The Fifth Sunday of Pentecost

Amos 7:7 – 17

7 This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 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;

 9 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.”

10 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. 11 For thus Amos has said,

‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword,

and Israel must go into exile

away from his land.’”

 12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”

 14 Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15 and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

 16 “Now therefore hear the word of the LORD.

You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel,

and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’

 17 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.’”

we reflect on:

  • our own experience of God’s word.
  • By what standard does God measure our/my lives/life?
  • the significance of the plumb line and what it is measuring – Israel’s faithfulness to God.
  • The significance of God saying ‘I will never again pass them by’, meaning that God would no longer overlook Israel’s disobedience.
  • The significance of Amos not being ‘a professional prophet’.
  • The seeming harshness of God’s punishment to Jeroboam, Amaziah and Israel.
  • What might Amos say if he were alive today, faced with the injustices and inequitable distribution of wealth?
  • In what ways, if any, do commercial interests distort our church and society?

In a three-year-cycle of the lectionary almost the entire book of Amos is covered. This suggests that there are important clues in Amos for Christians today

Amos was one of the twelve Minor Prophets. He was an older contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah. It is unclear whether the former read his work but is fairly certain that the latter did. He was active around 760 BCE.  Amaziah sent him back to Judah, his home.  Amos response was to write his prophecies and, as a consequence, was the first prophet to write down his prophecies, continuing his prophetic revelation to the northern kingdom. His major themes of social justice, God’s omnipotence, and divine judgement became foundations of prophecy. 

Amos’s prophecies emphasised that the God of Israel was in fact the God of everyone, of all people and that the way people live their lives was more important for serving God than religious observances. In fact, without a life that was in harmony with God, then one’s religious observances could be meaningless.

This week we are presented with the image of the plumb line as a symbol of destruction. Yet the plumb line is also a tool used for rebuilding and realigning that which has become warped or in need of straightening.

God reveals to Amos that God will no longer overlook the failings of Israel. This is poignant for us today as it is very easy to become anaesthetised to the injustices of the world and think that nothing can be done about them. The Scriptures witness to the fact that a time will come when God will act.

There might be limitations to what we can do as individuals about the injustices of the world but we can seek to be of like mind and as part of the church and wider community, advocate to change the injustices of life.

It is difficult to adequately describe or assess the inequalities in the global community today. The following are but a glimpse.  As the website, inequality.org states:

“inequality has been on the rise across the globe for several decades. Some countries have reduced the numbers of people living in extreme poverty. But economic gaps have continued to grow as a very richest mass unprecedented levels of wealth. Among industrial nations, United States is by far the most top-heavy, with much greater shares of national wealth and income going to the richest 1% than any other country.”

Some points of note:

  • the world’s richest 10 being there is, according to Forbes, own $745 billion in combined wealth, a sum greater than the total goods and services most nations produce an annual basis.  There are 2208 billionaires in the world.
  • Between 2009 2017, the number of billionaires it took to equal the wealth of the world’s poorest 50% fell from 380 to 42.
  • The top global 1% captured twice as much growth as the bottom half of the world
  • the vast majority of the ultra-wealthy live in United States
  • many other countries have higher median wealth than the U.S.
  • Although Australia has a high median wealth compared with most other countries, there is still great inequality within Australia and this inequality is growing, concerningly.

It is difficult to see how Amos would not have challenged this situation today.

It is important to note that prophetic warnings need not be fulfilled if people hear the word of the Prophet.

Colossians 1:1 – 14

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

 2 To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

3 In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 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 6 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. 7 This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, 8 and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

 9 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, 10 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. 11 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 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

We reflect on:

  • the way Paul speaks of God, ‘the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’.
  • How Paul describes the gospel as ‘the word of the truth’ and how the word spreads bearing fruit. How do we see this today in our lives, our church and community?  In what ways is the Gospel bearing fruit in our lives?
  • How we experience what Paul describes as the grace of God
  • the importance of prayer for one another. Not just the prayer of intercession but praying for revelation
  • Do we see our lives in the light of the coming of God’s kingdom and being rescued from the `power of darkness’?

Today, many scholars believe that Colossians was more likely written by a disciple of Paul’s, probably around 65 CE. In the ancient world, one of the highest honours that could be given to a renowned teacher was to keep their teaching alive by developing it in new situations. Paul’s message was received in new regions when it was impossible for Paul to be in more than one place at a time.

For the next three weeks, the lectionary includes passages from Colossians, and the first chapter is overbrimming with hope. The writer, in typical Pauline fashion, encourages the Christians, thanks them for their fidelity and teaches the central message of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus; through Jesus we have been made children of God and inheritors to the kingdom. The path of Christianity requires patience and strength. Each one of us is called to measure the moments of each day by the degree to which we remain faithful to the call of God to love one another and ourselves. Sometimes known as examen of consciousness, this method of reflection enables us to grow strong in our endeavours especially if we make it a regular practice.  (from the Whole People of God 2001)

This passage also depicts the world as a place of darkness and of light.  The Colossian believers have been brought from darkness into light by God’s grace.  Itis that grace growing in their lives that produces the fruit of good works and wisdom that is a marker of the community. 

Praying for one another that we might know God better is one of the most important and loving aspects of our prayer life.  The closer we walk with our Lord, the more we and our lives will be conformed to His will and purpose.

Luke 10:25 – 37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 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.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 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. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 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. 35 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.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

We reflect on

  • What do I/we have to do to inherit eternal life?
  • How do I experience God’s love and how do I love God?
  • Who is my/our/your neighbour and do I love my neighbour as myself?
  • Who are the `beaten up’ ones that we are called to help on the road of life?
  • Are there people that we walk past, either in our daily lives or the in the opinions, ideas or attitudes that we have to other people.

This gospel emphasizes that the marginalized in the society in which the gospel was written -the outcasts, the lonely, the sick, women, and children -are included in God’s reign.  Indeed, the reign of God is open to all those who know the love of God and respond to it.  To make this point, the gospel writer chooses subversive stories such as this one, the one we know as the Good Samaritan.

1n the story, Jesus presents a harsh critique of religious leaders who put purity customs and temple practices above the clear call of the law to care for those in need.  At the same time, Jesus challenges national stereotypes of both the Jewish and Samaritan peoples.

To Jesus’ hearers and to the first readers of the gospel, the behaviour of the Levite and the Priest should have been shocking: they were clearly disobeying one of the major tenets of the law by not taking care of someone in need.  However, it is not difficult to imagine a situation where the prestige and trappings of religious office might dilute the urgency of the law’s essential demands.  In the gospel of Luke, Jesus is portrayed as a prophet.  In the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophets were continually calling the people to turn from religious distortions back to the essence of the faith that requires mercy and compassion.  In this story, Jesus makes the call through an unlikely character -the Samaritan.

While both the Israelites, who centred their faith in the temple, and the Samaritans, who focused on Mount Horeb, were Jews, there were deep historical rifts between them.  To the Israelite audience of this gospel, the Samaritans were unclean.  Yet in this story, the Samaritan is the one who responds most faithfully.  Who, then, is the neighbour?  (From the whole people of God 2004)

One of the best known of Jesus parables.  It can be interpreted on many levels.  We must begin with the simplest of these. 

The rich young man asks the most important question of all: `What must I do to receive eternal life?’  The answer is challenging to all of us for it links our salvation with how we love God and our neighbours, our fellow human beings.  We are to love them as Jesus loves them for he is the author of our salvation.  He is the key to our eternal life and growing in love of God and of our neighbours.  He is the point of focus in our lives, our mediator between God and us and our fellow beings.  As we come to experience more deeply his love in ourselves and others, we come to understand who our neighbour is.  In fact, there is no one that we should not treat as our neighbour, not even our worse enemy.

The parable of the good Samaritan, then, is a powerful reminder that caring for the poor and needy for those who have been `bashed up’ as it were is central to our path that leads to eternal life. 

This parable can also be interpreted more allegorically, in that it speaks of the journey of the soul from Jerusalem the heavenly city to Jericho the city of the moon of reflected light. There is also ancient testimony that it was regarded as an evil and accursed city.  It is a parable of the life journey of the soul.  We get bashed up by robbers on the way, the powers of darkness, the powers of evil.  The priest and the Levite represent the Law sacrificial and ceremonial aspects, and they seem to have no power to relieve or rescue.  We are saved by the one who acts as God’s servant and brought to the Inn, the Church; where we are healed and restored to life.

A more detailed analysis of the good Samaritan, as described by Ellicott, a Church of England bishop of the 19th century, in his Biblical Commentary, could identify him as Christ. Ellicott says “The beast in which he rides is the human nature in which the Word dwelt, and is upon that humanity of his that he bids us rest for comfort and support”.

In the Inn, the church, generation after generation, the stories are heard a fresh and similar but different cultural contexts to the time when they were first told.

In our multicultural society, we hear again the question ‘who is my neighbour’ and as we live in the global village, we realise that it is every human being and that the suffering of any person is of concern to us.

Our response? To pray, advocate and as Micah said:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Ultimately, our lives need to be seen in the light of the last judgement, as described by Matthew

“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. (Matthew 25:35 – 36)

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