Amos 5.6-7,10-15; Psalm 90.12-17; Hebrews 4.12-16; Mark 10,17-31
Amos 5.6-7, 10-15
Often faith in God is defined negatively in terms of what we shouldn’t do (‘thou shalt not…’).
According to Amos, it is the absence of faith and the failure to take God and his commandments seriously that result in the failure to do what is right. For Amos – and other prophets – the person who is right with God will be recognisable because they will ‘Seek good and not evil’ (v.14), which in turn leads to a life lived fully and well. A person with a wise heart is someone who will seek to ‘establish justice’ (v.15) – the emphasis is upon what they do. Justice honours not just the whole of society but values each person. Justice does not care for status or wealth (vv.10ff). Justice requires that we look beyond self-interest. For Amos, as for other prophets, being faithful to God will always be evident in the lives we live and the things we do.
This psalm is a study in time and motion – see how many references you can find to time in these few verses! Time is of the essence, for this is all we have to do God’s work, and that is what will bring us real and lasting riches. For the psalmist, prosperity begins and ends in our relationship with God – and the wise heart knows this (see v.12).
How do we present ourselves to God? We may feel a little uneasy with the chosen imagery in Hebrews of a sharp sword piercing a body (v.12). We may feel uncomfortable being told that God sees everything we do. Perhaps this conjures up an image of God as something like a celestial CCTV. But in the second part (vv.14-16), the reason for this image is explained. God knows the real person not in order to dismiss or judge them but to rescue them, and to pave the way so that they can ‘approach the throne of grace with boldness’ (v.16). In Hebrews, judgement is not all about being condemned; it is intended to return a ‘not guilty’ verdict. But for this to happen, we have to trust ourselves to Jesus (the great high priest) who has paved the way and reshaped us, and given us permission to be our true selves.
Once again, Mark presents a moment of decision that squeezes the hearts of an unnamed man, Peter and the disciples and, indeed, Jesus himself. It begins with a seemingly simple question (v.17). Jesus’ initial response is abrasive though not unsympathetic. It is a serious question. First, the man asks what he must do and Jesus’ answer seems reassuring – note Jesus’ attitude to the man (v.21). But the second part of the answer is crushing and costs far too much. The man’s response and his subsequent actions expose his concerns and his unwillingness to go the whole way with God (v.22). His anxiety is for himself, for what he thinks he will lose.
The middle part of the story (vv.23-27) might suggest that Jesus rejects all wealth. The saying about the camel and the eye of a needle is of a proverbial type and is intended to be absurd in order to heighten the response: ‘Then who can be saved?’ The answer is in the final statement ‘for God all things are possible’ (v.27). The ending of this scene is courtesy of Peter and the disciples. They have seen a desirable addition to their group seemingly waved away, but they are also conscious of their own situation as people who did drop everything to follow Jesus. Jesus’ response is to remind them that they have their reward – not a monetary one but becoming members of a new community in the extended family of God’s people. The final epigrammatic saying (v.31) is part of the escalation of the radical and transforming nature of God’s kingdom. The subversion of the expected triumph of God’s chosen one began with Jesus’ first of the three predictions of his death and resurrection. There is no turning back, Jerusalem is in his sights. To adapt the words of the BBC’s Mastermind, ‘He’s started so he will finish’ – but will the disciples?
|The way we live matters
Tim Herbert introduces the readings in this issue, in conversation with Siggy Parratt-Halbert.