Bible Tuesday for Sunday, October 11, 2015
Seek the Lord and live,
or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire,
and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.
7 Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood,
and bring righteousness to the ground!
8 The one who made the Pleiades and Orion,
and turns deep darkness into the morning,
and darkens the day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea,
and pours them out on the surface of the earth,
the Lord is his name,
9 who makes destruction flash out against the strong,
so that destruction comes upon the fortress.
10 They hate the one who reproves in the gate,
and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.
11 Therefore, because you trample on the poor
and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.
12 For I know how many are your transgressions,
and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and push aside the needy in the gate.
13 Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;
for it is an evil time
14 Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
just as you have said.
15 Hate evil and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
The prophet, Amos, is sent by God to proclaim words of judgement, warning, and comfort to the northern kingdom of Israel that they might be faithful to God and spared defeat by Assyria. While many of the minor prophetic books in the Hebrew Scriptures are written in this same context, Amos is unique in that the prophet rejects the Northern Kingdom’s worship site of Bethel in favor of the Temple in Jerusalem, and prophesies not against religious sins, such as worship of Baal and other gods, but against social and political sins, as mentioned in the above pericope.
Verse 10’s “They” refers to the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom. “They” are acting as spoiled, rebellious children against those put in authority by God. Most ancient cities in most cultures were walled. Israelite cities had gates that were rather like apartment buildings which straddled large, arched gates that ran right through their middles. The exterior walls of these apartment building-gates were several feet thick. Offices were found in them for the guards of the gates, as well as offices for city officials and for the courts. It is in the city gates that prophets frequently delivered their messages from God, and it was to the city gate one went with official business such as property disputes. It is to here that the poor come, seeking justice, or assistance.
Amos decries the behavior of the powerful in the Northern Kingdom, condemning their injustice, especially to the needy. But note how the tone of chastisement flows into exhortation in the final verses. There is always hope in God, for God is faithful to the covenants.
So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.
13 Turn, O Lord! How long?
Have compassion on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be manifest to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favour of the Lord our God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!
This psalm and psalm 91 are recited at the beginning of morning services on sabboth and other festivals. Psalm 90 contrasts human transience with God’s eternity. While God is eternal, human future is found in their children and their children’s children, and in those things people have done that last beyond their own lifetime. It is to these that the psalmist refers in verses 16-17
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested* as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
The author of Hebrews herein gives vague details of his take on what the end of life will be. “All are laid bare…we must render an account” which brings classic images of standing at the gates of heaven pleading our cases to God or St. Peter. But push those kinds of images from your mind. The writer of Hebrews never saw Warner Bros. cartoons or read The New Yorker for its comics. Instead, focus on what the author says next. We are to hold fast to our confessions: confessions of sins, confessions of what God has done for us, confessions of our hurt and sorrow and troubles. Why? Because we have a high priest/judge/mediator who, himself, suffered life as we do in order that he might completely flood with grace this whole wounded world, and our lives too. Because of Jesus, we march right up to the throne of the Lamb, our confessions flowing in our thoughts and out our lips, all the while knowing that mercy, grace, healing, and wholeness will be ours. We are not afraid to be laid bare, but relieved that finally we will be at peace with ourselves, everyone else, and God.
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 18Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.” ’ 20He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money* to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is* to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another,* ‘Then who can be saved?’ 27Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’
28 Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ 29Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news,* 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’
All three of the synoptic gospels contain this story in various forms and it is usually called “The Rich Man” but note that he is not referred to as rich in Mark, merely as having many possessions. Note the question he asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He does not quiz Jesus like the Pharisees, but he ask Jesus about his teaching either. Rather, the man asks about what activity will allow him to inherit eternal life.
Jesus responds with the party line, Jewish Law as summarized in the Decalogue (aka Ten Commandments). The man is not aware of Luther’s teaching on the Decalogue (which is based on Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings) so he feels confident that he has kept the commandments perfectly since the age of responsibility. Yet, the man feels insecure with his afterlife prospects.
Jesus responds to the man with very difficult instructions which we tend to either take literally, becoming a monk/nun/ascetic, or to ignore, hoping that we somehow do not have as many possessions as that guy and therefore fly under Jesus’ radar on this one.
Jesus then paints a strange parable picture: a camel fitting through the eye of a needle. Why a camel? Why the eye of a needle? Why not say, “It is easier for a lion to fit into a fox’s den then for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”? Some scholars believe there was a gate into Jerusalem referred to as “The eye of the needle” because it was so small, like a short, narrow doorway. If a person was without luggage, or cart, or excess body weight, that person could pass through the gate. A loaded camel would not be able to pass through. An unloaded camel would still have a very difficult time and might require some Crisco on the ribs, much less serious crouching. So Jesus’ parable implies that one would have to be completely unencumbered in order to pass through that Eye of the Needle gate. But remember that parables are mere illustrations of one aspect of something and cannot be stretched to address the whole question.
The discomfort and difficulty of the man’s encounter with Jesus and Jesus’ response is reflected in the disciples’ reactions. “Who can be saved?” they fearfully ask one another. Then to soothe their fears, Peter brags about everything that the disciples have left to follow Jesus. “Surely this very difficult lesson