Blogging toward Sunday

July 9, 2007

God promises the people of Israel that he will not “pass them by.” At
the same time, God sets a plumb line against Israel, using a divine
standard to measure the fidelity of God’s people. A visit from God,
then, is presented as judgment that shall lead to desolation and
destruction.

It’s a curious image. God stops, stoops, takes time
with Israel in order to judge, in order that there be accountability.
Most of the time when I hear the church plead for divine visitation,
it’s for the purpose of blessing. “Lord, come save us, give us, bless
us” is our prayer. But Amos dares an image of a busy God who, although
preoccupied with business elsewhere, finally takes time for Israel.

To be the object of divine attentiveness is not necessarily good news.

Jesus
is on his busy way to Jerusalem where he has an appointment with
Pilate. On his way a lawyer puts a theological question to him about
the inheritance of “eternal life.” Note that the lawyer assumes that
eternal life is his birthright—he just wonders which technique will get
him his inheritance in the most efficient way. After all, Jesus is a
“teacher” of religion, and what is religion “for” if it’s not a
technique to get whatever it is we desire? We have tried psychology, 12
steps to recovery, Prozac. What does religion offer earnest
seekers-after-eternity like us?

Jesus responds with a story of a
victimized man in grave need. A priest and a Levite both pass by on the
other side. Then comes a despised, disgusting Samaritan who approaches
the victim, assesses and bandages his wounds, puts him on his own
animal and takes him to an inn. Read in the context of today’s passage
from Amos, this is not only a story of active compassion but also a
story of judgment. To those of us among the Chosen who know full well
“what is written in the law,” it is highly insulting to have a
Samaritan shoved in our faces as an example of someone we should
emulate.

Good, Bible-believing, professional theologians
passed by this man. The only one who stopped is a despised Samaritan
and when he stopped, when he took time, he became judgment for us. A
plumb line is being held up against us. We know what is written, we are
credentialed as priests and Levites, and yet our behavior is a scandal
to what we profess.

We gather in church to be closer to God.
But how do we like proximity to a God who loves enough not to pass by
but lingers long enough among us to judge us, to hold a higher standard
of judgment against us than that by which we measure ourselves? To a
God who is not only loving but righteous, and rarely leaves us
unscathed? God is no limp projection of ourselves and our felt needs.
God wields a sword against our self-righteous presumption, and against
our positive self-image slams a disgusting Samaritan who, while not
having our theological commitments, embodies those commitments better
than we.

This is probably more than we had in mind for a summer Sunday’s chat with the Trinity.