See All The People Worship Series: THE EXPECTANT CROWD
Sixth Sunday After the Epiphany — February 17, 2019
Let us engage this text first through the eyes of Jesus, who encounters a large crowd made up of his disciples and many people from all over the region. In viewing the crowd, Jesus saw that the crowd was made up of people who were his disciples, while others were his faithful followers, and still others were people who knew about Jesus. These people wanted not only to see Jesus, they desired to hear Jesus and to be healed of their various ailments.
The writer chooses to use the word crowd, which suggests that there were many people gathered around Jesus. To be sure, Jesus was accustomed to being surrounded by a crowd of people. There are many characteristics of a crowd, and we can gain some insight here by looking at a few such characteristics of crowd behavior. First, when a person becomes part of a crowd, there is anonymity. Such anonymity allows the members of a crowd to act as though they do not know one another. This perhaps grants each person a certain freedom to act on his/her own behalf. Second, generally speaking, behavior in a crowd is emotional and usually impulsive. For example, all the people tried to touch Jesus. They exercised their freedom to claim a portion of Jesus’ power by touching him. Their anonymity in the crowd allowed them to drop any personal inhibition that might have prevented them from touching Jesus. Third, a crowd often becomes impersonal, losing its individuality. In this story, the crowd began to act as a group, coming to Jesus and receiving his ministry.
It is important to examine the text by noting a special characteristic of the crowd. This was not an ordinary crowd. They were neither angry nor unruly. This was an expectant crowd. They were full of anticipation, because they knew that since Jesus had previously healed sick people, surely, he could and would heal them. Their expectation was threefold: They wanted to see Jesus and they wanted to hear his comforting words; but most of all, they wanted to be made whole. Jesus did not limit his healing ministry to physical health. He also cured people who were “troubled by impure spirits.” Can you visualize the excitement that was generated by these miraculous activities? How would you describe the scene?
Pause for a moment and note that “all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them” (Luke 6:19). Here we see the power of a touch. The people touched Jesus, rather than being touched by Jesus. There was a transfer of spiritual power or energy. The people not only expected to see Jesus, they expected to be healed by Jesus. Their expectation was based on their belief in the power of Jesus to heal the sick. The release of spiritual energy from Jesus was initiated by the outstretched hands of the ones who touched Jesus.
This passage of Scripture is commonly known as “The Sermon on the Plain.” Jesus “came down with them and stood on a level place” (6:17). The location on a level plain suggests that Jesus assumed a vantage point of equality. In this position, he was not above the people. He could maintain good eye contact with the crowd. In addition, he could readily look out and see who was in the crowd. Jesus, from his vantage point, could read the faces of the people; he could read their body language. He also could sense their expectations, enabling him to prepare himself to respond appropriately.
No doubt this crowd was not unlike the crowds of people that come to our churches and the crowds that stay away from our churches. This crowd of people came to Jesus with open hearts, open minds, seeking open doors. Deep in their hearts they felt that Jesus would empathize with them. Their minds were open to the possibility that Jesus might lead them through his teaching to a new way of living. Finally, they wanted to be welcomed into the doors of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus accepted the people in the crowd just as they were. Are we willing to accept our neighbors who have not yet come to our churches, while ministering to our current congregation?
Perhaps there are some similarities between the crowd on the plain and the crowds that come to our churches. When you look out into your congregation, whom do you see? What are their needs? Who are the people who come to our churches? Do they reflect the neighborhoods around the church? Surely, they are folks who want to hear a Word from the Lord, and they want to be healed. They come with certain expectations. Is your congregation characterized by “open hearts, open minds, and open doors”? Who are the people who do not come to our churches? Do we truly welcome all people regardless of their sexual orientation or other differences? The General Conference of The United Methodist Church will be grappling with this matter in a Special Called Session (February 24-26, 2019).
Like Jesus, we are called to accept people as they are and to strive to develop a Christian relationship with them. Not only did Jesus heal people, he also taught the people. Jesus perceived their unexpressed needs. Looking into the eyes of his disciples, he taught them about the many ways in which they were blessed. God will bless the people in spite of their status when they align themselves with Jesus. You might be rejected, but “rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven” (6:23).
In this sermon, Jesus issues a warning to those who are rich and comfortable. He articulates a series of woes, signaling the possibility of deep suffering, misfortune, and grief. A life of discipleship is not about popularity; rather, it is about living the truth that Jesus teaches us. It is better to give your life away in service, just as Jesus shared his spirit with those who touched him and believed in his teaching.
In conclusion, the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20-49) was delivered on a plain at the foot of a mountain. Our text (Luke 6:17-26) is couched in this sermon. There are some similarities between the Sermon on the Plain and the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The Luke emphasis, however, is on sympathy with the poor and a duty of spiritual kindness. Just as God seeks us, Jesus wants us to seek God with open hearts, open minds, and open doors. Surely, God wants us to see all of the people in the crowd and to minister to them with fidelity. Indeed, if you look, you will be able to see them if you want to see them. With Jesus, there are no “hidden figures.”
Ernest S. Lyght, a retired bishop of the United Methodist Church, enjoys reading, writing, teaching, blogging, model trains, and amateur radio. He and his wife, Eleanor, enjoy family gatherings with their two sons and four grandchildren.