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Pentecost 8 Proper 10C RCL July 14, 2013

Amos 7:7-17
Psalm 82
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

Amos is one of my favorite people in the Bible. He is the perfect prophet for Sheldon, Franklin County, and Vermont. He is a farmer, a shepherd, a “dresser of sycamore trees.” He is not a member of the stuffy and sometimes corrupt professional prophetic guild. He has been called directly by God to leave his home and his work in the Southern Kingdom of Judah to go to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, which is enjoying a time of great prosperity and has expanded its territory through military conquest. Those in power are living in the lap of luxury, accumulating vast wealth, while the rest of the people are barely surviving.

God gives Amos the vision of God’s plumb line. God is setting this plumb line, this measurement of what is on the level, what is true and what is not, in the midst of God’s people. Here is this little shepherd and farmer speaking truth to power.

Amaziah, the priest of Bethel and an ally of King Jeroboam, tells Amos to go back home to the Southern Kingdom.  But Amos stands firm.

From time to time it is a good idea to apply God’s plumb line, God’s ethical measuring stick, to our lives and the life of the Church. Are we living in harmony with God’s vision, God’s values?

In today’s gospel, we have one of Jesus’ best known parables, A lawyer is trying to test Jesus. He is not trying to learn something. He is simply trying to challenge Jesus. He asks, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asks him what the law says. The Law says, “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 you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus tells him he has given the right answer.

But then the lawyer asks that question, not for enlightenment but for testing, “And who is my neighbor/’ Commentator Eric Barreto says that the lawyer is really asking, “how wide he must cast the net of love in his world. In the eyes of God, who counts as my neighbor?”

We all know the story. A man goes on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Robbers attack, They strip him, beat him, and leave him lying in the road half dead. A priest passes by on the other side. So does a Levite. But the Samaritan comes to him, has pity on him binds up his wounds, puts him on his own animal, takes him to an inn, and takes care of him, The next day he pays the innkeeper to continue the man’s care and promises to reimburse the innkeeper for any further expenses when he returns.

Scholars tell us that it is almost impossible for us to grasp how difficult it would have been for Jesus’ hearers to think of a Samaritan doing anything good. There were deep differences of culture and religion and ethnicity between Jews and Samaritans. If we think back a couple of weeks ago when the Samaritans did not welcome Jesus and the disciples asked him if he wanted them to rain down fire on the Samaritans, that captures the degree of hatred between these two groups.

We also have to remember that travel in those days was dangerous. People did not travel alone. Rich people had retinues for protection and most people would travel in family groups for safety. The Jericho Road was notorious for robbers. People of that time could well have thought that this man was foolish to go alone. Maybe he had a family emergency or urgent business.

Secondly, it is very easy for us to look down on the priest and the Levite. But they were religious officials who were supposed to follow the law, and a major point of the law was to preserve ritual purity. The traveler was well on the way to being dead, which would have made him ritually unclean. Jesus’ hearers would have understood why the priest and the Levite kept their distance.

But this Samaritan, this outcast, this man who is the lowest of the low, follows the law—love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength—and love your neighbor as yourself. His pity, his mercy, his compassion, overrides all other considerations.

I am going to try to retell this parable in terms that try to approach the shock value of Jesus’ story.

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and he fell into the hands of robbers who stripped him, beat him and left him in the road half dead. An Episcopal priest was going down that road, and, when she saw the man, she passed by on the other side. So also, an Episcopal deacon, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a member of Al Qaeda, while traveling, came near him, and when he saw him, was moved with compassion, He went to him, applied antiseptic, and bandaged his wounds, Then he put him on his own animal, took him to an inn, and when he had to leave to attend to his business, he paid the innkeeper to take care of him until he was well.

That is the level of shock value. This person needed help. We didn’t stop and help him, An outcast, a hated person, showed the kind of care we are called to show.

Justo Gonzalez writes, “Jesus’ final injunction to the lawyer, ‘Go and do likewise,’ does not simply mean. Go and act in love to your neighbor, but, rather, go and become a neighbor to those in need, no matter how alien they may be.”

Once again, Jesus is breaking down barriers, calling us all to be one.  It is not easy to live into this vision of shalom. It is not easy to see the hated other as our brother or sister. As Paul points out in our epistle, we can only live as our Lord calls us to live through God’s gifts of faith, hope, and love.   Amen.

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