The Gospel text for this Sunday [Luke 6:17-26] contains the start of the not-so-famous Sermon on the Plain. I know this is a silly way to say it, but you might say that this sermon has lived ‘under the shadow’ of the Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew 5-7).
It seems that the Gospel according to Matthew has always been more popular than the Gospel according to Luke; some people treat it very highly. It is the first of the four accounts, and some people take that to mean it was written first. This gospel account, at first glance, seems much more organized than the Gospel according to Luke. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus gives five discourses, and these discourses have connections to the first five books of the Old Testament--the foundation of the entire Bible. And we have many more early manuscripts of this account than we do of the other accounts.
It is interesting that the Concordia Self-Study Bible emphasizes the possibility that the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain could have been the same event—that there may have been a ‘plateau’ on the mount where Jesus was. Whereas The Lutheran Study Bible emphasizes the point that Jesus would repeat himself often in his important teachings, and the implication there is that this is probably not the same event.
Which one is it? Is the Sermon on the Plain really a Sermon on a Plateau? Now if someone had visually recorded what had happened that day, we would have some conclusive evidence. But I do not think that we are going to find that evidence. And even more important than the very small details of what 'happened' is what Jesus said--and what he continues to say.
I do like the idea of repetition for emphasis. Repetitio est mater studiorum. I first heard that phrase from a pastor friend soon after I graduated from the seminary. And that phrase has stayed with me. And I think it just makes more sense that these are two different events and that Jesus would repeat some important things with his disciples. (And the text begins by saying that Jesus ‘came down … and stood in a level place’. It does not say that he went up to a plateau.)
The structure Jesus uses in both sermons--starting with a blessing and ending with an importance on his words--this structure can be found elsewhere. The Psalms are an excellent example of this. The first one starts with a blessing, and the last five focus on praising the Lord--using words--because of some of the important things he does. (See especially Psalm 147:19-20; and I think these last five Psalms can also be connected to the first five books of the Old Testament; and the entire book is divided into five books anyway.)
I also think that the Sermon on the Plain is quite appropriate to the living creature that is most often connected with this account, that of an ox. The ideal field is one that is quite level. Jesus, like the ox, goes to work on a level place. And when he engages a wide variety of people—even people from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon--that is like having a wide variety of soil with which to work.
Jesus, like the ox, gets the job done. He has the power to do it (see verse 19 but also 5:17). He has the strength to overturn the lives of various people, much like the hard work of overturning soil. Soil needs to be overturned so that something significant can grow.
The Lord's Law and Gospel do that same work today.