For July 14, 2013: Proper 10, Year C

The Reading            Amos 7:7-17

With Israel’s occupiers busy elsewhere around 750 BC, the elites enjoy peace and prosperity while afflicting the poor. The unlikely prophet Amos, called from his herds and fruit trees to set things right, speaks of God’s plumb line: a heavy weight hanging from a string to show how far a wall is from being perfectly upright. Amaziah resists by misquoting Amos on purpose—but, like a wall, a nation that is not upright cannot be allowed to stand.

The Response            Psalm 82 Page 705, BCP

The Epistle            Colossians 1:1-14

We begin reading from the letter to the Colossians, which may or may not have been written by Paul. Colossae was a prosperous Roman city in what is now southwestern Turkey. The Christians there were mostly gentile, so disputes about doctrine tended not to center on Jewish practice. The writer’s delight in what the Colossians are doing well is evident.

The Gospel            Luke 10:25-37

“‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’”

 

Further thoughts

The “credibility gap” of the 1960s and 1970s was the perceived discrepancy between the messages issued by the Johnson government about the controversial war in Vietnam, and later about Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate burglary and coverup, and the facts being uncovered in the media. Credibility gaps figure in several of today’s readings. Amaziah is a priest of Bethel and thus an anointed servant of the God of truth, but when Amos announces that Israel just doesn’t measure, up, Amaziah responds by misrepresenting the prophecy of Amos ’s to protect his lord King Jeroboam. The lawyer who attempts to snare Jesus does not resort to lying, at least—but his area of expertise would have been religious law, and his asking “Who is my neighbor?” smacks more than slightly of a later president’s widely parodied “It depends on what ‘is’ is.”

It is easy to condemn Amaziah and the lawyer, and two millennia of hindsight as to how the story comes out don’t make it any less tempting. The fact is that none of us measures up to God’s standards of goodness, neighborliness, and love—and even if we did, as the apostle Paul forcefully argues elsewhere, it wouldn’t justify us before God, because nothing can. As the letter to the Colossians tells it today, however, God loves us when we fail and he loves us when we try. Attempting to be good will not justify us—even the Samaritan reaching out beyond his own parochial interests to tend the wounds of the Jew was not justified by this—but making the attempt, when and as we can, bears blessed fruit not only for the world but for ourselves.

As a sage once said, “Don’t give until it hurts. Give until it feels good. The cost is about the same.” That’s precisely how God’s economy works.

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