Engaging the Word: Readings for 7/17/16 (The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost)

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 By Barbara Klugh

Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, the prophet Amos declares divine judgment on the powerful who exploit the poor, Paul affirms the centrality of Jesus Christ in God’s plan, and Jesus visits the home of Martha and Mary.

Fruit basket by Balthaser van der Ast, 1632. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Fruit basket by Balthaser van der Ast, 1632. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Amos 8:1-12: We have a tough and disturbing passage from Amos. The Lord shows Amos another vision of judgment and exile for Israel: a basket of summer fruit. In Hebrew, the word qayitz, or “summer fruit” sounds like qetz, or “end,” making a play on words. The Lord said to Amos, “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by.” God is furious because of the cruel and predatory business practices that “trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land.” The merchants are so greedy that they can hardly wait for the holy days to end, so they can go back to victimizing the poor. They use false weights and measures, and sell sweepings of the wheat as good grain. Things are so bad, that the poor have to sell themselves as slaves. The rich are “buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals.” But the Lord will “never forget any of their deeds.” The time is coming when God will unleash his wrath in the form of an earthquake, a flood, and a solar eclipse. The people’s songs will turn into lamentation and mourning. But the worst thing is that the people will experience a famine, “not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord….They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.”

Now this is a very challenging text, terrifying even. We know that the Assyrians did destroy Israel and the people were taken into exile. So how do we reconcile Amos’ vision of a God of vengeance, destruction, and abandonment with the God of love and mercy who Jesus knew? To me, a God who isn’t angry when some of his people exploit and trample on others wouldn’t be a God worth worshiping. And we know our actions do have consequences. Yet, I cannot believe in a God who would withdraw his presence from us, even when we’re at our most depraved. Not in the lectionary, but in Chapter 9:11-15 we have a sudden message of hope, a reversal of fortunes, and the restoration of David’s kingdom. Many, but not all, scholars doubt that these verses were from Amos, but were added later, during or after the exile. It’s good either way. Amos may have had a new Word from God. If the verses were added later, to me it means that our spiritual ancestors knew of God’s abundant grace and mercy, even if Amos himself couldn’t see the rest of the story.

Psalm 52: This week’s psalm goes well with our reading from Amos. It’s a pronouncement of God’s judgment on the arrogant lover of evil. In contrast, the psalmist says he is “like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of the Lord for ever and ever.”

, Zapfendorf Church, Bavaria. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Paul, , Zapfendorf Church, Bavaria. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Colossians 1:15-28: In this week’s reading from Colossians, the author begins with an early hymn acclaiming Christ as creator and Lord. Christ, “the image of the invisible God,” is uniquely qualified to reconcile humanity to because he dwelt with God before creation, participated with God over every aspect of creation, and “in him all things hold together.” He is the head of the church and “the firstborn of the dead.” Through the cross, all things on heaven and earth are reconciled. Those who were once estranged from God have now been reconciled, provided that they continue in the faith. Paul writes of his eagerness to continue God’s commission to the Gentiles, making the word of God fully known, revealing the once hidden mystery, “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” That’s us!

Christ in the house of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1655. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Christ in the house of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1655. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 10:38-42: Our gospel lesson, recorded only in Luke, is the familiar story of Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha. It’s only five verses, but it has lots of room for interpretation and playing with the story. You might want to read the text and go for a walk to think about it. Here’s the entire passage:

As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

A couple of things came to my mind. I like it that Mary was sitting at the Lord’s feet. In Luke, we see woman as full disciples. I’m puzzled that Martha asks Jesus to intercede with Mary, rather than talking to her sister directly. Or, how about adding another piece of dialog to the end—Martha says, “Lord, you’re absolutely right! I’m going to sit at your feet and listen to you too—to heck with dinner!” Seriously though, I think we are being encouraged to think about how we welcome and follow Jesus in our own hectic lives. If we don’t make the time to be with Jesus, we’ll be as frantic and frazzled as Martha.

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