Plumb lines are for measuring depth. I am afraid the depth of my commitment to this reading may not be worth plumbing considering the rape culture in verse 17. Sure we are supposed to look beyond it, as women we are always meant to blink at the alienating and the outright creepy and defend the honour of the patriarchal text. But just as Amos cannot get away from who he really is (a herdsman and a dresser of trees) I am really a woman and a feminist and I cannot too whole-heartedly jump on board a text that talks about a man being punished through sexual dishonour and servitude for his wife and violent death for his children.Especially when this is a punishement threatened by a tantruming, petulant God.
God, in all honestly I expect better behaviour than that for you, and I will be ready to listen to you when you come back with a reasonable attitude instead of threats and abuse toward others. Let’s see if there is something in the other readings…
God’s “judgement” in the psalm is more to the point. We are called out of our own inappropriate behaviours and unfair dealings with others (fair enough God, that’s a valid criticism).
“Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” God is calling us to get political again, because rescuing the weak and needy is more than personal morality or niceness. Our transformative attitude needs a sweeping focus, it is not enough (herdsmen and dressers of trees) to hide behind our ordinary life, our ordinary skills and our small sphere of influence. And if society is hard to change it is because:
“They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness;”
So it seems that we have a responsibility always to do what we can, to speak the truth and to try to change the way people think towards (once again) God’s interests.
My inbox is full of Richard di Natale thanking me as part of the team that worked so ahrd in the lead-up to the election. This is how Paul comes across in Colossians. By recognition and thanks toward one of the communities, the distant Paul is brought closer to the community and the community is affirmed in their work and their identity, encouraged to persist when at times it surely must be hard. But unlike a modern political leader, Paul grounds the whole operation back in Christ.
In Paul’s way of thinking, transformation according to the will of God is achieved through prayer (which also increases connections between people) and a spirit of gratefulness for each other toward God. All our hope is in something bigger than an election, or a social movement, or a specific policy. We are “rescued from the power of darkness” by God, we become something new that is not fated to always set up injustice as systemic. We are citizens also of the reign of God, redeemed. it’s not clear here how it unfolds, however it seems to be unfolding through Paul’s loving and supportive words for the people of Colossae (whether it is actually Paul writing or not is not the point). So perhaps we can affirm and thank each other to spread a sense of hope and possibility.
But what must we do? how do we access this light and this hope?
In the gospel Jesus tells a story of a man who is beaten up and left for dead. He slips between the cracks as far as the organised religion is concerned, the priest and Levite cannot offer the ministry that is needed. Perhaps the man was gay? Perhaps he was Muslim? Maybe he just wasn’t from the right side of the tracks, or the right creed, or could not engage with the right sort of liturgy. Maybe the Catholic guilt got to him and he beat himself up and abandoned himself on the side of the road. At any rate that is what I did.
Some unclean Samaritan walked past. Or some unclean feminist. Or some atheist maybe, some sort of unbeliever. Outsider, heretic, “other”. What on earth are we expected to think when the wrong people help us? When the wrong people minister to us? When we rediscover our faith through the sorts of adventures that we were always told don’t happen to good little Catholic girls? But the Samaritan who is really neighbour goes to great lengths to offer practical support, not just comforting words. he makes a long-term commitment to see this through. A filthy Samaritan does all this? What are we supposed to think? Are there no standards these days?
But when Jesus turns this puzzle back onto the cleverly questioning lawyer, the lawyer does not say “the Samaritan” because he has been converted to seeing that the only part of the person’s identity that matters is his identity as “the one who shows mercy”. So that is that. We see who it is that is showing mercy and we know who the good guys are!
But Jesus flips it again. This is not just about including the right people, about recognising the good of others. “Go and do likewise” he says. He says it to the lawyer he is talking to but maybe also to the priest and the Levite in his story. That really would be transformative wouldn’t it, if there were no cracks to fall through to begin with, and the Samaritan merely joined the story to help what the priest and Levite were already doing?
Interesting also that in so far as we are the rejected or excluded, this parable clearly shows that we are in no way let off from God’s call, just because we ourselves are “Samaritans”.
So my question would be how do we do likewise? How do we accept valid criticism (as Amaziah in the first reading didn’t)? How do we judge our work by the standards in the psalm (the extent to which we stand up for the poor and needy). How do we offer thanks and support to the people in our lives who do this work (whether they are insiders or outsiders)? Who do we see beaten up by circumstances, or even by their own flawedness and lying helpless on the side of the road to life?
If I see a way this week to live answers to any of these questions then I pray to God for the courage and wisdom to do so. Because the opportunity to do this work is truly “the inheritance of the saints in the light.”