The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 10, 14 July 2013
St. Luke 10:25-37
Background: Jerusalem, continued
Some archaeologists argue that Jerusalem existed in some form or another from 2600 BCE, settled by a Semitic people coming down into the Levant from the Northwest. Biblical references and legend place Melchizedek in the city of “Salem” (cf. Genesis 14), where he encounters the Patriarch Abraham. During the Late Bronze Age (1600 – 1300 BCE) Jerusalem served as a political center and city-state in vassalage to Egypt, who had a small garrison there. In the early 13th century BCE, there were fits of construction under the rule of Seti I, and Ramesses II. It is also during this period that Joshua “invades” the Canaanite territory in the flat lands that extend from the central ridge (where Jerusalem is located) to the Mediterranean Sea. The town of Jebus, as it was known then, is said to have been conquered by David, who moved his capital there from Hebron. Under his rule, rural shrines were closed and the worship of YHWH was centered in Jerusalem (ca. 990 BCE).
This is what the Lord God showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD said to me, "Amos, what do you see?" And I said, "A plumb line." Then the Lord said,
"See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword."
Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, "Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said,
`Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.'"
And Amaziah said to Amos, "O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom."
Then Amos answered Amaziah, "I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, `Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'
"Now therefore hear the word of the LORD.
You say, `Do not prophesy against Israel,
and do not preach against the house of Isaac.'
Therefore thus says the LORD:
`Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword,
and your land shall be parceled out by line;
you yourself shall die in an unclean land,
and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.'"
Amos is the first of the so-called “writing prophets”. Unlike Elijah and Elisha who preceded him, he was not the member of any prophetic guild, but instead was a private businessman and farmer. His prophecies are directed toward the nation as a whole, rather than an individual king. These prophecies are perceived in visions and the book of Amos is largely such visions and oracles and the reaction to them. In the reading for today, the vision reads from verse 7 through verse 9. The verses following that are reaction or commentary on the vision.
The vision is of a plumb line, used to ascertain whether or not a wall was absolutely vertical or not. The holder of the plumb line is God, and it is quickly determined that Israel is not straight. So God determines to “pass through” Israel and to render judgment. The high places, local places of worship that may have been appropriated for the worship of YHWH, or were still traditional worship sites for the Ba’alim, will be abandoned. (See comments on the centralization of worship under David in the Background above). Also the old shrines at Bethel and Dan will be destroyed. Not even kingship will be spared. (The son of Jeroboam II, Zechariah (ca. 746 BCE).
It is Jeroboam’s religious policy and syncretism that Amos calls into question. In threatening the king, Amos comes under fire. Amaziah, the priest at Beth-El, warns the king with Amos’ words. Amaziah requests that Amos return to his native Judah, and stop prophesying against the northern kingdom of Israel. Amos denies his prophetic office and argues that his only a farmer – but the prophecy stands. What follows is a line of poetry describing the fate of Israel.
Breaking open Amos:
- Amos comments on the politics and religious life of a country that is not his own. How do you feel about that?
- What do you think a prophet’s calling is?
- Do you have a prophetic aspect to your life?
Psalm 82 Deus stetit
God takes his stand in the council of heaven; *
he gives judgment in the midst of the gods:
"How long will you judge unjustly, *
and show favor to the wicked?
Save the weak and the orphan; *
defend the humble and needy;
Rescue the weak and the poor; *
deliver them from the power of the wicked.
They do not know, neither do they understand;
they go about in darkness; *
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
Now I say to you, 'You are gods, *
and all of you children of the Most High;
Nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, *
and fall like any prince.'"
Arise, O God, and rule the earth, *
for you shall take all nations for your own.
This psalm seems to underscore Amos’ words. The vision is of God holding council amongst the gods, and God renders judgment in the second verse, “How long will you judge dishonestly.” What begins as a scene with all the gods soon becomes the reality of the one God, who judges rightly. The objects of God’s wrath, different from that of Amos, are the lesser gods who judge unjustly. For Amos it is kingship that judges unjustly – here it is the other gods. There is a remarkable image in verse 5, “in darkness they walk about” (Alter) where the psalmist borrows an image from Exodus 23:8: “Never take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and distorts the words of the just.” Where there is no justice the world cannot exist or stand – “all the foundations of the earth are shaken.” Now the gods are addressed and judged. They will be mortals and die because they have not executed justice in the land. In the last verse the psalm itself addresses God, and asks for God’s righteous rule.
Breaking open Psalm 82
- The psalmist has God take the other gods to task for their injustice. Have you ever taken your own faith to task for injustices you have caused in your life?
- Have you ever taken your church to task for injustice?
- What would God’s “righteous rule” look like?
Moses said to the people of Israel, "The LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, when you obey the LORD your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
"Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?' No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe."
It is here that we can begin to see how radical the teachings of the Deuteronomist are. In this scene, as in others in the book, we see the author leading us away from a classic mythological view of God’s wisdom and direction to a new place wherein God’s teaching is evident and approachable. Following the verses that promise a continuing prosperity, we are led to the feet of the Law, the commandments of God. It is here that Israel will encounter the living one, not in the gifts of God’s blessing. God says, “this commandment…is not too hard for you, nor is it far away.” The verb here is one that indicates “hiddenness”, so we might also read this as “this is not hidden from you.” The last verse lays it out quite succinctly, “it is in your mouth and in your heart.” The wisdom of God is not something that requires the hero’s search. “It is very near to you.”
Breaking open Deuteronomy:
- What are the things that are deeply written on your heart?
- What of the Laws of God challenge you in your day to day life?
- What does it mean that the Law is “in your mouth and in your heart”?
Psalm 25:1-9 Ad te, Domine, levavi
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;
my God, I put my trust in you; *
let me not be humiliated,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
Show me your ways, O LORD, *
and teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.
Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love, *
for they are from everlasting.
Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD.
Gracious and upright is the LORD; *
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
He guides the humble in doing right *
and teaches his way to the lowly.
All the paths of the LORD are love and faithfulness *
to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
This psalm seems to describe the intimacy of God’s wisdom and Law as the Deuteronomist has done in the reading above. The psalm is an acrostic based on the alphabet – one of nine in the collections of the Psalms. The underlying situation of the psalm is found in verse seven, “Remember not the sins of my youth.” From this basis, the psalmist requests instruction, “Show me your ways, O Lord.” There are images of a journey in these verses, with the central image of the psalmist attempting to walk in the ways of the Lord (see “He guides” (verse 8) and “All the paths” (verse 9). God is pictured here not only as one who shares wisdom, but also as one who forgives when we have forgotten the wisdom.
Breaking open Psalm 25
- What are the sins of your youth?
- Have you forgiven yourself?
- Why not?
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
And so we leave Galatians and move on to a series of semi-continuous readings from Colossians. Next week I will expand on Colossians in the Background section of this blog. In his introductory remarks to his readers, Paul notes how he is giving thanks because of the faith of the people in the church at Colossae. In the ninth verse, Paul’s prayers of thanksgiving turn to a series of intercessions for the people of this church. Paul wants them to continue in their knowledge – he mark’s it out: God’s will, spiritual wisdom, understanding. And he prays that there me fruits that come from the faith that they so boldly exhibit. There is a hint of trouble to come, Paul is no Pollyanna, “and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience.” Suddenly at verse 13, the focus shift from the faithful to the faithful Jesus, “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” This is the foundation of the discussion that Paul will have with these people, and which we shall listen in on during the coming Sundays.
Breaking open Colossians:
- What do you understand spiritual wisdom to be?
- Do you ever give thanks to God for it?
- Do you ever give thanks to God for its presence in the lives of others?
St. Luke 10:25-37
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
In his commentary on Luke, Fred Craddock describes this pericope (section) as “Two Stories About Seeing and Not Seeing”, which seems to relate to the “blindness” in Psalm 82 (see above). We have to remember from whence we have come. Last Sunday the Seventy (or Seventy-Two) were sent out, and when they returned the reported about the things that they had seen. Now we shall meet a character who cannot see (and his story is followed by the story of Martha, who also is blind to Jesus real intents.) But it is not just the young lawyer who cannot see, the characters in the parable Jesus tells also cannot see. It is only the Samaritan who has eyes wide open. What the lawyer really is unaware of is his own self-importance. His concern about the Law is really about his concern about survival. Even though he knows the answer about God, neighbor, and self, he doesn’t know how to enact it. The parable sets both hearer and reader straight. In looking for God, we must also see the neighbor, and the neighbor is the last person that we might expect. Usually “the neighbor is the one we would rather avoid. Again, the lawyer knows the right answer as to whom of the characters in the parable was a proper and responsible neighbor, “The one who showed him mercy.” Luke doesn’t record the reaction of the young man. It is left in its stark sufficiency, “God and do likewise.” I suspect we are equally stunned.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- What is the blindness of the young lawyer?
- Who are the other blind people in the story?
- How are you blind?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.