What will you do? Luke 5-6 (b)

  • Sumo

As I wrote earlier, I think Luke develops the language of ‘doing’ in an understated but challenging way through Luke 5-6. This second post looks at ‘doing’ language in Jesus’s sermon, which begins in verse 20 of chapter six.

Here are the places Luke uses ‘doing’ in Jesus’ sermon on the plain (so-called):

  • They did these things to the prophets (6:23)
  • They did these things to the false prophets (6:26)
  • Do good to those who hate you (6:27)
  • What you wish people do to you, likewise do for them (6:31)
  • If you do good to those who do you good … (6:33)
  • Even sinners do this (6:33)
  • Do good (6:35)
  • A good tree does not do bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree do good fruit (6:43)
  • Why do you call me, Lord, Lord, & not do that which I say? (6:46)
  • All who come to me & hear my words & do them … (6:47)
  • But hearing and not doing is like … (6:49)

As we hear Jesus’ direct teaching, we find out that he is greatly concerned for what people do. The previous narrative hinted at this – Jesus’ words now confirm it to be true. What Jesus’ sermon adds, concerning actions done, is a stark sense of division. On the one hand those who do good, and on the other those who do evil.

Doing wrongly begins with a ‘woe’ of condemnation from Jesus. Doing wrong is being commended like a false prophet, it’s only loving those who love you back, it’s the outward bad fruit on an inwardly bad tree. In the final analysis, it is hearing Jesus but refusing to do what his teaching requires.

Doing good, in contrast, begins with Jesus’ blessing. Doing good is being ill-treated like the true prophets, it’s treating people well even though they will not return the favour, it’s the outward fruit revealing the inward nature of the tree. In the final analysis, it is listening to Jesus’ words and willingly doing as he commands.

But … we can not lapse into easy moralism. It is never the case that the upright and moral get to be with God – that is not the definition of goodness. Neither is it that the outcast and unlawful are excluded from God – that is not the definition of evil. This sermon of Jesus comes after the narrative has already shown us real life examples of good and evil.

Who were the wrongdoers? Pharisees! There was never such a clean-living bunch of people, devoted (they thought) to things of God. In Jesus’ assessment: wrongdoers.

Those who did well were people like Peter (‘depart from me, I am a sinful man’ 5:8), tax-collector Levi, and Levi’s crowd of guests (‘tax-collectors and sinners’ 5:30). Jesus’ definition of good and bad bypasses usual human judgements. Jesus’ definition is entirely about himself: ‘good’ equals listening to Jesus’ word and doing it.

As we get to the end of Luke chapter six, we are all people who have heard Jesus’ words. The challenge remains: will we do what Jesus says, or will be be evil?