Readings: 12 October 2012 - 19th Sunday after Trinity
Posted: 05 Oct 2012 @ 12:24
Proper 23: Amos 5.6-7, 10-15; Hebrews 4.12-16; Mark
O God, forasmuch as without you we are not able to please
you; mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things
direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
TWO strong imperatives resound from the readings: "seek" and
"go". Discipleship is about seeking God and taking action, which,
given our waywardness, throws us into the petition of the collect
for the Holy Spirit to direct and rule our hearts.
Jesus set out "on a journey", which was Mark's way of referring
to his journey to suffering and death. Immediately, his path
crossed with a man who was seeking, and who asked Jesus a big
question. Jesus gave him a big answer, which cut through the fluff
to the heart of discipleship for an earnest, faithful Jew. The
temptation to make it easy for this man, whom Jesus instinctively
loved and might have wanted with him in these last difficult days,
could have been considerable.
Jesus focused on the commandments about behaviour with others.
Rather than condemn what the man had, Jesus pointed out and offered
what he lacked - freedom from the hold that money had over him. Our
problem is the love of money, not money itself (1 Timothy 6.10,
Hebrews 13.5). Tantalisingly, we never know how the man responded
in the long run: in his shock, he went away, grieving at the
implications, but discipleship is a process, and being shocked may
be a necessary stage on the journey.
Interestingly, Jesus inserted "do not defraud" into what was
otherwise an extract from the Ten Commandments. Defrauding people
is condemned in Leviticus 6.2 and 19.13, and reading around those
verses sheds piercing light on the practical implications, then and
The peasant Amos was given a hard message for wealthy and
corrupt people in his day. His words looked ahead to the fall of
Israel, connecting it with the nation's unjust living, which
rendered the life of the poor intolerable. Today's Psalm (22.1-15)
vividly expresses the resulting suffering. From the king down (1
Kings 21, with Deuteronomy 19.4), people defrauded and exploited
We can say glibly that, as a nation or as individuals, we do not
defraud people by moving boundary markers or taking excessive
levies of produce (grain in an agricultural economy, but many other
things for us today). But what about tax avoidance: when does that
become tax-evasion by individuals on our tax returns, or by
corporations that can afford large numbers of staff dedicated to
finding loopholes? What about the way we make our neighbours' lives
difficult through the way we live and relate to them? What is
lawful might not equate with what is ethical. Jesus called the man
to go beyond keeping the law into doing good.
The recent report on the Hillsborough disaster forces us to hear
Amos's words afresh: "Ah, you who turn justice to wormwood and
bring righteousness to the ground. They hate the one who reproves
in the gate [where justice was dispensed] and they abhor the one
who speaks the truth."
South Yorkshire police may have something to answer for, as may
those involved in banking scandals, but, like the man who met
Jesus, we may be shocked if we dare to examine how we, too, can
This is difficult territory; so no wonder the disciples were
perplexed. Jesus reassured Peter that, in God's economy, complex
equations did add up, but perhaps not as expected: they had to
subtract and divide, then add and multiply; to give away in order
The collect and epistle remind us that we cannot do this without
the Holy Spirit's direction and rule of our hearts: the living and
active word of God must pierce our lives to lay bare before God, as
Jesus laid bare for the man, the thoughts and intentions of the
heart. Mercifully, when facing what is exposed, we have a great
high priest to whom we can turn for grace to help in our need.
The readings point us to eternal life's being rooted in life
now, not beginning at death. Jesus and Amos made connections with
the way we live. The hard words of judgement on corruption in its
many manifestations sit alongside the hope that God's graciousness
will abound if we seek the Lord and live; if we go to take
This applies to us as individuals, and also to us as nations
that tolerate corporate misdemeanour and corruption. Christian
Aid's campaign against tax avoidance is one place to start, along
with a ruthless audit of our own lives, and attention to how we
vote for police commissioners.