Lesson: Amos 7:7-15
7 This is what the LORD GOD showed me: the LORD was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the LORD said, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by, 9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
10 Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very centre of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’ “
12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”
14 Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15 and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’”
After Solomon died in 930 BCE, the Kingdom of Israel split into two parts, the North (called Israel with 10 tribes) and the South (called Judea with two tribes). Each of the Kingdoms had its own king.
The reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel (788-747 BCE) was very prosperous but was a time of great inequality between rich and poor in which large landowners gained control of the lands of small farmers. (A three-liter bottle of wine is called a “Jeroboam.”)
Amos was a cattle or sheep herder and also cared for fig trees in Judea (v.14), but he was called by YHWH to go north to prophesy (speak for the LORD) against Israel from about 760 to 750 BCE. Amos is one of the 12 “minor” prophets whose works are shorter than the three “major” prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel). He was the first (chronologically) of the prophets whose words left an indelible stamp on later thought in Israel about God.
In today’s reading, Amos told Israel/Isaac (the northern 10 tribes) that it was not measuring up to YHWH’s plumb line and that it and its “high places” (shrines) would be destroyed if it did not reform (vv.8-9).
Amos then disputed with the King’s appointed priest, Amaziah, who told Amos to stop prophesying in Israel, and to go back to Judea (vv. 12-13). Amos responded that he was not a “professional” prophet but had been called by YHWH to prophesy to Israel (vv. 14-15), thus lending additional authority to what he was saying.
In 722 BCE, just as YHWH told Amos to say, the Assyrians conquered Israel. Samaria was the capital of Israel, and because Assyrians intermarried with Samaritans, Samaritans were later looked down upon by Judeans.
Epistle: Ephesians 1:3-14
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
Ephesus was a large and prosperous city in what is now western Turkey. In the Acts of the Apostles and 1 Corinthians, Paul is said to have visited there. In Ephesus, there were Jesus Followers who were Jews and Jesus Followers who were Gentiles, and they did not always agree on what it meant to be a Jesus Follower.
Because the letter contained many terms not used in Paul’s other letters and gave new meanings to some of Paul’s characteristic terms, most scholars believe that this letter was written by one of Paul’s disciples late in the First Century. The letter was intended to unify the Jesus Follower community in Ephesus. The first three chapters are theological teachings, and the last three chapters consist of ethical exhortations.
In today’s reading, the author emphasized the shared beliefs for Jesus Followers, and that the Christ is the mediator of divine blessings. Following the theology expressed in the Fourth Gospel, the letter asserts the pre-existence of the Christ (v.4). Through adoption by God (v.5), believers are heirs of God with all the attendant rights and responsibilities.
In gathering “all things in him” (v.10), the Christ gathers both Jews and Gentiles as God’s chosen people and children. Because the letter is addressed to Ephesians (who were Gentiles), the “you” in verses 13 and 14 are Gentiles who have received the pledge of redemption.
Gospel: Mark 6:14-29
14 King Herod heard of Jesus and his disciples, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason, these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
The Gospel According to Mark was the first Gospel that was written and is generally dated to the time around the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest gospel and forms the core for the Gospels According to Matthew and Luke (both of which were written around 85 CE). Over 50% of the material in those two Gospels is based on Mark. Because these three Gospels follow similar chronologies of Jesus’ life and death, they are called “Synoptic Gospels” for the Greek words meaning “Same Look/View.”
In the First Century, it was not uncommon for people to think of someone as a reincarnation of another, and Herod saw Jesus as a reincarnation of John the Baptist, particularly because of his preaching of the need for repentence.
Josephus, the First Century Jewish/Roman historian, gave more commentary in his books to John the Baptizer than he gave to Jesus of Nazareth. Josephus indicated that John was a well-known and respected figure. The Gospel of Luke claimed that Jesus and John were cousins because Mary was a “relative” of Elizabeth (Luke 1:36). Some scholars suggest that Jesus was a disciple of John’s before he began his own active ministry.
When Herod the Great died in 4 BCE, his kingdom was split into four “tetrarchs.” The Herod in this part of Mark’s Gospel was Herod Antipas who ruled as Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea from 4 BCE to 39 CE.
“Levirite” Law (Deut. 25:5-6) required a brother to marry his brother’s widow only if the couple died childless. Herod Antipas’ brother, Herod Philip, died in 24 CE but he did not die childless. John the Baptist publicly condemned Herod Antipas for marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias, as a violation of the prohibition on incest in Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21. This angered Herodias.
The text in the Gospel seems confused when it said, “when his daughter Herodias came in and danced” (v.22). Other ancient texts said, “when the daughter of Herodias herself” came in and danced. This daughter is identified as Salome by Josephus, and the story makes better sense if Salome did the dancing and was urged by her mother (Herodias) to ask for the head of John the Baptizer who was being held in prison by Herod Antipas.