Amos 7:7-17; Luke 10:25-37
Ordinary 15C; Proper 10
“Amos, what do you see?” “A plumb line.” “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” “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.”
The answers are obvious.
The answers are obvious, but their implications not easy, nor always readily apparent. I can imagine Amos, that not-a-prophet-but-a-prophet, looking at what he knows to be a plumb line and wondering why God would be showing him a plumb line. What’s holy about a plumb line? What religious ritual employs a plumb line? What is God up to with this plumb line? I wonder if Amos gave his answer confidently or with an implied question mark at the end.
What about that lawyer who wanted to test Jesus? I suspect he did not hesitate to show what he knew. Jesus asks, “What is written in the law?” and the lawyer thinks, “I got this.” The lawyer can recite every word, and yet, though obvious and known, the lawyer fails to grasp the expansive nature of what he recited. God’s questions that evoke obvious answers do not garner us an easy “A” in faithfulness or an exemption from living their radical ramifications.
Amos, not-a-prophet, must speak the word of the Lord given to him. Amos, that herdsman and dresser of sycamore trees, must voice a word of judgment to earthly powers none too happy with his proclamation. The plumb line of God’s law provides the guidance, the rule, the standard — but Amos is the one who must employ it and face the consequences of his unpopular pronouncement. No wonder we often don’t want an obvious answer to our God-questions. We say, “Lord, just give me a sign.” But claiming that we don’t know God’s will enables us to continue in our own ways. Ambiguity allows us to dodge the responsibility that comes with knowing what God expects. But God rarely keeps holy expectations under wraps. Jesus says, “I have told you plainly” and God repeats, “I have shown you, O mortal what I require.”
God’s plumb line reveals all we need to know about building our lives and constructing communities and shaping things on earth as they are in heaven.
That lawyer, puffed up with pride at his erudite, pious knowledge, must be caught short with the next obvious answer he must utter. Jesus asks, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer does not need to think, not really, he knows the answer. It is obvious: the one who showed mercy. Do you notice that the lawyer does not say, “the Samaritan”? It is as if he can’t bear to voice the obvious answer. He seems to want to dodge the implications, the upending, distasteful, shocking, obvious answer that it is the hated other, the Samaritan, who is truly the neighbor and therefore the one who inherits eternal life. The obvious answers to God’s questions turn our expectations, and our lives, upside down if we do what we know.
We do not want a plumb line that reveals how far off the mark we’ve fallen. We do not want to know, not really, who God includes, loves and calls. We do not want to voice the obvious answers to God’s basic questions of faith and life because when we do, we must reckon with whether we will feign ignorance or follow God’s direction.
How often does the question arise in Bible studies or after listening to a presentation on a difficult subject or in the wake of a challenging sermon: But what do we do? Often the answer is as obvious as “a plumb line” or “the one who showed mercy” or “the Samaritan,” but we simply do not want to see it, acknowledge it or name it because we do not want to act on the implications of that obvious answer of faith.
In that family morass of estrangement, dysfunction or strife, what do we do? Forgive. Make amends the best we can. Speak the truth in love. Seek reconciliation. Confess. Repent. Repeat.
In the face of systemic, generational poverty, what do we do? Share. Give over our loaves and fish. Enact policies that close the opportunity gap. Advocate for change that ensures every child has access to good nutrition, excellent education and quality health care. Start right where we are and keep at it until the work is done.
What do we do about racism, white supremacy and xenophobia? Call it out when we see it. Examine and recognize our own complicity and participation in it. Educate ourselves about the past and present. Cultivate relationships with those whose experiences are different than our own. As writer Maurice Carlos Ruffin notes in an interview in Believer Magazine, white supremacy “must be destroyed by the folks who benefit from it.” Are those like me, those who benefit from it, ready to destroy it? The answer is obvious in both our actions and inactions.
“Amos, what do you see?” “A plumb line.” And that plumb line is God’s law summed up in the greatest commandment and that like unto it: Love the Lord your God will all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. We know the answer. It is obvious. The real question is whether we will live the answer, God’s answer, or continue to feign ignorance, walk across the street, look away and get on with our religious rituals devoid of any divine measurements or foundation.
When we look at the world, what do we see? Growing income inequality. Unequal access to everything that contributes to life and life abundant: healthy food, clean water, good education, quality health care, banks, jobs, community, housing, the right to vote or walk without fear in your neighborhood. Who, do you think, is a neighbor to those who are the left for dead, nameless and barely breathing? The answer is obvious. Those who notice. Those who stop. Those who tend. Those who share their resources. Those who enlist others to help. Those who refuse to just go on about their business as if there is nothing to be done, nothing they can do, no balm for suffering, pain, cruelty and trauma. In short, those who show compassion. The Samaritan. Not the priest or Levite, the outwardly pious and the religiously learned, but the Samaritan who somehow knows the plumb line of God’s law and acts according to it.
Will we do likewise? Our answer to that question will be obvious to God and to the world.
- Why do you think Amos feels a need to say he is not a prophet or a prophet’s son? How might his lack of qualifications impact his message or how it is received?
- Do you see a connection between these two texts of God’s use of outsiders or unexpected people? Where else do you find God choosing to work through unlikely people? Where might God be doing so right now?
- If you were to choose a metaphor for God’s law, what would it be? Does the image of a plumb line resonate with you? Why or why not?
- When have you asked God a question? What answer did you receive? When has God asked a question of you? What was it and how did you respond?
- When we wrestle with problems, either personal, communal or global, how do we discern solutions? Are their obvious answers that we either fail to see or do not want to acknowledge? What prevents us from doing what we know?
- What are some other questions asked in Luke or in other Bible stories where the answer is obvious? Do those who know the answer act on it or not?
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