Two Outsiders signal God’s call

John Williams

Texts: Amos 7: 1-17 and Luke 10:25-37

In Amos and Luke we have two examples of “Outsiders” being used by God to tell God’s call and truth.

Amos the Outsider

At time of Amos Israel was enjoying peace and prosperity as she had not known since the days of Solomon. Trade had increased and money was plentiful. But most of it found its way into pockets of the few and dire poverty rubbed shoulders with opulence.  Building on a lavish scale was popular but beyond the gates of the mansions of the wealthy was poverty and destitution.

In the temple scrupulous regard was paid to tithes, festivals, pilgrimages and Sabbath observances. This was held to be all that God (YHWH) required.

Onto this stage steps Amos. First Amos disconnects himself immediately from the time-serving prophets of the State religion.

Amos said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs.”

Although his language and social insight suggested a good education, the life of Amos involved moving with his herds during the year, and survival in hard places. Among the palaces, grand homes and temples of Bethel, Amos is in every way an outsider:

Foreign…He came from Southern Kingdom of Judea herdsman, farmer, orchardist, a man of the land used to rough living

Small wonder the luxury of these impressive buildings and their inhabitants shocked him.

We shall see time and again that the prophets do not see justice and righteousness as a desirable add-on to true worship, they are in fact foundations and the very essence, necessary precursors of worship. God refuses to stomach their fine and exuberant worship.

Amos Chapter 5… 21 “I hate, I despise your feasts,
    and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
    I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
    to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

So an outsider is saying: Behaving justly is much more important than ritual

We hear it again and more in the story Jesus tells in Luke Chapter 10:

2. Story on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho

In the time of Jesus, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was notorious for its danger and difficulty, and was known as the “Way of Blood” because “of the blood which is often shed there by robbers. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his “I have been to the Mountaintop speech”, on the day before his death, described the road as follows:

“I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about twelve hundred feet above sea level and by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about twenty-two feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.” And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking, and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure.   

And so the first question that the priest and Levite asked was…”If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?”

However, as Martin Luther King continues:

But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

Hey here it is again: “The Outsider”…the Samaritan is used by Jesus to point out God’s way.   Samaritans were hated by Jesus’ target audience, the Jews, to such a degree that the Lawyer’s phrase “The one who had mercy on him” may indicate a reluctance to name the Samaritan. The Samaritans in turn hated the Jews.

Hey here it is again: “The Outsider”…With a similar message to Amos

In Jesus’ culture, contact with a dead body was understood to defile one. Priests were particularly enjoined to avoid uncleanness.  The priest and Levite may therefore have assumed that the fallen traveler was dead and avoided him to keep themselves ritually clean so they could continue to  conduct rituals at the Temple. In any case, passing by on the other side avoided checking “whether he was dead or alive.”

Indeed, “it weighed more with them that he might be dead and defiling to the touch of those whose business was with holy things THAN that he might be alive and in need of love and care.

So here we go again…an “outsider” saying: Behaving justly and loving is much more important than worship and ritual

How often in life be alert to how often the outsider, the marginalized, teaches us Gods way and call.

{Tell story at Central railway in Sydney}

But there is more to the story Jesus tells….

Here it is an expert in the Law who asks the question.

‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’

The issue is fundamental: how do we inherit eternal life? ‘Inherit’ assumes inheritance, promise. It builds on the view that God wants us to have this life.

 It draws on the expectations raised by Jewish scripture.

‘Eternal life’ includes everlasting life, but its focus is quality rather than quantity.

 It is about sharing in God’s life.  This was the number one question and still is.

 Jesus directs attention to scripture as the source of the answer to the man’s question.

 Jesus affirms that to love God and to love one’s neighbour is indeed the correct answer.

‘Do this,’ he declares, ‘and you shall live’ (10:28).

Jesus did not answer his initial question but directed him to what mattered…to live in God.

But how…

Do I love God or do I love my neighbour?

The pieces come together differently when we think differently about God.

If God is to be thought of as the projection of those human value systems

which see kingly power and control as primary, and

which see the ideal life as one of ultimate self importance and adulation from others,

then the problem is already in our theology, because such values are in conflict with love for neighbour.

Where however our theology has an image of God

whose being and purpose is loving…

whose life is the creative and redeeming out pouring of such love,

…then loving one’s neighbour is not a secondary obligation ‘which the king requires’, but an invitation to participate in the life and being of God.

Let me say that again

…then loving one’s neighbour is not a secondary obligation ‘which the king requires’, but an invitation to participate in the life and being of God. Loving is where God is.

This does two things: it makes us realise that in human community every human person is a neighbour and potentially a caring human being; and it breaks down the hierarchy of helper and helped.

The passage fades in meaning if we leave the teaching of Jesus at the level of the individual. It about much more than the individual!

The message of the kingdom was about a transformed society, but also about one that was liberated from structures which oppressed.

This individual encounter is not just about individual, it is about communities, institutions, oppressive structures and nations.

God is affirming that no aspect of reality is to be ignored; it’s about all of life.

In creation, God is God and God is love and God invites us to participate in and become God’s action in the world. Loving is where God is.

Thus when Jesus did not answer the lawyer’s quest “How do I inherit eternal life”

But said instead ‘Do this,’…. ‘and you shall live’

I believe Jesus was saying loving one another is living and in this living loving God invites us to participate in and become God’s action in the world. There is no separation… loving is where God is…then loving one’s neighbour is not a secondary obligation ‘which the king requires’, but an invitation to participate in the life and being of God.

Jesus said it…‘Do this,’…. ‘And you shall live’

 Amen.

 Appreciation and acknowledgment is made for use of material provided by:

William Neil: One Volume Bible Commentary, 1962, Hodder and Stoughton.

Prof Rev Bill Loader entitled “First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages from the Lectionary, Pentecost 8: 14 July Luke 10:25-37”. See: http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/LkPentecost8.htm.

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