True love, tough love (2/13/22)

By March 6, 2022Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

True love, tough love, by the Rev. Joel K. Boyd

Edited & formatted for publication by J. E. Tucker, MPH




The Gospel According to Luke 6:17-26 (NRSV)1


17He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. 20Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”


In today’s passage from the Gospel [According to] Luke, we witness the beginning of what has often been referred to as Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain or the plateau. Much like the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s [gospel] (Matt. 5-7), Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain includes teaching among crowds and disciples. While the Sermon on the Mount is quite vast, covering three whole chapters in Matthew’s [gospel], Luke’s Sermon on the Plain appears in just twenty-nine verses. In both cases, the sick were healed by Jesus. But it is interesting to note that where [the Matthean author] shows Jesus teaching among the crowd and his disciples, Luke’s [author] shows Jesus teaching among the crowd to the disciples.

Why would that be different? we wonder. Well, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the four Gospels were written to different audiences.2–5 Perhaps the authors felt it important to stress certain aspects of the good news over others. Not to suggest they were of less value, but because they stood out as something to highlight when engaging one group of people over another. Truth does not change, but the way we say it might. Have you ever tried to tell the same story to two different kinds of people? Then you know what I mean.

Biblical scholars have long studied the intended audiences and purposes of the Gospels. And while they may not always agree, it helps shed some light on our topic today to keep their observations in mind.

Scholars believe that the Gospel of Luke is the first component of a two-part work with the Book of Acts being the second.6,7 Luke is believed to have been written to engage Gentile Christians living in an urban area.8 Its purpose: to challenge and enable believers to be more devoted to the faith, especially its growth among the marginalized.

Where [the Lukan gospel] is intended for a Gentile Christian audience, Matthew’s is believed to have been written primarily for Jewish Christians,[a] though not exclusively.9,10 It is thought that Matthew’s purpose was to teach a church committed to mission among all people but [which had] internal divisions over Jewish [vs.] Gentile Christianity and [faced] external persecution.

In the passage from the Sermon on the Plain we have today, we witness the inclusion of four beatitudes. Though like those found in Matthew (who lists more than twice as many), Luke’s beatitudes conclude with something quite different: woes. That’s right, woes.

Again, let’s remember that Jesus specifically addresses these words towards his disciples and not to everyone there. So, looking directly at his disciples, he teaches both these beatitudes and these woes. Before we think these were his longtime buddies or childhood friends, we should keep in mind that it was only a few verses prior that Jesus named the Twelve.

While there had been more disciples added over time (yet not much time), Jesus had only just chosen his Twelve Apostles. Luke shows how the apostles, being part of the crowd of his disciples, accompanied Jesus as he healed a great many people from all over. And yet, at the moment of speaking the words of blessing, the beatitudes, he looks at his disciples. He doesn’t look at everyone in the crowd—though we might guess they could hear at least some of what He was saying. Jesus doesn’t even look at his apostles—the Twelve who had only just recently been singled out for their special roles in Jesus’ ministry. No, as curious as it may be to us, Jesus did not direct these beatitudes at everybody, nor did he direct them at only his select few of the faith. What Jesus did was to speak to all his disciples.

Friends, it can, of course, be quite easy to make more of something than there is there. But when it comes to the Gospel, God has a way of inviting us into every detail in every corner of the good news. Each one sparkles with teachings and opportunities to be drawn into God’s word. So, let’s accept that invitation here in our passage from Luke’s [gospel].

Picture yourself there on that day, when Jesus spoke the words, heard the prayers, and healed the pain, the disease. Let’s say you’re a disciple; not part of the crowd that has gathered from all around. Maybe you’re not one of the Twelve, so what. Depending on how close you were and if you could hear all that well, you might have been a little jealous when they were selected, but then again, maybe you were a bit relieved.

So, imagine your surprise when, suddenly, Jesus looks at you and says,


“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”


You may have a moment here to think. Luke doesn’t state how quickly Jesus continues, but perhaps you have been thinking in your head as Jesus was speaking. How does he know I’m poor? Can he truly mean that I belong to God’s kingdom? How is that even possible? Or another disciple you know, just a few feet from where you stand, turns to you, and whispers, my family has had very little to eat since I’ve been gone. We’ve seen Jesus heal. Do you think he could really feed my family? Still, someone stands behind you. You can almost hear him shaking his head as Jesus speaks. Phew! He says as he folds his arms. Starting to walk away, he sneers at you, saying through his teeth, you believe this stuff? How are we blessed when someone hates us? You offer an awkward-yet-nervously-polite Yeah, well…


“But woe to you who are rich,” Jesus continues, “for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”


You quickly turn back toward Jesus as you hear the rushing footsteps of that disgruntled guy as he runs off, kicking up his dust as he goes.

Couldn’t he deal with it, that guy? He certainly seemed fine until a few minutes ago. He’d come along with your group of disciples as you followed Jesus out here. Anyway, you shake it off and get focused on Jesus, still mulling over what he had said about the blessings all those in need will receive. If he’s right, you think, and I hope he is, then the only one who could do that is God. That’s got to be it. The empire always makes things worse. Look at Herod! They tell us their truth, but it’s all just lies. They don’t care about us. God cares about us. God is the only one who could do this because God loves us like no other.

As a disciple of Jesus, we are followers of Jesus. So, it may not always be the first thing we think about to see that Jesus speaks directly to us in scripture. Sometimes we can focus so much on doing his work that we don’t hear what Jesus is saying to us as his disciples.

In Luke’s beatitudes and woes, we see two sides of the same theological coin. Speaking to his disciples in need directly, Jesus encourages them by teaching that God’s truth is the most real for them, as it is for all of God’s people. Jesus teaches that those who are impoverished, hungry, and full of sorrow, will see their needs met in God’s Kingdom. You see, God does not give, does not love as the world loves. The world gives to any who can afford it, too often to those who don’t need it. It loves only those who buy into its myths, its cultural liturgies. The world also loves only when you can perform to its expectations. As soon as you falter, you’re on the outs. But with God, it’s an entirely different story; practically the opposite. God loves us for who we are; God made us in God’s image after all. God calls us all to share our unique talents, and so God is glorified in our living out our many, diverse calls. God loves us so much that God wants to be with us. This was the case in the Garden [of Eden], and was the case with all the covenants, kings, prophets, and faithful people of Hebrew scripture. And still, while you would think that anyone or anything would just write us off because we’re not useful to them, God persists in love for us, and Jesus became incarnate by the Holy Spirit to dwell among us. While the world leaves us, God always comes to us.

So, God’s love is true. God’s love is lasting. The world’s is false and is fleeting. But true love doesn’t always mean it’s easy.

Still speaking to you, as that contemplative disciple in the crowd, Jesus tells you, firmly, of the harsh, flipside of the coin. While on one side there is a great blessing for those who are marginalized, on the other side there is great woe for those who have all they could ever want yet still oppress others.

What should we expect of all which is false, a lie, a sham? How could any of it possibly lead us where we should go, where God calls us to go? Indeed, these woes may sound harsh, and they may be harsh. But the only way to overturn a lie is with the truth. And the only way to fully bring the truth out is with love. God shares these tough words of woe out of love for us, not out of a need to scare us or to make us feel bad. If God wanted to, God could easily do so, right? So, here we have tough love from our true God.

It may not be the Valentine’s Day present you wanted, but you can be sure, it’s the one that will always last.

So why would Jesus say these words to us as opposed to the whole crowd? Maybe for Luke, it was more important to highlight, given that Gentile Christians would not have considered themselves as being on the inside, not nearly in the way that most of Matthew’s Jewish Christians would have, anyway. Kind of interesting, isn’t it? Here in Luke, it’s almost as if we already see ourselves included among those in the kingdom. We’ve all been invited to the party. Jesus is so happy to see us there that he’s handed out Valentines, just for you. Then he, quick, tosses over some of those candy hearts to you. Like flipping a coin, you read the back: Be Mine.



  1. Society of Biblical Literature. The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised & Updated. (Meeks WA, Bassler JM, Lemke W, Niditch S, Schuller E, Attridge HW, eds.). HarperCollins; 2006.
  2. Collins AY. Mark and His Readers: The Son of God among Jews. Harvard Theological Review. 1999;92(4):393-408. doi:10.1017/S0017816000017740
  3. Luz U. Matthew 1-7: A Commentary. (Koester H, ed.). Fortress Press; 2007.
  4. Méndez H. Did the Johannine Community Exist? Journal for the Study of the New Testament. 2020;42(3):350-374. doi:10.1177/0142064X19890490
  5. Levine AJ. Luke and the Jewish Religion. Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology. 2014;68(4):389-402. doi:10.1177/0020964314540107
  6. Bird MF. The Unity of Luke-Acts in Recent Discussion. Journal for the Study of the New Testament. 2007;29(4):425-448.
  7. Gregory A. The Reception of Luke and Acts and the Unity of Luke–Acts. Journal for the Study of the New Testament. 2007;29(4):459-472.
  8. Smith DA. The Jewishness of Luke–Acts: Locating Lukan Christianity Amidst the parting of the Ways. The Journal of Theological Studies. Published online November 6, 2021. doi:10.1093/jts/flab068
  9. Conway-Jones A. The New Testament: Jewish or Gentile? The Expository Times. 2019;130(6):237-242. doi:10.1177/0014524618812672
  10. Ehrman B. The Jewish Emphases of Matthew’s Gospel: Part 3. The Bart Ehrman Blog: The History & Literature of Early Christianity. Published online June 13, 2013.
  11. Fredriksen P. When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation. Yale University Press; 2019.


[a] For a great introduction to Jewish Christianity, I suggest Paula Fredriksen’s When Christians Were Jews.11