Old Testament: Amos (7:7-17)
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. 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.’”
The Response: Psalm 82
1 God takes his stand in the council of heaven; *
he gives judgment in the midst of the gods:
2 “How long will you judge unjustly, *
and show favor to the wicked?
3 Save the weak and the orphan; *
defend the humble and needy;
4 Rescue the weak and the poor; *
deliver them from the power of the wicked.
5 They do not know, neither do they understand;
they go about in darkness; *
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6 Now I say to you, ‘You are gods, *
and all of you children of the Most High;
7 Nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, *
and fall like any prince.’”
8 Arise, O God, and rule the earth,*
for you shall take all nations for your own.
The New Testament: 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.
The Gospel: 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.”
by the Rev. Mike Kreutzer
For the past 12 years, I have been serving as a volunteer chaplain for memorial dedications at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. I was there again this past Thursday with the members of the 307th Bombardment Group. The participants included six veterans of the unit who had served in it during World War II. The 307th was nicknamed “The Long Rangers” in honor of their sometimes 17-hour, round-trip missions over the Pacific to heavily fortified enemy positions. These were obviously extremely hazardous operations.
But in their remarks, these veterans did not focus on the dangers that they faced. Even today, when they talk about what they did, they insist that their primary question was not “How can we possibly survive this?” but “How can we complete our mission and do our part in this vitally important struggle for our country and for the world?” Their words, and the question that they asked, reminded me of another World War II veteran who famously challenged people: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Asking the right question is sometimes hard. It is something that we tend to avoid – especially if we really know the answer already but don’t like that answer. But it is critical to ask the right questions if we actually do want deeper, meaningful, life-changing, and life-giving answers.
That is the situation that Jesus addresses, on at least two levels, in today’s gospel reading. The parable of the Good Samaritan, which is situated at the very center of this reading, begins with an expert in Torah asking Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” One suspects that he already knows the answer; he just doesn’t want to accept it. He has already quoted Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He knows the commandment, but he wants to limit his responsibility; and so he asks about the boundaries of that love. Whom do I have to love? Whom does that love have to include: just my immediate family? My extended family? How about the people who live within a few minutes of my house? Is it limited to those who share the same nationality and beliefs that I have? What are the boundaries of my obligation to love and care for those who are in need? Basically, what is the minimum that I can get away with?
Jesus turns everything around when he shows him that he is asking the wrong question. The real question is not “Who is my neighbor?” but “To whom must I be a neighbor?” And, by making a Samaritan the surprising and even shocking exemplar in the parable, Jesus asserts that we are called to be and act like a loving neighbor to anyone who needs our help, even an avowed enemy.
It’s a dramatic and provocative assertion – but that’s what parables are for, that’s what they were intended to do. Jewish New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine, in her book Short Stories by Jesus (pp. 3-4), explains:
“What makes the parables mysterious, or difficult, is that they challenge us to look into the hidden aspects of our own values, our own lives. They bring to the surface unasked questions, and they reveal the answers that we have always known, but refuse to acknowledge.
“We might be better off thinking less of what they ‘mean’ and more about what they can ‘do’: remind, provoke, refine, confront, disturb.”
And this parable does all of these.
In this parable, it’s clear to see Jesus’ assertion that it is our responsibility to help anyone who is in need: family member or stranger, fellow citizen or foreigner, friend or enemy. But one thing that we tend to miss in this scene is a second instance in which Jesus insists that this lawyer is asking the wrong question. It is one that begins before the parable and concludes after it. Taken as a whole, this passage is a triptych. The parable occupies the center panel, while the lawyer’s question stands at the left, and Jesus’ alternate question at the right.
The man begins by asking, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Now in John’s version of the gospel, “eternal life” is a concept that is very similar to what the other gospels call “the reign or dominion of God.” But in Luke’s context, the term “eternal life” seems to refer to another life, to life after death. But Jesus’ focus, not only here but throughout his teaching and ministry, is not on life after death. It is on this life and on his disciples’ responsibility to make a positive difference in people’s lives in this world, here and now. And so, he uses his story of the Good Samaritan to refocus his hearer’s attention on making God’s kingdom more of a reality on earth as it already is in heaven.
Jesus’ approach to life reflects his place within the great tradition of the prophets of Israel including Amos, from whose book we began hearing in today’s first reading. Amos was not concerned with life after death, with life in another world. His entire focus was on this world and on the issues facing the time and place in which he lived. The mid-eighth century in Israel was a time of apparent prosperity, but most of the prosperity was enjoyed by a privileged few, while the majority of the people struggled just to get by. And it was in that context that Amos proclaimed a message that those in power, and many others who lived comfortably, did not want to hear. It is a message of God’s judgment on Israel because of the wealth gap, because of the great inequality that existed between rich and poor. It is a message that receives its most familiar form in his call (5:24), “Let justice role down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
While Amos proclaimed his message within a particular historical context, it is one that addresses a recurring issue that faces all ages and all nations, including our own. Following in his tradition, Jesus, in today’s gospel reading, insists that we ask the right questions which are often the hard questions. He calls the people of his time, of our time, and of all times, to work to transform this world to be what God wants it to be. And he calls us to begin by being a neighbor, with all that term implies, to all those who are in need: family members and strangers, fellow citizens and foreigners, friends and enemies alike.