Luke’s record of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry seems to be set in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. It was a time of harvest (Luke 6:1), and the fact that it was the grain harvest, indicates it was the later harvest in the year. It was a time of pilgrimages to Jerusalem, when men journeyed to appear before the Lord at the Temple. It was also a time for folks in Jerusalem and Judea to celebrate with folks in Galilee and rejoice together over how the Lord had made them a people, a nation among the nations of the world. From time to time, Jesus would go to Jerusalem to celebrate the great annual Holy Days that pointed to God’s blessings upon his people during their history, but sometimes he chose to celebrate those days in Galilee. The latter was true for the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, because this was the time he chose his apostles, and at least most of them would come from the folks in Galilee.
After Jesus chose his apostles (Luke 6:12-13) and taught them personally (Matthew 5:1-2), he came down from the mountain to a plain where he met a larger group of his disciples together with a multitude, who had gathered from all over Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem and the coasts along the Mediterranean Sea. These had gathered to see him and hear him teach and to be healed of their infirmities (Luke 6:12, 17).
The Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5-7 and the sermon on the plain that Luke mentions in Luke 6 reflect of two different events. Matthew’s record took place on the mountain where Jesus spoke with his disciples only. Luke records what took place immediately afterward. In Luke Jesus spoke with a mixed multitude, only some of whom were his disciples.
Matthew seems to portray a more spiritual message, in that he mentions the poor in spirit and those who hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matthew 5:3, 6). On the other hand, Luke speaks to those who are physically poor and those who are physically hungry (Luke 6:20-21). While it isn’t a blessing or a happy event to be poor and hungry, conditions like poverty and hunger put the human spirit in a receptive attitude. People who are aware of their needs are not satisfied with the status quo and look for ways to improve their lot. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and they are usually in a frame of mind that is more receptive to Jesus. In this sense they are blessed.
Jesus isn’t really saying anything different in Luke when one compares him with Matthew. His disciples, as much as we know of them, are not physically hungry. Most are businessmen, so they are not poverty stricken. The multitudes, on the other hand, seem to be made up of various classes of Jewish society. Many of them are poor and are hungry. They have been mistreated by the upper classes, and Jesus speaks to them. They have been overlooked and marginalized by nearly everyone else, but not Jesus. He feels their pain and gives them hope.
After first addressing the poor, Jesus began speaking to men who were physically rich, and full, those who were happy with their lot in life (Luke 6:24-25). It is much more difficult for these people to become aroused out of their spiritual slumber, which is enabled by a life of ease, in order to embrace the Gospel of Christ. The old wine is good enough. They don’t see their need for a new life (cf. Luke 5:39).
It may be interesting to note that the fourth woe (Luke 6:26) seems to show Jesus was especially addressing the teachers of the Law in the previous three woes (Luke 6:24-25). These are the rich who are full and satisfied with present circumstances. Notice that those who are well spoken of among Jesus’ audience are compared with the false prophets of the Old Testament, who were also well spoken of by their contemporaries.
These are the two groups of people that Jesus deals with in his sermon on the plain. They represent society as it is, as it always is. They are the haves and the have nots. The movers and shakers, and those who must be moved and shaken. They are the powerful and the weak, and, like it or not, they must deal with each other. One cannot live a life of leisure, unless one has those who serve. Jesus addresses both, showing how their roles are reversed when it comes to receiving the Kingdom of God.