God’s Plumb Line
15 July 2018 – Lectionary 15, Proper 10, Time after Pentecost
The eighth-century prophet Amos saw a vision of God standing beside a wall, plumb line in hand. . . . The history of God’s chosen people, Israel, is one rife with acts of crookedness, that is, decisions and behaviors that “fall out of plumb” with God’s expectation of justice. . . In the case of Amos, it meant having called down upon himself the priestly judgment of Israel’s religious establishment: that he was at the heart of a conspiracy against the very king of Israel. Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, spoke more truthfully than he knew, like countless spokespersons for establishment religion after him, including a certain high priest named Caiphas, when he announced of Amos, “the land is not able to bear all his words.” –– John Rollefson
With excruciating detail, Mark (like Matthew) describes the arrest, death, and burial of John the Baptizer as a (the?) pivotal event in the ministry of Jesus. For the first time in Mark’s narrative, the concept of death and resurrection is introduced, significantly, by none other than Herod, who proclaims that in Jesus, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” With the exception of Jesus himself, no other character in Mark’s narrative will connect death, resurrection, and Jesus in the same way. Already at this point in the Gospel narrative, the ministries and deaths of the prophets, of John, and of Jesus have been intricately linked. –– Amandus J. Derr
Today’s Gospel reading narrates in flashback style the story of an Amos-come-lately of more than 800 years later. . . who also dared to speak God’s plumb line truth to those in power and was made to suffer for it. Some, it seems, were beginning to think of Jesus of Nazareth as a kind of John the Baptizer redidivus. . . leading some to see Jesus as a latter-day Elijah or another of “the prophets of old.” For conventional religionists of the day, prophets were thought to be a phenomenon of the past—and the farther in the past the better. –– John Rollefson
The real conspiracy in all this (“conspiracy” meaning literally a “breathing together”). . . is God’s: that “in him (Jesus Christ) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us” (v 7). That is, the blood and gore of the story of Israel’s rebellion against God’s Word and God’s Word-bearing prophets, exemplified most brazenly in Israel’s political, economic, and religious elites’ chronic crookedness in failing to live straight lives in conformity to God’s plumb line of justice, is transfigured through Jesus’ blood and righteousness into the story of all humankind’s redemption.
This. . . is no matter of God merely making the best of a bad situation. Rather no less than “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” our text declares, “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. . .” –– John Rollefson
John Rollefson is a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He has served congregations in Los Angeles, Ann Arbor, Milwaukee, and San Francisco.
Amandus J. Derr is senior pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church (ELCA) in New York City.
Homily Service 42, no. 3 (2009): 70-78.