WHO AM I TO TALK?
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Analysis by Marcus Felde
This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,
“See, I am setting a plumb line
in the midst of my people Israel;
I will never again pass them by;
9the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
10Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. 11For thus Amos has said,
‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
and Israel must go into exile
away from his land.'”
12And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”
14Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
This is a genius juxtaposition of texts—Amos and Ephesians. Two who were “not prophets” (v. 14) are getting opposite receptions in Bethel and Ephesus, one with his strident divine judgment and the other with sweet gospel. In the name of God, Amos laid down the Law—but Paul picked up the Gospel.
DIAGNOSIS: Shut Up Already!
Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) : “We don’t want to hear what you have to say.”
Ears tingled when Amos spoke. He only spoke the truth. As he had been given it to see. But no one wanted to hear that doom awaited God’s unfaithful people. They didn’t want to know that God was going to stop overlooking (passing by) their transgressions. So they “shot” the messenger. Well, they didn’t exactly shoot him but they shooed him away. The disquieting truth is never welcome, because, well, it just doesn’t make us comfortable.
Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) : “This is the king’s sanctuary. Go away.”
Those who wanted Amos to leave had authority on their side. They invoked the “thing” they trusted more than God himself: the king. And they robed their sanctimony in godliness by referring to the king’s “sanctuary” and “temple.” As though God’s apparent surrogate on earth could set his word against God’s! And the people followed his lead, putting their “faith in princes,” a la Psalm 146:3.
Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) : “If you keep talking like this, things will end badly.”
They probably thought they were helping Amos out by suggesting he take his message elsewhere. Like down to Judah. Because, if he kept prophesying like that, about wrath and destruction, they knew the king wouldn’t like it and might even put him to death. As Herod did John, in our Gospel reading, hundreds of years later. But they were not hearing what Amos was saying. It was not he but they who were “going down.”
PROGNOSIS: “Now you’re talking!!”
Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) : The Word that Gives Life
There is no Good News in the First Reading today. Lucky for us, there is a cascade of Good News in the Second Reading. Paul (or whoever wrote this) trips over himself proclaiming the goodness and sweetness of the message God has given us in his Son Jesus Christ, by which people are being brought into the kingdom—right, left, and center. “We [Jewish Christians] who were the first to put our hope in Christ” want to share the same life-giving word with you Gentiles, so that we can all have life together in the name of Christ. This message, this gospel, is not about God holding a plumb line against the wall to decide whether it is straight enough or needs to be adjusted. This message is about God holding his crucified and risen Son Jesus Christ up to us, freely bestowing the riches of his grace upon us all.
Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Advanced Solution) : Let’s listen together!
The Ephesians reading is, like the one from Amos, a plea. But now, it is Paul inviting the Ephesians to celebrate that he has some incredible good news for them—a people who, by the way, lived in a place that was not exactly holier than Bethel. God was doing a new thing in Christ, and no sooner do you hear it than you want to share it. And all of this comes through putting your hope in Christ.
Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) : That we might live “to the praise of his glory.”
“Marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit,” we have the joyful opportunity to “live for the praise of [Christ’s] glory.” Like the people who were not hearing Amos, we have an inheritance. Unlike them, our inheritance is not about to be taken away from us. We shall live, and live, and live to the praise of Christ’s glory. This is the good pleasure of God’s will (Eph. 1:5). Read it and leap.