Rev’d Jonathan Gale
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. 8And 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.’
Amaziah Complains to the King
10 Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, ‘Amos has conspired against you in the very centre of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. 11For thus Amos has said,
“Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
and Israel must go into exile
away from his land.” ’
12And Amaziah said to Amos, ‘O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13but 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, 15and 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 parcelled out by line;
you yourself shall die in an unclean land,
and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.” ’
Colossians 1: 1 – 14
1Paul, 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.
Paul Thanks God for the Colossians
3 In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 4for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel 6that 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. 7This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow-servant.* He is a faithful minister of Christ on your* behalf, 8and 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, 10so 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. 11May 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 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled* you* to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.*
Luke 10: 25 – 37
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.* ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 27He 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 neighbour as yourself.’ 28And 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 neighbour?’ 30Jesus 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. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He 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. 35The 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.” 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ 37He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
We all know that when we have freedom we also have responsibility and therefore accountability.
In other words when you have the power to do something it stands to reason that people will expect you to handle that power responsibly and if you abuse that power there will be consequences.
This is exactly why we keep an eagle eye on politicians.
However, sometimes what we do is mediated by power structures. In other words, we work for a company or a government department or a church (or in the case of our Gospel reading – a temple) that tells you what you may and may not do. Your freedom is limited by the organisation.
Or is it?
In our Bible readings this morning we see examples of where those ensconced in power structures (in the Old Testament case it was Amaziah the priest of Bethel, and King Jeroboam of Israel) are compared to an individual (the prophet Amos) and receive an unexpected response from him.
Amos (in spite of his relative powerlessness) has the freedom to act and he does so, hauling the king over the proverbial coals.
In Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan we see a priest and a Levite (very much ensconced in the power structures of first century Judea) who are compared to a despised Samaritan. There were any number of reasons why a Samaritan would not be expected to help a Jew, but he does help and in doing so responds unexpectedly.
The Samaritan (in spite of being despised by Jews) has the freedom to act contrary to expectation and he does so.
Let’s look at this from a different perspective.
Once upon a time there was a priest who lived in the time of Jesus. He lived in Jericho and was returning home after completing his rostered duties in the Jerusalem temple.
This priest was interested in Jesus and would attend some of his meetings. He heard Jesus say once to a Samaritan woman You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. (John 4: 22) He knew that the Samaritans had got it mostly wrong and Jesus had confirmed that. In fact he personally knew a Samaritan who had it all wrong. Jesus was right.
This priest was very dutiful too. He made a great effort to adhere to the Law of Moses, especially avoiding anything that would make him ritually unclean and unable to serve in the Temple. He therefore avoided dead bodies because, according to the Law of Moses, Those who touch the dead body of any human being shall be unclean for seven days. (Numbers 19:7)
And to be cleansed of this particular contamination one needed the blood of a red heifer without defect. Where would one get one of those in Jericho?
These were the thoughts he was having as he rushed along home when suddenly, round a corner, he came across what looked like a corpse. He instinctively crossed to the other side of the road and continued on his way.
Something inside the priest made him want to check that the corpse, which was vaguely familiar, was in fact a corpse, that the poor traveller at the side of the road was in fact dead. He was free to do so of course, but he was a responsible man with a sense of duty, so he resisted the temptation and carried on.
The next day the priest was at prayer in his home when his wife rushed in. “Do you know what I’ve just heard?” she cried. “Our neighbour Samuel, was beaten up and left for dead on the road from Jerusalem. He was rescued by Jacob the Samaritan and left in Judah’s Inn. Even now they are bringing him home. You should go and visit him.”
“Now isn’t God good!” said the priest. “He provides a Samaritan to rescue Samuel and I am ritually clean for my trip back to Jerusalem for temple duty tomorrow.”
“How true!” exclaimed his wife, “Samuel has no idea what a good neighbour you are. I wonder if he knows that you pray for him each day.”
“Indeed, my dear” said the priest. “Imagine if I had found him and he’d been dead! I’d have been unclean and of no use to man or beast.”
“Yes, but imagine if you had come across him and he had been wounded,” said his wife. “You would be the hero of the town and still able to perform your duties in Jerusalem.”
“Mmm. Imagine that,” said the priest. “At least that reprobate, Jacob, has had an opportunity to redeem himself somewhat. No. It’s best as it is,” he asserted.
“Yes, I suppose it is,” said his wife.
You see the powerful and the erudite will always find ways of justifying their behaviour because they control and live in terms of systems and have a global view of things, just like our priest. They are elitist and justify the way they run the world because, being smarter, they believe they deserve their advantages in life.
Our priest looked down on Samaritans because they were theologically deviant and he justified his behaviour towards his injured neighbour by valuing the impersonal system he served before the good of the people in his local community.
Jacob the Samaritan, on the other hand, had little education or power. Public opinion (now we might speak of social media too) was consistently arrayed against his kind. He made his way as best he could, and when he came across someone from his own town on death’s doorstep, he stopped to help.
He enlisted the services of someone nearby to look after the injured Jew. He made no song and dance about his activities. He simply acted out of concern for a person in his community.
The lesson we all can learn from Jesus’ parable is this: beware of abstract good. Beware that your support for structural justice, global flourishing and other fine-sounding pieties, does not act as a smokescreen for your own reluctance to face the human needs that are right in front of your own nose.
Beware also that your claim to follow God is based on your own relationship with the person of Jesus, and not on a personification of good deeds you name “god”.
You see Jesus loves you – not the concept of you. Jesus rescues you from your sin. He knows you, he made you, and he hears you. He loves others too and he deals with us in a special way in a special grouping called the church, but always it is you he frees and you he holds responsible for your attitudes and behaviour.