The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (email@example.com) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.
INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE
Ordinary 15 - Proper 10 - Year C
AMOS 7:7-17 Amos, one of the twelve "Minor Prophets," was no
small man. His sense of divine justice speaks across the millennia as
loudly as ever. With fear or favor for no prince or priest, this farmer
from the sticks, spoke for God in symbolic actions as clearly as in dynamic
words. In this passage he predicts that God's displeasure with Israel will
result in a national disaster, an event which occurred in 721 BC with
conquest by Assyria.
PSALM 82 Many of the psalms show the influence of the
outspoken utterances of the prophets. One hears echoes of Amos in this
psalm which may have served as a liturgical hymn in the temple at the New
Year to celebrate the absolute sovereignty of God.
COLOSSIANS 1:1-14 In these opening words of greeting and
thanksgiving, Paul applauds the Colossians' faithfulness to the gospel as
his colleague, Epaphras, had instructed them. The dominant feature of
their faithfulness is love. Paul's prayer that they continue "bearing
fruit" and "be made strong" in the face of a severe challenge from "the
power of darkness" from which they have been rescued. These words point to
a time of conflict scholars believe to have been caused by a serious
LUKE 10:25-37 One of the most familiar parables answers two
universal questions: who is our neighbor and how we are to relate to others
with whom we have little in common, or even a deep sense of mistrust and
hostility. Jews and Samaritans were as hostile to one another in Jesus'
time as are Israelis and Palestinians today. Yet, like their modern
counterparts, they shared the same territory. They also spoke the same
language and held many common beliefs in the same God. But the Samaritans
had intermarried with foreign tribes imported by the Assyrians after the
conquest of which Amos spoke.
NOTE: There are two alternative lessons from the OT and
Psalms. The summaries and analysis of these passages
follow those of the regular RCL lessons.
DEUTERONOMY 30:9-14 This excerpt comes from what the editors of
Deuteronomy presented the final message of Moses to the Israelites (chs.
29-30). It promised absolute prosperity for those who obeyed the covenant
law. This assumption has been much abused by those who used it as if it
was the last word received directly from God. Such an attitude fails to
take into account that the ethic of righteous behaviour by individuals
inherent in the Mosaic code is also balanced by a profound sense of social
PSALM 25:1-10 In its Hebrew original, this psalm has an unusual
acrostic structure. Each of its 22 verse begins with a different letter of
the Hebrew alphabet. The author may have done this to create a form of
prayer not only for himself, but for the use of anyone else at a time of
AMOS 7:7-17 It is a pity that the RCL only uses two passages from Amos
and these only from the narrative segment of the book (ch.7-9). Amos
deserves more than the sharing of his vision of doom with the chief priest
of the royal sanctuary at Bethel.
This passage, one of series of five visions (7:1-9:8), tells us something
about this earliest of the great prophets (despite his canonical
characterization as one of the twelve "Minor Prophets"). In his own words,
he was not a professional prophet or priest, but a farmer (vs.14). What is
more, he was a Judean from Tekoa, a village about 5 miles south of
Bethlehem, in the Southern Kingdom. By raising his voice against the moral
and social corruption of Israel (i.e. the Northern Kingdom), he encountered
the opposition of the royal priesthood of that nation.
Like most rural people, he was something of a jack-of-all-trades, for in
addition to having flocks and a fig orchard, he also knew something about
building and the tools of that trade. His metaphor of the plumb-line
vividly expressed his total condemnation of the moral and spiritual
leadership of the nation (vss.7-9). In ancient times, the plumb-line was
essential to constructing a small house or a city wall. Builders depended
on this simple tool, a weight suspended from a string, to make walls
perfectly vertical. It presented an obvious symbol of righteous behavior.
The sanctuary of Bethel had been an ancient Canaanite holy place set on a
high hill. In Israelite religious traditions it had been associated with
the patriarch Jacob. It had been fought over many times during the period
of the Judges (12th to 11th centuries BCE) and during the reigns of both
David and Solomon (10th century). When the kingdoms were divided by
Solomon's heirs, Jeroboam I (ca. 922-901 BCE) made Bethel the chief
sanctuary of the Northern Kingdom (Israel). It became the centre of the
cult based on the traditions of the ten northern tribes. After the exile
of the northern tribes by the Assyrians in 721 BCE, it became an accursed
site of restored Canaanite worship by the addition of a cult object of
Asherah to the cultus of Yahweh. A century later, Josiah, king of Judah,
razed the sanctuary as part of his centralizing of worship in the temple in
Jerusalem, but spared the city of Bethel itself.
Amos delivered his prophetic oracles in the decades immediately preceding
the fall of Samaria, Israel's capital, to the Assyrians. Due to his
impressive sense of Yahweh's justice and righteousness, Amos foresaw the
moral decline of the nation and the destruction which awaited Israel
(vss.8-9, 17). The king during this period was Jereboam II (788-747 BCE).
Assyria had reduced Damascus to poverty and powerlessness, but under a
series of weak kings did not threaten the Palestinian states. This allowed
the Northern Kingdom of Israel to prosper and a rich merchant class to
develop, but not to the benefit of the common people like Amos. This
explains the vehement outrage of the prophet's message. It also makes him
a very contemporary voice for our own time of global capitalism and
corruption in government and commerce alike have amok in immoral, money-mad
PSALM 82 This particular psalm contains a whole set of interesting
puzzles for the interpreter. The crucial question to be determined is: Who
are the gods vss. 1 and 6? Several proposals have been offered. These are
(1) heavenly beings or angels meeting in heavenly council over which Yahweh
presides as in Job 1:6-12 and 2:1-6 and Daniel 7:9-10; (2) the national
gods of the non-Israelites; (3) kings and others vested with political
power who have been deified as was common in ancient times; (4) the judges
of Israel. The idea that monarchs or judges were intended is reinforced by
the reference to vs.6 in John 10:34 and in the Targums.
The issue emphasized in vss.2-4 is a justiciable occasion: the overwhelming
of the poor by bring turned over to unscrupulous judges or slave masters.
An assembly of gods had many parallels in ancient Near Eastern mythology.
The indictment of this judicial council is clear nonetheless. Yahweh
requires that justice be done for all without regard to political, economic
or social status.
The psalm became a hymn which according to the Mishnah was sung in the
temple by the Levites on the third day of the week. It may also have been
sung at the New year's festival to celebrate Yahweh's moral supremacy.
Vs.8 may be a liturgical addition pointing to either God's periodic
judgments of history or the eschatological judgment at the end of the age
in which divine sovereignty will be universally acknowledged.
The message of justice conveyed in the psalm may be a little heavy for a
summertime sermon, but it does lend substantial credibility to such a
prophetic attitude in our contemporary environment. Those who take such a
stance cannot expect to be heard with approbation in many congregations.
The usual complaint is that preaching and politics should not be mixed. On
the other hand, the biblical mandate of social justice for all is clear as
this psalm attests, despite the often brutal attempts which have been made
to suppress prophetic voices by the rich and powerful.
COLOSSIANS 1:1-14 The debate about the authenticity of this letter as one
of Paul's remains inconclusive after 150 years. William Barclay expresses
the view which most cogently supports Pauline authorship. But he wonders
why this letter which contains the highest reach of his thought should have
been addressed to so unimportant a town as Colossae then was. But in doing
so Paul checked a tendency which could have wrecked Asian Christianity, and
which might have done irreparable damage to the faith of the whole Church.
(Edinburgh: Church of Scotland, "Daily Bible Study: Philippians,
Colossians, and Philemon,")
Paul did not evangelize the Colossian community or those others in the
Lycus valley east of Ephesus, Laodicea and Hierapolis. That had been the
work of Epaphras, who had probably become a Christian as a result of
meeting Paul in Ephesus. The new Christians may have been mainly Gentiles,
but also appear to have been exposed to, if not actual followers of, some
Jewish cult with a background similar to the asceticism and mystical piety
of the Qumran community. Writing in the 1950s, Barclay believed these
esoteric elements were characteristic of the heresy later given the general
title of Gnosticism. This is reinforced by Paul's reference to the
Colossians' need to "be filled with the knowledge of God's will and
spiritual wisdom and understanding" (vs.9). This might not be Barlcay's
view today in the light of much greater acquaintance with the Dead Sea
Scrolls in 1990s.
In these opening words of greeting and thanksgiving Paul applauds the
Colossians' faithfulness to the gospel as Epaphras had instructed them.
The dominant feature of their faithfulness is love (vss. 4,8). Paul's
prayer that they continue "bearing fruit" (vss.6,10) and "be made strong"
in the face of a severe challenge from "the power of darkness" (v.13) from
which they have been rescued points to a time of stress, if not
persecution. In the words "love, joy, patience," we may find allusion to
the "fruits of the Spirit" Paul had elucidated in Galatians 5:22-23. Such
words also lend emphasis to the Christian ethic of loving one's enemies
which Paul so eloquently expressed in Romans 12. This would further
undergird the conviction that this letter is one of several Paul dictated
from Rome during his imprisonment in 60-61 CE perhaps a decade or more
after the conversion of the Colossians.
Eduard Schweizer's study of Colossians (*The Letter to the Colossians.*
Augsburg Press, 1982) shows how closely the structure of Colossians
resembles Romans. There is a dogmatic section and a section dealing with
practical ethical issues in the local community. This introductory segment
(1:1-8) and the personal notes at the end (4:7-18) form opening and closing
brackets around the main message of the letter. Schweizer believes that
the remaining vss. 9-14 of this passage may come from a baptismal liturgy
and are followed by a hymn (vss. 15-20). The emphasis of these verses is
spiritual knowledge, but a knowledge entirely different from that of
Gnostic thought. Paul was writing of a knowledge of the will of God which
had ethical implications rather than mystical secrets. The strength to
live this way and "to share the inheritance of the saints in light" (vs.12)
comes from God who has given the believer a new beginning and new meaning
to life through the forgiveness of sins. Such a message has deep
significance for Christians in any age.
LUKE 10:25-37 The parable of neighbourliness, the good Samaritan, comes
at a teaching moment when Jesus summarized the Torah in two linked
quotations from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. We have no way of
knowing what motivated the man to ask Jesus the crucial question "wanting
to justify himself,"as Luke tells us (vs. 29). One might well suspect,
however, that Luke had had some hurtful experience with a crafty lawyer at
some time in the past. He used the term "lawyer" six times in his gospel,
almost always in a derogatory sense. It occurs twice in Titus, only once
in Matthew and nowhere else in the NT. Furthermore, Luke does not use it
in passages drawn from Mark or Q, the source he shared with Matthew. Nor
does Luke use it where the other gospels speak of scribes. For one steeped
in the Jewish law as this man apparently was, no story could have struck a
more devastating blow to his pride as an rigidly orthodox Jew.
The ancient road from Jerusalem to Jericho winds along a deep wadi flanked
one either side by soaring cliffs. A modern walking trail follows its
route, no more than a track on the cliffside. It is vastly easier to go
down than to go up. The road descends over 3000 feet in less than ten
miles. A modern autobus climbing the new highway on the heights above the
ancient route must go in low gear most of the way. The trek for
pedestrians must have been dangerous at any time, but particularly so in
inclement weather when flash floods could have threatened to wash away the
narrow track or a landslide cast a boulder on the unsuspecting traveler at
any moment. In fine weather, the great danger was from robbers for whom
there were ample hideouts in secluded natural caves.
The parable itself may have been fictitious, told to illustrate the point
it so manifestly makes. Much loved and as important as it is in
understanding Jesus' inclusive attitude and his ethical mandate for all
human relationships, it also exhibits some lively rhetoric and considerable
unreality. No knowledgeable priest or Levite, fully aware the dangers,
would likely have traveled the road alone. Jesus himself appears to have
walked this route in the company of his disciples on his way up from
Jericho to Bethany and Jerusalem.
There would have been room on the trail, but scarcely more, for a man to
lead a donkey. If the Samaritan was on his way home, he was taking a very
indirect route. His journey would more likely have taken him straight
north from Jerusalem via Bethel, Shiloh and Sycar. He would have gone this
way only if he had business in Jericho or east across the Jordan. Again
one wonders if the rescuer, his route and his ministry to the wounded
victim were so identified to emphasize Jesus' point about neighborliness.
No Jew would have allowed a Samaritan to assist or comfort him in this way
unless he was in extremely helpless circumstances.
According to Jewish tradition, the enmity of Jews and Samaritans dated from
the 8th century BCE. The Jews believed that Shalmaneser and his Assyrian
invaders had taken the leading citizens of Israel into exile in 721 BCE
never to return. Subsequently the people of the Northern Kingdom had
intermarried with immigrants forced to replace the exiles. The Samaritans
rejected this view as a vile Jewish canard. They identified Eli, the
priest of the sanctuary of Shiloh who mentored Samuel, as the culprit who
had establishing a rival sanctuary to the one established by Moses on Mount
W.M. Thomson, a missionary in Palestine, traveled the ancient road to
Jericho in 1857 and described the traditional site of the inn where the
Samaritan took the victim he had rescued as a caravansary. Today a small
Orthodox Christian monastery stands there. It still welcomes pilgrims who
dare to follow the ancient route along the footpath this parable fixed
forever in human memory.
Its unforgettable lesson of the inclusive love of God in Christ remains for
every generation to carry to a world desperate for a way out of suicidal
DEUTERONOMY 30:9-14 This excerpt comes from what the editors of
Deuteronomy presented as the final message of Moses to the Israelites (chs.
29-30). It has had a remarkably wide influence in subsequent religious and
The Deuteronomists promised absolute prosperity for those who obeyed the
covenant law. This assumption has been much abused by those who used it as
if it was the last word received directly from God. Such an attitude fails
to take into account that the ethic of righteous behaviour by individuals
inherent in the Mosaic code was also balanced by a profound sense of social
Writing no earlier than the 6th century BCE, it should not surprise us the
authors of Deuteronomy show the influence of the great prophets of justice
from the 8th and 7th century BCE. The whole passage, and especially vs.14,
sound very much like Jeremiah's oracle of the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34).
It also recalls the Shema and summative commandment in Deut. 6:4-9. For
Jews, the essence of obedience to the law was a single-minded love for God
and God alone.
As we know, this also became the heart of Jesus' message. Our Gospel
lesson reveals how much he understood wherein right living and communal
justice had their roots. The influence of this passage spread even farther
through the apostolic mission of Paul evidenced by his quoting from Deut.
30:13-14 in his letter to the Romans as he appealed to his fellow Jews to
trust in the righteousness of faith in Jesus Christ rather than that of the
law (Rom. 10:5-8).
A narrow approach to prosperity based on the absolutist interpretation of
vss. 9-10 found wide acceptance in the early stages of capitalism driven by
a harsh interpretation of Calvinism. It fostered the rise of great
commercial and political empires which advanced science, technology and the
global economy to a remarkable extent through the 17th to 19th centuries CE,
but also resulted in brutally destructive conflicts that lasted throughout
the 20th century. How to adapt economic, political and technological
development at a time when globalization is bringing about confrontation
between vastly different religious and political cultures has become the
challenge of this first decade of the 21st century.
PSALM 25:1-10 In its Hebrew original, this psalm has an unusual acrostic
structure. Each of its 22 verse begins with a different letter of the
Hebrew alphabet. In this excerpt, we have only half of its full text.
Because of this form and the inclusion of several characteristics of wisdom
literature, scholars attribute it to a late post-exilic period and not to
David as the superscript indicates. One commentator suspected that the
author was creating a form of prayer not only for himself, but for the use
of anyone else at a time of great distress.
The psalm begins with a statement of trust and petition for divine help as
enemies attempt to shame him without justification (vss.1-3). He then
pleads to know the ways of the Lord and to be taught to walk in Yahweh's
way (vss. 4-5). This exhibits a common theme of wisdom poetry. His next
plea is for mercy dependent on Yahweh's steadfast love (vss.6-8). The
excerpt ends in a praiseworthy acknowledgment of Yahweh's goodness,
righteousness, love and faithfulness (vss. 9-10). Many humble but faithful
people have found the words of this poem not only comforting but
encouraging when life serves up its inevitable trials.
copyright - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006, 2004
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.