Appropriating the Prophetic Word
The 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
July 15, 2001
Amos 7:7-17; John 10:25-37
COMPLICIT IN OUR OWN FAILED PERCEPTION
"We never saw violence or hatred in [our son] until the last moments of his life when we watched helplessly with the rest of the world."
This statement was offered in a letter to victims by the parents of one of the shooters in the Columbine high school massacre in 1999. In the letter and in interviews with the police, the parents repeatedly asserted that they had no idea about the arsenal of weapons their sons were amassing in their bedrooms - an arsenal that included knives, guns, cans full of gunpowder, coils of bomb fuse, and bombs - more than 100 of them, including pipe bombs, 35-pound propane bombs and homemade grenades.
When police entered the room of one of the boys after the raid they found a sawed-off shotgun barrel and bomb making materials lying in open view on the dresser.
According to classmates, the boys openly expressed their admiration for Adolf Hitler, they were obsessed with violent video games and they had posted threatening messages on the Internet revealing to investigators’ horror that they had been planning the assault for at least a year.
When we reflect on the parents’ protestations of innocence we are outraged. How dare they proclaim their helplessness in light of all this?
At night, while the parents were asleep, the two boys responsible for killing 12 of their class mates and a teacher made video tapes in which they talked about all the weapons they had. One of them in mocking imitation of his parents said, "If only we had checked his room. If only we had asked more questions."
How could their parents possibly have been so blind as to miss so many red flags? The answer is that we are never more deafened than when we refuse to hear and we are never more blinded than when we see only what we want to see.
Perception of the important events in our lives is not a matter of the proper function of our eyes, it is a matter of morality. Seeing and hearing, at least in Biblical categories, is a matter of our willingness to hear and see and our willingness to deal with the consequences of the culpability that hearing and seeing creates.
The tragedy of Columbine is that those who were closest to these boys did not see and did not hear because they were complicit in their own failed perception. The greater tragedy is that not one of us in this room is immune to being willingly deaf and complicit in our own blindness.
Our two texts today illustrate this very phenomenon.
EARS THAT WILL NOT HEAR
7 This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the LORD asked me, "What do you see, Amos?" "A plumb line," I replied. Then the Lord said, "Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer. 9 "The high places of Isaac will be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined; with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam."
10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: "Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying: "`Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’" 12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, "Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom." 14 Amos answered Amaziah, "I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, `Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now then, hear the word of the LORD. You say, "`Do not prophesy against Israel, and stop preaching against the house of Isaac.’ 17 "Therefore this is what the LORD says: "`Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword. Your land will be measured and divided up, and you yourself will die in a pagan country. And Israel will certainly go into exile, away from their native land.’"
In our first text Amos the prophet is delivering the word of the Lord to the people of Israel. God was tired of the fact that his people were thoroughly corrupted. They had repeatedly engaged in the practice of syncretistic idolatry. What was that?
Idolatry in ancient Israel must not be understood as the abandonment of Yahweh (which is the Old Testament name of the God of the Bible) but as the blending of the worship of Yahweh with the worship of the gods of the pagan nations that surrounded them. They did not understand themselves to be trading-up religions, but supplementing their worship thus increasing there chances of gaining advanced favor with the supernatural "powers that be".
Most of the time these other gods were associated with the acquisition of wealth and thus were the supportive structures for greed and the neglect of the poor. Most of the pagan religions also mandated sexual rituals and even human sacrifice. Immorality and injustice polluted the land.
By engaging in this syncretism, Israel had abandoned the exclusivism that was mandated in the covenant which governed their special relationship with Yahweh. The Ten Commandments form the backbone of that covenant. Remember the second commandment.
Exodus 20:4 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
In other words the biblical faith is that Yahweh is the only God. All other gods are vain imaginings and pretenders to the throne. The faith of the Bible is Yahweh alone. Yahweh plus violates the very covenant by which Israel was established as a nation.
In proclaiming the judgment of Yahweh on this syncretistic idolatry, Amos was echoing the words of the second commandment and was calling the people of Israel back to the terms of this relationship. His message was: "Avoid the punishment your sins deserve and purify yourselves from idolatry." But those who had prospered through greed and idolatry did not have the ears to hear. They charged him with treason for speaking against the idolatry of the king and banished him from their sight:
10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: "Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying: "`Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’" 12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, "Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom."
Amos’ message was spoken to willingly deaf ears and purposefully blind eyes.
Often we assume the answer to a question we have never seriously asked. Amaziah never seriously entertained the notion God would destroy his people and send them into exile? After all the sanctuary and the temple - the very symbols of God’s presence and blessing were there.
When Amaziah banished Amos from the kingdom he did so with full confidence that the sanctuary and the temple made Yahweh’s blessing a given and the kingdom inviolable. They considered themselves to be God’s special people and as such to be immune from judgment and harm. That arrogant belief, buttressed by deaf ears and blind eyes was revealed to be hollow and bankrupt when Assyrian invaders marched into the city and carted off its citizens a short time later.
Knowing the dangers presented by Columbine and Bethel, my question to this congregation is where have we deafened our ears to the voice of God?
If you have been in this church for any time at all you have heard that you were created to bring glory to your creator and to enjoy a renewed relationship with him through the forgiveness of your sins and a restoration of fellowship with God’s people through Christ.
? Why have you chosen to remain deaf to that call?
? Why have you delayed in putting your faith in the Christ who died and who was resurrected from the dead for you?
? Why have you remained shallow and halfhearted in your commitment to Christ, diluting what would otherwise be a full-bodied, potent faith with idols that buttress your self-sufficiency, your affluence, your comfort zones.
EYES THAT DO NOT SEE
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" 27 He answered: "`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, `Love your neighbor as yourself.’" 28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30 In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. `Look after him,’ he said, `and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
37 The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
Eyes that do not see.
In our Gospel reading, the self-righteous, self-sufficient lawyer (v. 29 But he wanted to justify himself ) asks Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus responds with a parable that subverts his self-righteousness and self-sufficiency. The parable of the "Good Samaratian" exposes his willingly deaf ears and his purposefully blind eyes.
Jesus describes a man on the road to Jericho who is beaten and robbed (a man who experiences the type of desolation and destruction experienced by Israel in exile).
While the victim lay in the ditch, Jesus says that [v. 31] "A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. Willingly deaf to the cries of the helpless and injured man.
In the same manner Jesus says that, [v. 32] So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. Purposefully blind to the plight of the man who had been beaten and robbed.
Why were they willingly deaf and purposefully blind? Jesus doesn’t say. Perhaps we find a clue in the protest of the lawyer to whom Jesus told the parable. This lawyer, like the priest and the Levite in the parable, was an expert in the Law of Moses (Torah) but was blind to its implications. The priest and the Levite possibly avoided the man who was robbed and beaten because getting bloody would have rendered them ineligible to minister in the temple.
In any case, Jesus story reveals that only the Samaritan had mercy on the man in the ditch. The Samaratian, that half-Jew, half pagan outcast in the eyes of proper Jews – the one who, like the prophet Amos, was to be banished from full fellowship with the commonwealth of Israel – was the only one with ears willing to hear and eyes purposed to see.
? And I’m wondering who is your neighbor?
? Are your ears open and your eyes willing to see the one in need?
If you are a Christian, God has commanded you to [v. 27] 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, Love your neighbor as yourself.
? Who is your neighbor?
? Who is the one in your path who desperately needs your demonstration of compassion and your testimony to the grace of Jesus Christ?
? Are your eyes and ears open to the great need under your very nose, or are you willingly deaf and purposefully blind?
A GOD WHO SEES AND HEARS
These are hard words, I know. They hold a mirror before our faces and force us to look at the callous ugliness we see in the reflection. This sermon, however, is not without the good-news of the Gospel.
God has seen that the human race has been destroyed and desolated because of our willingly deafened ears and purposefully blinded eyes. We have been laid waste by the consequences off our rebellion and lie broken and bleeding in a ditch; robbed of our dignity and place as creatures made in his image and likeness.
Two thousand years ago that God clothed himself in human flesh and heard our helpless cries through real human ears and purposefully saw our condition through real human eyes.
He spoke the very words of God and, like the prophet Amos was rejected. He intervened on our behalf and got dirty and bloody suffering our wounds and humiliation, but was considered an outcast, like the "Good Samaratian".
His desolation and exile which was God’s just punishment for our sin has brought about our healing and our restoration.
In his person and work, God has opened our ears and illuminated our eyes and he has called those who have received this mercy to turn again to hear his word.
With ears open to his Word, let us the voice of love and abandon our sin and self-sufficiency.
With eyes wide open let us see the cruciform sacrifice that has reconciled us to God.
Let us hear the cry of human need and to enter into a life of loving God and loving our neighbors.
Let us lift up our eyes and see the harvest – the work of building the kingdom which lies before us .
Copyright (c) 2001 by Rev. Michael J. Pahls
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Rev. Michael J. Pahls
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