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Pentecost 5 Proper 10C RCL July 14, 2019

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

Our opening reading comes from the prophet Amos. Scholars tell us that Amos’ ministry took place between 760 and 750 B.C., two thousand seven hundred years ago.

United Methodist Bishop Willimon writes, “Prophecy is the gifted ability to see what other people cannot or will not see. Prophets focus primarily on the moral and spiritual condition of a nation; they do not simply predict future events, but warn of consequences to injustice. Willimon, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 3, p. 221.)

Amos was minding his own business, going about his daily work of being a farmer and a shepherd and a “dresser of sycamore trees,” when God called him to leave his home and land in the Southern Kingdom of Judah and venture into the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Amos was not a member of the professional prophets’ guild. He had no colleagues to support him. Under the leadership of King Jeroboam the Second, Israel had exercised its military might and expanded its land to the farthest reaches in its history. The king and the other prominent and powerful people enjoyed an obscene level of wealth and power while the rest of the people tried to eke out enough to survive.

Amos had a vision of God holding up God’s plumb line of justice and compassion to this corrupt society, and, of course, the society did not pass muster. The priest of Bethel, Amaziah, was completely under the control of the king, and he advised Amos to go home to Judah. Amos responded by telling Amaziah in no uncertain terms that the Northern Kingdom was going to collapse under the weight of its own corruption and that God’s justice would prevail.

Here we have a picture of a nation whose king is so corrupt and such a tyrant that no one dares to stand against him. This includes the priest, who has become a servant of the king instead of being a servant of God. The courage and faithfulness of Amos offer us a shining example of God’s prophets through the ages.

The parable of the Good Samaritan also speaks to us powerfully over the intervening two thousand years. The lawyer asks a question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Biblical scholar Fred Craddock makes a profound observation on this: “Asking questions for the purpose of gaining an advantage over another is not a kingdom exercise. Neither is asking questions with no intention of implementing the answers.” (Craddock, Luke, Interpretation, Westminster John Knox, p. 130.) Scholars tell us that the law had defined “neighbors” as “your kin” (Lev. 19:17-18.) Cousar, Texts for Preaching Year C, p. 427.)

So, when Jesus told this parable and the priest and Levite passed by on the other side, his hearers would not have batted an eye. They would have accepted that behavior because they knew that people who served in the temple had to observe the laws designed to keep them ritually pure for their religious duties. The beaten man is described as “half dead,” and priests and levites were forbidden to go near a dead body even if it was a parent. (Cousar, Ibid., p. 427.)

But when the Samaritan stops and helps the man, Jesus’ hearers would have been shocked beyond our ability to understand. Samaritans had split off from the true faith; they had intermarried with the Assyrians who had conquered them. They refused to help with the building of the temple in Jerusalem and instead built their own temple on Mount Gerizim. Their worship and theology were not orthodox. They were seen as the ultimate Other, and they were hated.

Since the man was beaten and bloody and the robbers had taken all his clothes, it was impossible to tell whether this unfortunate man was Jewish or Samaritan, rich or poor, but that did not matter. The Samaritan looked beyond all the possible labels and saw him as a fellow human being who would die if no one helped him. The Samaritan offered the best treatment he could for the wounds and then took the man to an inn and paid for his continuing care.

Once again, Jesus is stretching the limits of the law. A neighbor is not just “our kin.” It is anyone who needs our help. And the Samaritan, who shows such profound compassion and goes so many extra miles, becomes an inspiring example of what it means to be a good neighbor.

Jesus is constantly and forever stretching the limits of our hearts and minds. He is always calling us to deeper compassion. He is in every moment calling us to be inclusive, to dissolve the barriers that get in the way of his love. He is calling us to look at each other, to look at every person, through his eyes.

May we let him lead us. Amen.

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