Lesson: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
6 Seek the LORD and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.
7 Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground!
10 They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.
11 Therefore, because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.
12 For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins — you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.
13 Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time.
14 Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said.
15 Hate evil and love good and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
After Solomon died in 930 BCE, the Kingdom of Israel split into two parts, the North (called Israel with ten 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. Unlike many other prophets who condemned improper worship (cultic concerns), Amos was critical of social activities that involved ethical matters.
In today’s reading, Amos warned Israel (the “house of Joseph”) and the city of Bethel (where there was a major shrine) of coming destruction if they did not change their ways. Amos warned that the powerful had turned justice into “wormwood” (v.7) – the leaves of which are very bitter.
The “house of Joseph” is another name for the northern 10 tribes. Joseph’s two sons (Ephraim and Manasseh) were each counted among the 12 tribes for the original division of the lands. The tribe of Levi (the priests) did not receive land, and Ephraim became the most powerful of the 10 Northern Tribes.
In ancient Israel, legal proceedings were held at the city’s gates, and Amos condemned the corruption of the legal system by the rich and the unjust treatment of the poor at the gate. He urged the leaders to “establish justice at the gate” (v.15) so that YHWH would be gracious to Israel, the “remnant of Joseph.”
In saying that the rich would not live in their homes or drink from their vineyards (v.11), the prophet was anticipating the conquest of the North (Israel) by the Assyrians in 722.
Epistle: Hebrews 4:12-16
12 The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
The Letter to the Hebrews was an anonymous sermon addressed to both Jewish and Gentile Jesus Followers which urged them to maintain their Faith in the face of persecution.
Although the Letter to the Hebrews is sometimes attributed to Paul, most scholars agree that it was written sometime after Paul’s death in 63 CE, but before 100 CE. The letter introduced many important theological themes. The first four chapters explored the word of God spoken through the Son.
In today’s reading, the author interpreted the life, death, and heavenly role of Jesus through the category of the “high priest’ who perfected the ancient sacrificial system of Judaism (which ended when the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE).
The letter emphasized that Jesus (as high priest) was able to sympathize with our weaknesses because he (as a human) had been tested as we are. The presentation of Jesus as high priest in the Letter to the Hebrews is unique in the Christian Scriptures and reflected the continuing
process in early Christianity of developing images to describe who and what Jesus of Nazareth was (and is).
Gospel: Mark 10:17-31
17 As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God, all things are possible.”
28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
The Gospel According to Mark was the first Gospel that was written and is usually 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.”
Today’s reading presents a number of interpretive and textual issues.
The term “eternal life” (v.17) is treated as the equivalent of “entering the kingdom of God” (v.24).
Jesus’ rejoinder “Why do you call me good?” (v.18) may be part of Mark’s emphasis on the “Messianic Secret” – the notion that Jesus was not fully identifiable as the Messiah until after the Resurrection. By stating that only God is good, Jesus seems to be saying that he is not God. But for the Jesus Follower community to which the Gospel is directed, the hearers would understand the irony in the statement because of their belief that Jesus was divine.
In reciting the commandments, Jesus chose from the second half of the Ten Commandments as found in Exodus and added a new one: “You shall not defraud” (v.19).
In the Greek text of verse 21, the words “the money” are omitted, so the admonition is slightly modified to say, “sell what you own and give to the poor” (v.21).
Some ancient authorities modify verse 24 to say, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!” If this addition is authentic, it juxtaposes “having wealth” (v.23) with “trusting in it.” (v. 24).
The verse about a camel passing through the eye of a needle (v.25) is regarded by some scholars as “peasant humor.” The Jewish Annotated New Testament points out: “Contrary to a commonly cited medieval legend, the is no narrow “Eye of the Needle” gate in Jerusalem. A Talmudic parallel uses a needle’s eye and an elephant to make the same point.”
It is not surprising that the disciples were perplexed (v.24) at the statement that it would be “hard” for those with wealth to enter the kingdom of God (v.23). In the First Century (as now), persons of substantial means (unless they are ill-gotten) are regarded as having been “blessed.”
Jesus’ reply to Peter’s concern (v.28) is confusing. It seems to say that “in this age” those who have sacrificed “for the sake of Jesus and the sake of the gospel” will receive back 100-fold all (except for fathers!) that they sacrificed. This obvious exaggeration appears cancelled out, however, by the persecutions the persons who have sacrificed will receive.
In the age to come, those who sacrificed for Jesus’ sake and the sake of the good news (gospel) will receive eternal life. The commentator in The New Oxford Annotated Bible described the last part of verse 30 as “a throw-away line mocking the rich man’s concern (v.17).”