The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10-C), 14 July 2018


July 14, 2019

Reading 1Reading 2Reading 3Reading 4Reading 1 AltReading 2 Alt
Amos 7:7–17Psalm 82Colossians 1:1–14Luke 10:25–37Deuteronomy 30:9–14Psalm 25:1–10

by Robert McDonald

Discussion of the Texts:    
Diving immediately into the readings for this week — there are, again, options — we look to the minor prophet Amos. According to Theodore Hiebert, Amos should be read as a collection of brief speeches instead of a book with a singular thesis (Hiebert, “Amos: Reading Guide,” The Access Bible, 1236); also, the verses we read today contain the single narrative of a book which contains indictments and judgments for the sins of Israel (1235, 1245). This story begins with a brief vision Amos has of God standing by a wall with a plumb line in hand (Amos 7:7–8). The image of the plumb line, and God setting it in the midst of Israel (7:9), could be interpreted as a metaphor for how God is measuring the “uprightness” of Israel, especially King Jeroboam (7:9). What follows is the accusation of the priest Amaziah that Amos is plotting against Jeroboam (7:10–11), as well as the accusation that Amos is preaching as means of earning his daily sustenance (7:12), a practice which Hiebert suggests may have been common in Israel at the time (Hiebert, “Amos,” The Access Bible, 1245–46). It is at this that Amos claims to only be a herdsman who was called by God to prophesy in Israel (Amos 7:14–15), concluding by declaring that Israel will ultimately fall and be cast into exile (7:17).

Alternatively, we could use the reading from Deuteronomy 30. According Richard R. Nelson, the entirety of Deuteronomy is written as an address from Moses to the Israelite, a hallmark of which is the call to “exclusive loyalty to the LORD” (Nelson, “Deuteronomy: Introduction,” The Access Bible, 265). Chapter 30 of the book marks the conclusion of the covenant made with God in Moab. While the reading begins in medias res, the chapter begins with a reminder that following all of the laws and admonitions of the preceding chapters, showing exclusive loyalty to God, will result in the prosperity of Israel (see Deut. 30:1–8). Moses tells Israel that God will make them “abundantly prosperous in all [their] undertakings” and that God will delight in doing this (30:9); however, this requires turning “to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (30:10; see 6:4–5). This should not be understood as a difficult task for the people (30:11–13); rather, all is near to them, being already in their mouths and their hearts (30:14; see 6:5–9).

We now turn to our options for the today’s Psalms. Psalm 82, in a way, maintains the theme of judgment which we hear in Amos — God demands justice. The difference lies in how the “prophetic exhortation” is framed, especially through the use of the Hebrew shpt (“to judge,” “do justice”) which makes this theme particularly evident (J. Clinton McCann Jr., “Psalm 82,” The Access Bible, 805): God speaks directly against the other gods of nations. As McCann suggests, the Psalm opens with the declaration of God’s supremacy which “precludes the existence of other gods” (805; italics in original. See also Ps. 81:9–10). At its heart, the Psalm is concerned with how the other “gods” have failed to mete out justice on behalf of the weak and those in need (82:2–4); and the Psalmist declares that even “all the foundations of the earth are shaken” without justice (Ps. 82:5). In Psalm 25 (vs. 1-10), we hear what can be a response to the reading from Deuteronomy. Considered a lament (see McCann, “Psalm 25,” The Access Bible, 755), what we read today petitions God for assistance, as well as offering praise for God’s mercy and the assurance that God will remain faithful to the Psalmist. Some examples of this include the following: “Make me know your ways, O LORD” (Ps. 25:4); “Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old” (25:6); “Good and upright is the LORD” (25:8).

This brings us now to the New Testament readings: Colossians and Luke. Within the former we find several elements in the writing, which share similarities with other epistles but is likely post-Pauline in authorship (Abraham Smith, “Colossians: Introduction,” The Access Bible, 1972). According to Smith, the church in Colossae was predominantly Gentile in origin, and the letter was likely written to address issues — either mystery religions or cultural influences — which threatened to draw the Colossians away from true worship in Christ (1972). What we read of today is the existing “faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that [the Colossians] have for all the saints” (Col. 1:4), how Epaphras “made known to us your love in the Spirit” (1:7–8), and that the church of Colossae may “be made strong with all the strength that comes from [God’s] glorious power, and [that they] be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled [them] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light” (1:11–10). We conclude with the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke’s Gospel (Lk. 10:25–37), which culminates in Jesus telling the lawyer to whom he told the parable to “Go and do likewise” when the lawyer said that the Samaritan was the neighbor to the man set-upon by robbers because he showed the man mercy (10:37, 36).

Process Theology and the Texts
There is quite a bit from the readings for this week which touch upon themes of process thought. One such theme is that of love — Divine love and human love. Consider Psalm 25: “Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old” (25:6). In addition, there is this passage: “Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!” (25:7). Finally: “All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees” (25:10). Each of these passages are reminiscent of the work of such theologians as Thomas Jay Oord (for example, see The Uncontrolling Love of God).

Another point which is reminiscent of process thought, but which may be a point of contention among different process thinkers is found in Colossians: “. . . we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (1:5; emphasis added). Smith makes a point to illustrate this particular passage because of its theological import, namely that hope is “represented as an object in heaven,” which is not in accord with other letters with definitive Pauline authorship; in addition, there is no mention in the letter regarding the Parousia (Smith, “Colossians: Introduction,” 1972). In the first case, we may think of either Whiteheadian or Teilhardian thought concerning placing our hope in heaven: for the Whiteheadian, we may be reminded of the oft quoted passage from Whitehead’s Process and Reality, that all things are taken up into heaven and are returned (see Whitehead, Process and Reality, 532), and for Teilhardian the emphasis becomes the alternatively the Omega Point or the Cosmic Christ (for example, see Teilhard, The Phenomenon of Man, 257 – 72;[1] Teilhard, “My Fundamental Vision,” in Toward the Future, 180–8); however, the Teilhardian breaks from the Whiteheadian on the grounds that the Omega Point is a final, hyper-personal culmination toward which all beings are moving.[2]

Finally, all of the readings, regardless of which are selected for worship, are concerned in some fashion with the theme of justice. Amos and Psalm 82, along with Luke, are quite clear on this point; Deuteronomy and Psalm 25, along with Colossians, may not appear so clear. Where the theme of justice seems to be apparent for the latter three is the emphasis they place on how we are called to remain loyal to God, to love God wholly, and to give this love to others.

Preaching the Texts:          
As I said, there is a common theme which may be found throughout the readings for the week, namely justice and the judgment of God. For example, “Amos is Israel’s prophet of social justice, proclaiming that true religion consists not just of ritual observances but in a moral life based on fair and equitable treatment of all members of society, powerful and powerless alike” (Hiebert, “Amos: Introduction,” 1235). Hiebert goes on: “. . . religious assemblies, sacred music, and elaborate sacrifices are pointless without principled and ethical behavior in daily affairs” (1235; see Amos 5:21–4). Today’s verses from Amos are not readily indicative of this, but this does not belie the overall theme of Amos. In fact, the theme of justice was clear in the ministry of Jesus, such as when he had the lawyer of Luke 10 answer his own question: “‘You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself’” (Lk 10:27)

This brings us back to the theme of my commentary for Proper 9: liberation. One could choose to preach on how the author of Psalm 82 portrays God demanding of the “other gods” to “[g]ive justice to the weak and the orphan; [to] maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. [To] [r]escue the weak and the needy; [and to] deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (82:3–4). Given the words of Amos regarding the injustices of Israel under Jeroboam, it does not take a stretch of our imagination to realize that these words can be implemented in our own lives. Indeed, “the LORD will again take delight in prospering you . . . when you obey the LORD your God by observing [their] commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 30:9–10).

Finally, we can preach on the need for all of us, especially those of us who possess various forms of privilege, to continually recall the need to be humble. As the Psalmist says, God “leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble [their] way” (Ps. 25:9). One way we can do this in our daily lives is to recall — and pray — two earlier verses: “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long” (Ps. 25:4–5). Humility and justification is a theme shared by the parable from Luke: the lawyer follows the common tendency of the “righteous” to seek to “justify” their actions, especially letter-of-the-law adherence to the Law. As the author of the gospel notes, “wanting to justify himself, [the lawyer] asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Lk 10:29). Recalling that Samaritans were not well-respected, often reviled, in Israel of the time, it should come as no surprise that the Samaritan of the story is “‘[t]he one who showed [the wounded man] mercy’” (Lk. 10:36–7). The question for us is this: how often do we seek to justify our own actions or inactions on behalf of those most in need — such as when we drive past the person standing at the corner holding a cardboard sign explaining their need? In so many of these cases, how often have we said to ourselves (and others) that the person will likely use what money we give them to buy drugs or alcohol, or to give-in to some other “vice”?


Endnotes

[1]       It should be noted that a more accurate translation of the French title Le Phénomene Humain is “The Human Phenomenon” (more recent translations of the book make this change—I regret that my copy of the book is the older translation, being a gift from a Jesuit faculty member at Gonzaga University).

[2]       For Teilhard, the belief and profession of a final culmination in the Omega was not a naïve optimism—it is a “tragic optimism” which recognizes the possibility that human persons can—and often do—fail to live lives of love, such as how those in positions of power and privilege have failed throughout history to show true love to others (see André Ligneul, Teilhard and Personalism, 74; see also Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 6–7).


Bibliography

Ligneul, André. Teilhard and Personalism [Teilhard et le personnalisme]. Translated by Paul Joseph Oligny and Michael D. Meilach. New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1968.

O’Day, Gail R., and David Petersen, ed. The Access Bible: New Revised Standard Version, with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, Updated Edition. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, [1999] 2011.

Oord, Thomas Jay. The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015.

Sagan, Carl. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1994.

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. The Phenomenon of Man [Le Phénomene Humain]. Translated by Bernard Wall. New York, NY: Harper & Row, [1955] 1959.

———. “My Fundamental Vision.” In Toward the Future [Les directions de l’avenir], 162–208. Translated by René Hague. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, [1973] 1975

Whitehead, Alfred North. Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology. New York, NY: Harper & Row, [1929] 1957.

———. Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, Corrected Edition. Edited by David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne. New York, NY: The Free Press, [1929, 1957] 1978.


Robert McDonald

Raised Roman Catholic, Rob is a second year PhD student with the Center for Process Studies at the Claremont School of Theology. Having studied philosophy, theology, history, and public policy/administration at the undergraduate and graduate levels at both Gannon University (Erie, PA) and Gonzaga University (Spokane, WA), his specific research interests with the Center and CST (to hopefully culminate in a dissertation) are the ethical implications (especially environmental and social) of a comparative analysis/integration of the lives/works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ and Morihei Ueshiba (as well as the Kyoto School of philosophy and the traditions of the Ainu People of Japan), in light of Whiteheadian process thought. Rob is also the current English Coordinator for The Balkan Journal of Philosophy, Editorial Assistant with the Whitehead Research Project, and the 2018/19 Research Assistant for Philip Clayton.

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