Archive for July, 2016

Amos and the story of the Samaritan remind us to ask the question, “What kind of community are we?” The prophet Amos tells Israel of the Northern Kingdom that God is measuring their faithfulness to God and the covenant of God’s way against their unfaithfulness in the same way a builder uses a plumb line to measure a building’s vertical line and its ability to stand if its vertical line is true or the likelihood of it to fall down because it does not have a true vertical line, instead it is crooked.

The prophet tells the people God’s judgment is coming because they have failed to be the people God created and anointed them to be. Their community is highly stratified with the poor being bought and sold like commodities and are oppressed and crushed by those with wealth and power, that the merchants cheat their customers by using dishonest weights, the people worship idols of their own making or the gods of other people, the leaders-kings, priests, and the imperial prophets-have failed the people time and time again with the priests and the imperial prophets telling the king and the people what they want to hear as opposed to speaking God’s word of the covenant. The Northern Kingdom has become just like all the other kingdoms around it instead of being the distinctive people of God.

While Amos speaks a word of judgment and justice, the story of the Samaritan stopping to help the critically wounded man on the side road running from Jerusalem to Jericho is told to a gathered group of Judeans, some of whom are testing Jesus to see if he is orthodox enough to included in the community’s tradition. The story comes as a response to the lawyer, who began testing Jesus. The lawyer has asked, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers by telling the story.

Typically, we would focus only on the Samaritan story as an example to be compassionate to strangers in need without delving more deeply into the story and its significance for a people trying to comprehend what it means to be God’s people who “Love the Lord with all heart, mind, soul and strength and Love my neighbor as myself” while ignoring or somehow toning down the prophet Amos’ words and God’s justice, however the events of this past week and the steady, highly polarized drumbeat of stereotyping, blaming and violence demands we dive more deeply into both.

Certainly, both readings challenge us to describe the community we live within and the community we want to be. The Amos readings reminds us about the way God desires to order human life as a community of inclusion with  each person treated with equality without regard to their position or status in society and treated with the same restorative justice, that each person in the community stay connected to the resources of food, vocation and a home, so all have a share in the abundance of the community’s life, and that those who are the most vulnerable-children, the elderly, and the resident migrant- be kept safe and free from oppression and abuse while being treated with neighbor love as are all persons in the community. This is a community valuing integrity and the truth and faithfulness in all relationships between people and between people and God. It is a community where Sabbath rest is valued for all persons, animals and machinery as much for the need for re-creation and healing of a person’s body and the mind as for the recognition that endless work is unhealthy and destructive to each person and animal and machinery and will destroy the community. It is a community living together with each having all they need for life without falling into the trap of envy and coveting what their neighbor has. Indeed, it is a community where such envy is unnecessary because no one has more than their neighbor. It is a community where leaders focus on the well-being of the entire community without regard for reward or their own agenda. It is a community that articulates gratitude for the blessings received from God as the recognition that life is a gift from God and that they did not create themselves. Amos further reminds us that if we ignore God’s way of community we will be like the crooked building that loses its ability to stand. We will crumble and fall into complete destruction.

Just as Amos is a critique of the status quo of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, so too is the story of the Samaritan a critique of Judah in the first century because they too live in a highly stratified society with power and wealth exercised for the benefit of the few while leaving the poor and the marginalized of the community to fend for themselves, then the scribes, priests and Pharisees condemn them for not being quite good enough to be part of the community. It is a society that does not tolerate critique and sees critique as threat and rebellion with the only response by the state to destroy those who question and offer alternatives to the status quo. Into the midst of this society, Jesus comes teaching God’s desire for a community of loving God with hearts, minds, and strength and neighbor love that is inclusive and seeks ways to bring persons back into the community from the margins without hierarchy and which seeks an abundant life for all persons. The Samaritan story challenges us to ask whether we are content to walk past those neighbors needing compassion,  we are willing to stop and provide all the resources needed for the neighbor to regain health and well-being, or are we willing to receive the help we will need by persons we, too often, regard as inferior to ourselves.

Both Amos and the Samaritan story challenge us to ask what kind of community do we want to be? We are challenged to question and critique the prevailing cultural perspectives of Anglo-Saxon privilege and dominance, laissez-faire or mercantilist economic policies that privilege the wealthy at the expense of the poor, philosophies of ideological or religious intolerance in the name of purity and homogeneity, all the ways the community is divided into discrete demographic sectors that are viewed monolithically, and the drive to maintain or gain political power and control using whatever means will provide the outcomes desired. We are, also, challenged to name the issues or problems needing to be solved without making people the issue because if people are the issue or the problem the only solution is to separate ourselves from those people, which is not a solution that will achieve peace nor a solution God desires for humanity and creation. Finally, we are challenged to become the community God desires and creates us to be, a community where each person is equal and connected to each other in the dance of life that is the very image of the Triune God.





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