LUKE 6:17-49. THE SERMON ON THE PLAIN
The Sermon on the Plain (6:17-49) is Luke’s version of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The two sermons include much of the same material, but Matthew’s version is longer—and there are other variations as well. Our Gospel lesson is the last half of the Sermon on the Plain. What went before were:
• Blessings and Woes (6:20-26)
• A discourse on loving one’s enemies (6:27-36)
• The commandment, “Don’t judge” (6:37)
• A commandment with a promise: “Give, and it will be given to you” (6:38)
LUKE 6:39-49. DOING OR BEING?
The emphasis in these verses is doing rather than being—but we must be Godly people before we will truly act as Godly people. Character begets behavior (Green, 276-277).
LUKE 6:39-42. CAN THE BLIND GUIDE THE BLIND?
39He spoke a parable to them. “Can the blind guide the blind? Won’t they both fall into a pit? 40A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. 41Why do you see the speck of chaff that is in your brother’s eye, but don’t consider the beam that is in your own eye? 42Or how can you tell your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck of chaff that is in your eye,’ when you yourself don’t see the beam that is in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck of chaff that is in your brother’s eye.“
“He spoke a parable to them” (v. 39a). This is not so much a parable as a series of images—like a fast moving slide show.
• First we see a snapshot of one blind person trying to guide another blind person (v. 39b).
• Then we see a person who seems not to notice the huge log sticking out of his eye as he probes for the speck in his neighbor’s eye (vv. 41-42).
• Then we see a pair of trees, one good and one bad—and a bramble bush (vv. 43-44).
• Then we see a pair of houses—one sturdy and the other being washed away (vv. 48-49).
“Can the blind guide the blind? Won’t they both fall into a pit?” (v. 39b). These are rhetorical questions. The first expects a “No” answer and the second expects a “Yes” answer.
In Matthew’s version of this saying, Jesus is speaking of the Pharisees as blind guides (Matthew 15:12-14), but here the application is more general.
The image of one blind person guiding another belongs in a Charlie Chaplin film. We can see the two blind people headed for the pit and know what to expect—but Chaplin would find a way to surprise us as they fell. This and the log in the eye (v. 42) are examples of Jesus’ humor—exaggerated images to make a point. The unusual images function like a good sermon illustration. They help us to remember the point.
The point of this first image is that we must be careful when choosing whom to follow lest we stumble into a pit alongside our blind guide. A corollary is that we have no business trying to guide others unless we ourselves can see clearly.
This is an important message in a day when so many self-appointed gurus vie for control of our spiritual affairs, our financial affairs, our medical affairs, our romantic affairs, our family affairs—the list goes on and on. Each guru claims special wisdom, but many are pursuing a hidden agenda—often a selfish agenda. Some are financial or sexual predators. Others are idealistic but poorly informed. Many have made a shambles of their own lives but imagine that they can help others to make a success of theirs. Some are blind, but others see our vulnerabilities—see where they can take advantage. When choosing a guide—particularly a spiritual guide—it pays to be very, very careful.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (v. 40). There are parallels to this saying in Matthew 10:23-25 and John 15:20 where Jesus indicates that his disciples will be persecuted even as he is persecuted. There is another parallel in John 13:15-17, where Jesus follows the above saying with an emphasis on doing what he taught. He said, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
While verse 39 indicates that the disciple must have clearer vision than the person he/she seeks to lead, verse 40 indicates that the disciple will never rise above the teacher (Jesus). At best, the disciple will be like the teacher. That is the goal toward which the disciple should strive—being “fully trained”—being like Jesus. The acronym, WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?), comes to mind. Keeping that sort of question in the forefront of our minds can help us to become more and more like Jesus in our thoughts and actions.
“Why do you see the speck of chaff that is in your brother’s eye, but don’t consider the beam that is in your own eye? Or how can you tell your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck of chaff that is in your eye,’ when you yourself don’t see the beam that is in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck of chaff that is in your brother’s eye” (vv. 41-42; see also Matthew 7:3-5). A bit of hyperbole (exaggeration for effect)! These verses grow naturally out of what Jesus said in verse 37 about not judging or condemning. The problem with judging is that the person who sets him/herself up as a judge of another person’s imperfections is also imperfect. Like the blind leading the blind, the imperfect judging the imperfect leaves something to be desired.
Jesus, however, does not intend for us to go through life blindly accepting everything that we see or hear. He says, “By their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:20), indicating that there is such a thing as proper discernment. We are surrounded by both good and bad and need to be able to discern which is which. Problems arise, however, when our discerning turns self-righteous—when we fail to acknowledge that we, too, are sinners.
The scribes and Pharisees personify that problem. They strive to keep the law and to insure that others do so as well. That is a noble undertaking, because the law is God’s law and God prizes faithfulness to the law. However, scrupulous observance becomes a problem when it leads to spiritual pride—when scrupulous observers assume that they are good and the rest of the world is bad. That is the case with the scribes and Pharisees, and Jesus warns us that we must be careful lest we be guilty of adopting this same kind of judgmental attitude—this same kind of spiritual pride.
When we think about judgmental attitudes, religious fundamentalists (conservatives) come to mind. The more orthodox and scrupulous people are, the more prone they are to self-righteousness—to imagining that they are right and the rest of the world is wrong.
Or so we imagine! My theology tells me that we are all sinners, and my experience tells me that the left is no more immune to spiritual pride and judgmental attitudes than the right. The person who assumes that Jesus is directing his comments in verse 42 to some other person is, in fact, the person most in need of hearing Jesus’ warning in this verse.
LUKE 6:43-45. THE GOOD MAN BRINGS OUT THAT WHICH IS GOOD
43“For there is no good tree that brings forth rotten fruit; nor again a rotten tree that brings forth good fruit. 44For each tree is known by its own fruit. For people don’t gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. 45The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings out that which is good, and the evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings out that which is evil, for out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks.”
“For there is no good tree that brings forth rotten fruit; nor again a rotten tree that brings forth good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For people don’t gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush” (vv. 43-44; see also Matthew 7:16-19). A plant’s produce is the natural outgrowth of its character. A good tree bears good fruit, and a bad tree bears either bad fruit or no fruit. A fig tree bears figs, and a thorn bush bears thorns. A grapevine bears grapes, and a bramble bush bears brambles. Jesus states this self-evident principle to illustrate a parallel principle in our spiritual lives.
“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings out that which is good, and the evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings out that which is evil, for out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks” (v. 45a). Just as a good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit, so also a good person produces good and an evil person evil. This is no coincidence. Our actions are an outward expression of our inward being. It is “out of the good treasure of the heart” that the good person produces good and “out of evil treasure of his heart” that the evil person produces evil.
“for out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks” (v. 45b). The principle is that our words and works reflect accurately the condition of our spiritual heart in the same way that an X-ray or an MRI reflects the condition of our physical heart. Our words and works make it clear what is in our hearts (Bock, 129). The person who fails to tell the truth or who uses vulgar language or words that wound doesn’t have a communication problem. He/she has a heart problem.
When Jesus was criticized for allowing his disciples to eat with unwashed hands, he responded: “Don’t you understand that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the belly, and then out of the body? But the things which proceed out of the mouth come out of the heart, and they defile the man. For out of the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual sins, thefts, false testimony, and blasphemies. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands doesn’t defile the man” (Matthew 15:17-20; see also Mark 7:18-23).
LUKE 6:46-49. WHY DO YOU CALL ME “LORD, LORD”?
46“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things which I say? 47Everyone who comes to me, and hears my words, and does them, I will show you who he is like. 48He is like a man building a house, who dug and went deep, and laid a foundation on the rock. When a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it was founded on the rock. 49But he who hears, and doesn’t do, is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great” (see also Matthew 7:24-27).
The images of the two houses—one with a foundation built on rock and the other built without a foundation (in Matthew’s version it is built on sand)—seem so clear as to be self-evident. While foundations are the least exciting part of a building’s design, we understand almost intuitively that a strong foundation is essential. It is hard to imagine anyone building a house, especially an expensive well-appointed house, with an inadequate foundation—but we do it all the time. We build houses on barrier islands—on flood plains—below sea level—and on landfill destined to turn to soup in an earthquake. We build houses on the sides of steep hills destined to give way when heavy rains fall. We build houses on stilts. We build houses on earthquake fault lines. There seems to be no end to our foolishness.
Building houses without good foundations is dangerous. When storms and earthquakes come, they are likely to collapse or wash away. Often the occupants lose their lives as well as their homes.
But building lives without good foundations is even more dangerous. It is bad enough to lose your house, but even worse to lose your life. However sunny life might seem at present, we can be sure that we will face storms—storms strong enough to uproot us and wash us away unless we are securely rooted on a strong foundation. In some cases, life’s storms turn out to be actual physical storms: tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, or tsunamis. In other cases, they turn out to be adversities such as illness or the loss of a job or divorce or the death of a spouse. When the storm hits, it is too late to start getting ready. We will be forced to rely on the resources, physical and spiritual, that we have in place at the time.
What constitutes a strong foundation? Jesus doesn’t answer that question here, but lets his metaphor do its work without interpretation. We can find the answer elsewhere in scripture, however. There is no shortage of clues regarding that which constitutes a solid foundation for life:
• Putting God at the center of our lives is of foremost importance. The Psalmist says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10).
• Jesus talked about the kinds of things that we think are important—food, clothing, and longevity—and then he said, “But seek God’s Kingdom, and all these things will be added to you” (12:31).
• When asked about the most important commandment, Jesus answered, “The greatest is, ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. The second is like this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).
• Faith in Christ is crucial. “There is salvation in none other, for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, by which we must be saved!” (Acts 4:12).
But rather than trying to provide an exhaustive list of applicable scriptures, we should acknowledge that being solidly grounded in the scriptures is an excellent first step to building a strong foundation for life. As John Calvin said:
“Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit,
in which, as nothing is omitted
that is both necessary and useful to know,
so nothing is taught but what is expedient to know.”
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Bock, Darrell L., The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Luke, Vol, 3 (Downers Grove, Illinois, Intervarsity Press, 1994)
Craddock, Fred B., Interpretation: Luke (Louisville: John Knox Press,(1990)
Culpepper, R. Alan, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX. (Nashville: Abingdon , 1995)
Evans, Craig A., New International Biblical Commentary: Luke (Peabody, MA, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1990)
Gilmour, S. MacLean & Bowie, Walter Russell, The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 8. (Nashville: Abingdon , 1952)
Green, Joel B., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997)
Stein, Robert H., The New American Commentary: Luke (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992)
Tannehill, Robert C., Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Luke (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996)
Copyright 2007, 2010, 2012, Richard Niell Donovan