July 14, 2013
DO THIS, AND YOU WILL LIVE
Amos 7:7-17 Luke 10:25-37
I’ve always liked to write. When I was in school I liked to write, although I didn’t like writing term papers and book reports. I like to write what I want to write, when I want to write it. The assigned topics and the deadlines took a lot of the fun out of it for me.
Brethren Press contracted with me in the 1990’s to do some study questions and some introductions for the Guide to Biblical Studies, and I wrote a column on cultural trends for a quarterly newsletter on youth ministry. I was writing things, I was getting paid for them, and they were being professionally edited and published. So that means I’m a writer, right?
The newsletter has ceased publication, and I haven’t done anything for Brethren Press since 2002. I don’t really write much anymore. Every once in a while I write something for work, just a quiz or a couple of paragraphs of continuing education. I write these sermons every couple of weeks, but these are pieces that are designed to be heard and experienced, not so much read silently like a book. There’s nuance in voice and volume and tone that you can hear when you’re listening that I can’t really get on a piece of paper, so I don’t think of these sermons as writing so much.
I don’t find time at home to read or write for fun much, I don’t keep a journal or a diary or anything like that, I don’t have a blog. I was published once upon a time, but not in over ten years. Am I still a writer?
No, I don’t think so. I would like to be able to call myself a writer, but I don’t think I really am any more. Why? Well, I don’t write. You can’t be a writer if you aren’t writing.
That is kind of the approach that Jesus takes to things in the parable of the Good Samaritan. A lawyer gets up and asks a question. It says that he wants to “test” Jesus, whatever that means. Did he want to see if Jesus knew the scriptures, or how he interpreted the scriptures? Did he want to see if Jesus would treat him respectfully? Did he want to see if Jesus would answer the question or if he would hem and haw and dodge around it? I’m not sure, but at any rate the lawyers asks a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus answers his question with a question – “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” And the lawyer replies with words that are familiar to all of us, “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.” And Jesus replies, “You have given the right answer. Do this, and you will live.”
Those words are familiar to most of us. Maybe not all of us, but most of us have heard them many times, either in Bible reading, or in sermons, or in listening to Bible stories growing up, or from Sunday School lessons. They were certainly familiar to the lawyer who was testing Jesus. As one who studied the law for a living, he would have known that this part of the law was key in Jewish teaching. So why did the lawyer ask a question that he already knew the answer to? It’s hard to say, but Jesus calls him on it.
And so the lawyer continues, the Scripture says, in order to justify himself. “And who is my neighbor?” he asks. And Jesus answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan, and then once again turns the question back on the lawyer. “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
There are two things about this parable that we can focus on. Sometimes we focus on how the Samaritans and the Jews did, or rather did not, get along. Speaking generally, the two groups hated each other. Tensions were particularly high during much of Jesus’ life because some Samaritans were believed to have intentionally desecrated the temple in Jerusalem. Often the emphasis in this parable is placed on the fact that it was a Samaritan who reached out to help the Jewish traveler, who reached across cultural and religious and racial divides.
But there’s something else in this parable. It’s something that actually appears twice in this reading, in very similar words. Here at the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus tells the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.” That’s an echo of the words that Jesus spoke just nine verses ago: “Do this, and you will live.”
“Go and do likewise.” “Do this and you will live.” The great commandment and all of God’s commandments aren’t just something to know about. They aren’t just something to study, something to reflect on, something to internalize. They are something to do.
Take a look at our scripture reading from Amos. Usually Amos doesn’t get a lot of time in our sermons. The only part of Amos that we really preach about is a couple of chapters earlier, from Amos 5:24 – “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” For most preachers, that’s about as far as we get into the prophecy of Amos.
The image of plumb line that God uses with Amos is kind of an old one. A plumb line is a string with a weight attached to the end. You use it to see if something is exactly vertical, perfectly straight up and down. God has measured the Israelites, God has measured the temples, and the sanctuaries, and the altars, and has found that they are crooked. They do not meet God’s standard. They are more concerned with the rich and the powerful than with the poor. They do not do the Great Commandment. They do not love the lord their God with all their heart and all their soul and all their minds and all their strength. They do not love their neighbors as they love themselves.
Then there’s a confrontation between Amos and Amaziah. Amaziah was the high priest at Bethel. Bethel would be the equivalent of the National Cathedral, or something like that. It was the King’s church. It was built on the very place where Jacob had his vision of God, and Jacob himself named it Bethel – “house of God.” Amaziah heard of the preaching of Amos and warned king Jeroboam II of the threat that Amos poses. John Holbert notes that when those in power are threatened by anyone who questions that power, the powerful usually accuse them of being in some sort of a conspiracy. “J. Edgar Hoover… accused Martin Luther King, Jr. of being in the employ of the communists. In fact, Dr. King was only in thrall to the God of Israel and Jesus.”
Holbert continues, “Because Amaziah thinks of Amos as a threat, he confronts him by saying, “O seer (in effect he calls Amos a fortune-teller, a cheap-trick magician) go back to Judah, earn your bread there, prophesy there. Never again prophesy at Bethel, because it is the king’s sanctuary; it is the temple of the kingdom.” You clearly are in this for money, Amaziah claims, so go back south where you came from and earn whatever your soothsaying may earn there. But do not ply your trade of mountebank here, because this place is the king’s place; it is the central temple of the kingdom. This is a most telling comment. Amaziah makes it plain that his house of worship has little to do with (God), but everything to do with Jeroboam. “
Amos stands his ground, and this particular passage concludes with harsh words from Amos about what will happen to Amaziah and his wife and his family and his country for daring to stand against God’s command, for daring to stand against the poor and with the rich, for failing to do the things that God commands.
Think again about the Samaritan. Like Amos, he stood against the status quo. He did not buy into what the culture said was the right role for Jew and Samaritan, just as Amos does not buy into Amaziah’s view of the role of the church. If he were a real person who was listening to Jesus, he would have known the answer to the lawyer’s question, and he would have demonstrated that knowledge in his actions.
What specifically did the Samaritan do? He went to the victim. He bound his wounds. He poured oil on his wounds. He poured wine on his wounds. He put him on his beast. He took him to the inn keeper. He asked the inn keeper to care for him. He gave the inn keeper money equivalent to two days wages. He asked the inn keeper to keep track of the victim’s bills. He asked the inn keeper to trust him. He promised he would come back and see the victim. He promised to come back and pay for the victim’s other bills. That’s twelve different things, twelve specific actions that the Samaritan did. He did things, and that’s why Jesus holds him up as an example.
Am I a writer? Not really. Why not? Because I don’t write any more. The same reason I’m not a broadcaster, or a barista, or a fry cook. I used to do those things, but I do not do them now.
Am I a Christian? You can’t look in my heart. But if I follow Jesus, maybe my actions tell you a little bit about my heart. If you are a Christian, you claim Jesus not just as your Savior, but as your Lord. You read the parables, listen to the teachings, learn the lessons, hear the great commandment, and as you’re doing that you put it all into action. You do it.
Do this, and you will live. Amen.