Famine for the Word

17 July 2016
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 11C (RCL)
Amos 8:1-12
Psalm 52
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

Amos is a cheery fellow. His fourth and final vision is a bowl of summer (ripe) fruit. There is a word play here, which the NIV captures by translating “The time is ripe for my people Israel”: ripe and end are cognates in Hebrew. Amos paints a very grim picture of the day of the Lord. For her treatment of the poor and the helpless, God will make an end of Israel. The crowning crime is the sale of the poor for a pair of sandals. The exchange of sandals served to finalize a land transaction (see Boaz’s purchase of Elimelech’s land in the book of Ruth). The rich are buying the land of the poor in exchange for food. This is precisely the situation Joseph initiated in Egypt which led to the slavery of the people. Israel is becoming Egypt. Hence, the calamity God is going to bring on Israel. But worse even than the scattering of the people will be the famine for the word of the Lord. Amos’ own authority comes from his connection to the land. He is not a prophet, but a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees — a subsistence farmer. The misuse of the resources of the land, and their concentration in the hands of the few, is what brings about the dreaded day of the Lord, and the famine for the word of God.

The Gospel reading troubles us. We respond to this, “Well, someone has to cook the soup and wash the dishes.” What interests me in this story however, is that both examples of discipleship are women. The male disciples (students) have done a pretty good job of misunderstanding Jesus’ message, and think that they are in line for a promotion in power when the kingdom comes. Martha and Mary are at least attending to Jesus. At a banquet, a woman would not serve, and a woman would certainly not sit at the teacher’s feet. So, to make his point about discipleship, Luke has chosen two scandalous characters.

I think in our discipleship, we often make Martha’s mistake. As a people, we are very task oriented — give us something to do. In the midst of the divisiveness in our society, we (particularly we whites) want to know how we can “fix” things. What people in the Black Lives Matter movement are telling us is that we need to listen, and believe what we hear. Martha and Mary are already disadvantaged in their culture, and Mary is sitting at the feet of a person soon to be executed as a revolutionary — listening to his account of things.

The passage from Colossians contains the line, “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s affliction for the sake of his body, the Church.” That seems pretty arrogant to think that Paul (or his disciple) can complete the suffering of Christ. But he is doing it for the sake of Christ’s body. Listening will require us to give up deeply held convictions; it will change us. Paul’s profound change of course led to real suffering for him. Ours will likely lead to sufferings for us (grant, we pray, not the kinds of physical abuse Paul suffered) — for the sake of the body, for the sake of the inclusion of those we consider outsiders in that body. We will have to surrender our cherished notions of what and who counts if we are to complete Christ’s body. And we will not accomplish this with more task, but only by listening and believing.

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