this text is that Matthew's Sermon on the Mount is so familiar, that one might hear Luke say, "Blessed are you who are poor" and assume it means "poor in spirit." Likewise, "hungry" might mean "hungering for righteousness," and so forth. Biblical scholars all seem to have a strong opinion over whether these sermons were once the same sermon, interpreted over time through two different lenses, and thus developing differently and being presented by Luke and Matthew differently. Or, whether they were just two different sermons on two different occasions by the same preacher whose topics had common themes throughout all of his teachings, as all public speakers do. And while scholars have their strong opinions, I cannot see where anyone has finally identified how to adjudicate decisively between these two options.  

I tend to see them as two variations of a single sermon and I even wonder if one of them is deliberately "correcting" the other. Was Luke aware of Matthew's version, or of the oral tradition behind it, and is deliberately countering that version of the story by stressing the economics of poverty and oppression? Or, is Matthew countering Luke's version, by stressing the spiritual nature of the same? Is this a disputed "Q" sermon? Or, are they simply two different traditions, one from the M sources and one from the L? It's always a hazardous affair to saunter behind a text and make guesses. For preaching purposes, I don't think we need to pretend to be able to answer the redaction questions, but I do think it is very important to note the differences between Matthew and Luke in order to give Luke's text a fair reading. 


  1. I'm often struck by people saying "Have a blessed day." I'm tempted to respond, "Thanks, but I'd rather pass!" based on this text. I'm also reminded of the words of an old hymn - 'Fear not, I am with thee, thy troubles to bless, and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress." There's a context shift of up and down that may function to remove status, comfort and discomfort from how one is being treated or what one possesses or lacks to a sense of who one is and what one is about...

  2. 'Blessed the poor, because yours is the reign of God.' Luke has Jesus addressing the disciples. Possibly: The poor are blessed because the 'foundationing' - basileus - of God pertains to the disciples? The disciples' actions and commitments will affect the poor?


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