The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10, 14 July 2019

Track One:
Amos 7:7-17
Psalm 82

Track Two:
Deuteronomy 30::9-14
Psalm 25:1-9

Colossians 1:1-14
St. Luke 10:25-37

Background: The Great Commandment

The Great Commandment which Jesus refers to in today’s Gospel is cited in the Hebrew Scriptures at Deuteronomy 6:4-5,and again in a slightly different form in Leviticus 19:17-18. The commandment is in the Gospels of Mark (12:28-31), Luke (10:25-28), and John (13:31-36). The initial part of the citation in Deuteronomy is the so-called Great Shema which is to be repeated twice a day by the observant Jew. It underscores the monotheism of Judaism. The recitation of the Shema was seen as a receiving of the kingdom of heaven (God). It is this aspect that allies itself so well to Jesus’ response to the young man, for Jesus message was always that “the Kingdom of God is near.” It was traditional until 70 CE that the Ten Commandments be recited in the daily prayer, and after that period the Shema was seen as a synopsis of the Commandments. In the original Shema, the name YHWH would have been printed but the word Adonai would be substituted. 

Track One:

First Reading: Amos 7:7-17

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.'"

Some translate the Hebrew word as “axe” rather than “plumb line”, but either works. The line is compared to the wall, straight and aligned as it was built in line with the plumb line. It is used as an example in II Kings 21:13as well. This reading underscores the precarious nature of being a prophet – seen as an enemy of the court, asked to prophecy elsewhere. Amos denies his prophetic role but non-the-less delivers the present Word of the Lord to Amaziah. The prophetic sentence is quite distressing, “Your wife shall play the whore in the town.” Although this relates to Amaziah’s particular situation, it is well applied to the nation as a whole. That he (they “should die on unclean soil” is something that actually happens under the agency of the Assyrian Empire, who deported the natives of the Northern Kingdom, and replaced them with other peoples. 

Breaking open Amos:
1.    How “true” are the leaders in your world?
2.    How “true” is the society in which you live?
3.    What needs to be changed?

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 is a psalm for our time. God renders judgment amongst the gods of the earth who are described as looking askance when confronted by the prevalence of evil in the world. The world view of the author is not only his advocacy for the widow and the orphan, but also his setting this conversation in a truly mythological setting. The job of these gods (elohim in Hebrew) is to administer justice, but they do not seem up to the task. God gives evidence: “you judge dishonestly”, “you favor the wicked.” God determines the just course of “saving the weak and the poor.” The question we might ask in our time is “who are these gods?” “Who are these men and women who allow evil and wickedness to diminish our society?” I think that we will have various candidates in mind as we think in this vein. But there is more. If we are God’s agents in this world isn’t this plea for justice aimed at us and our institutions? The judgment upon these “gods” is grim – they “shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.”This is a message for any leader who treads upon the poor and the weak. Such was the message of Amos.

Breaking open Psalm 82:
1.    Who are the gods in your world?
2.    What kind of job are they doing?
3.    What might God think of them?


Track Two:

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:9-14

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."

Verse 1 of the chapter gives us a clue as to the true nature of this pericope, “And it shall be, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I have set before you, that your heart shall turn back among all the nations to which the LORD your God will make you to stray. And you shall turn back to the LORD your God and heed His voice.”[1]Indeed, if you are serious about studying these passages, you might want to go back to Chapter 29and read through its material. We are clearly in the midst of a review of the covenant that YHWH has made with Israel, and our reading today is part of the blessings that accrue to those who keep the covenant. The verses are redolent of the Great Shema, and the fervor with which those faithful to YHWH show in their love of God. It is all encompassing, “you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” The “with all your soul” part might be better translated as “with all of your very being.” 

There is an intimacy in these words, as the author is bemused that the Word of God is so very near. The heavens, and places across the sea are not the whereabouts from which this word comes. It is nearer than that – in our hearts and mouth. Jeremiah 31:31-33has a similar vision of the Word of God being written on our hearts.

Breaking open Deuteronomy:
1.    What have been God’s blessings to you?
2.    What word of God has been written on your heart?
3.    What does the covenant mean to you?

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.

The link to the first reading from Deuteronomy is found in the ninth verse of the psalm, “All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness, to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.” Again, in the first verse we find the word “soul” which is so much more than that – really indicating the very essence and being of a person. The purpose of the psalm can be found in its supplication, “Show me your ways, O YHWH.” The writer wishes to be instructed in the ways of God, and to know the paths of God. There are some requests, “Remember, O YHWH, your compassion and love.” The suppliant is living the history of a relationship with God. Even in his humility he finds a way of following God. 

Breaking open Psalm 25:
1.    How do you make decisions about what to do and where to go?
2.    Do you make spiritual decisions in the same manner?
3.    When have you “gotten off” the path?

Second Reading: Colossians 1:1-14

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.

Paul begins his letter to the Colossians (a church he did not found) with a greeting from both him and Timothy, and then a prayer for the people of the church. The hopes of the prayer are these: faith, hope, and love, and then knowledge and wisdom. The prayer has the form of a thanksgiving in which Paul gives thanks for the people of Colossus, and then he voices his prayerful concerns about them. He quickly announces the theme, “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.”He reminds them of the good news first given them by Epaphras, the founder of the congregation. 

Next Paul hopes that these people will continue to be filled with knowledge and spiritual wisdom. Paul gives hints as to what might be facing this church. He prays that they might have “strength to endure.” The final note is a comparison of the light that comes with Christ, and the darkness that is left behind. With that set-in place, Paul will go on in subsequent chapters to look at what it means to be connected to Christ, and how they must confront false teaching by living in Christ.

Breaking open Colossians:
1.    What is an example of faith in your life?
2.    What is an example of hope in your life?
3.    What is an example of love in your life?

The Gospel: 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 hearing the word “lawyer” we must distance ourselves from the notion that this is a secular attorney, concerned with civil matters. No, this is a practitioner of divine law, and student of the Torah. He asks a technical question about inheriting eternal life. In the previous verse (23) we are given to understand that this conversation is done in private, away from the crowd. Jesus and the young man are clearly involved one with the other. It is also interesting that the student of the Torah asks a question about “eternal life.” That would have been a provocative question at the time, and opinions about such an idea would have been divided. The lawyer may have been a Pharisee who entertained such notions which entered Jewish life during the Persian period. None-the-less, Luke’s purpose is to see Christ’s vision of the relationship of an individual with the writings of the Torah, Scripture. He turns the question back to the man – “what do you say?”

The answer is a classic correct response to the question, but Jesus, being the radical that he is pushes the whole thing further. The man gives him opportunity to do so by asking another question, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer that Jesus provides is the parable of the Good Samaritan where the protagonist is the Samaritan, hated by Jews for their supposed ignorance of the Torah, and the antagonists, the priest and Levite who ignore that which is required of them by the Law, and the real needs of the man on the side of the road.  In the last and final analysis, it is not enough to know the correct answer; the proof of the pudding is in the actions one takes. “Go and do likewise.” 

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     What are your thoughts on eternal life?
2.     Who has been a Good Samaritan for you?
3.     How have you been a good Samaritan?

Central Idea:            Bringing God’s desires into Real Life

Example One:          What Amos preaches (First Reading, Track One)

Example Two:          What are the Commandments we are to Observe? What are the human responsibilities in the Covenant? (First Reading, Track Two)

Example Three:        Comparison of what leaders (gods) have done, and what individuals all called to do (Both of the Psalms)

Example Four:         How do we “do likewise?” (Gospel)

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.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hiller

[1]     Alter, R. (2019), The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Edition, Kindle location 22642.


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