So, who is Amos? Parts of his book in the Old Testament were read last week and today. And they have similar messages and setups. In both readings, the Lord God showed Amos something, asked what it was, and then explained what message he wanted Amos to tell everyone else based on what he had seen.
Again, who was Amos? I’m going to provide some info about him and his book using source data from Wikipedia.
The Book of Amos is the third of the 12 minor prophets in the Old Testament. Amos, an older contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah, was active around 750 BC during the reign of Jeroboam II (788–747 BC), making Amos the first prophetic book of the Bible to be written. His major themes of social justice, God's omnipotence, and divine judgment became staples of prophecy. He set the tone for what the prophets of God would say for centuries.
Amos was from Tekoa, a town in Judah south of Jerusalem, but his prophetic mission was in the northern kingdom. He is called a "shepherd" and a "dresser of sycamore trees", but the book's literary qualities suggest a man of education rather than a poor farmer.
He praised YHWH for his judgment, demonstrated in his destructive power, rather than praise for creation. Amos said that God puts his people on the same level as the surrounding nations – God expects the same purity of them all. As it is with all nations that rise up against the kingdom of God, even Israel and Judah will not be exempt from the judgment of God because of their idolatry and unjust ways. The nation that represents YHWH must be made pure of anything or anyone that profanes the name of God. God's name must be exalted.
Amos and other prophets include Israel as an enemy of God, as Israel is guilty of injustice toward the innocent, poor, and young women--and their focus should be justice and concern for the disadvantaged. Amos believes their Hebrew God is God of all nations; is judge of all nations; is the God of moral righteousness; and their Hebrew God made all people. He makes clear the idea that Israel's covenant with God did not exempt them from accountability for sin; God elected Israel and then liberated Israel so that he would be known throughout the world. Election by God means that those elected are responsible to live according to the purposes clearly outlined to them in the covenant; and God is free to judge whether to redeem Israel.
Think about this prophecy and the many similarities today in our country and in our world (we sure did in Bible study!)—how we treat others with little or nothing, with no justice, and no voice--and decide what God’s view of our world today likely is. There are many Christian leaders and their followers in the US now who think they are the new “chosen and elected” people, and so they live as they choose and yet believe they continue to be the favored of God. We will see how this works out. It was a very long time—150 plus years after Amos before the Jews were overwhelmed and exiled into Babylon. This time things could happen much faster.
I’m not going to say much about Paul’s letter to the Colossians, other than it was likely written about 55-60AD when he was in prison in Rome. He had trained and sent a local Colossian, Epaphras, to mission there, and Epaphras had found a lot of false teachings going on. Paul’s letter expresses his own theology about God and Christ for them to hear the proper teachings. By the way, it has a lot of phrases that appear to have found their way into our Nicene Creed.
Our Gospel reading today is very familiar to most of us. At some simplified level it seems to be one about fairness. I think back to when I was a kid and there was only me and my next younger brother Mark old enough to do chores, and we would constantly complain that “I washed the dishes, he has to dry them.” And then when it came to the next two brothers, David and Tom, when they came of age, in an era of actual dishwashers, they would complain, “I loaded the dishwasher, so he has to unload it.”
One take I read on this story: “The problem with Martha is not her serving, but rather that she is worried and distracted, leaving no room for the most important aspect of hospitality -- gracious attention to the guest. In fact, she breaks all the rules of hospitality by trying to embarrass her sister in front of her guest, and by asking her guest to intervene in a family dispute. She even goes so far as to accuse Jesus of not caring about her (Lord, do you not care…?). There is no greater hospitality than listening to your guest. How much more so when the guest is Jesus! So Jesus says that Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her. The one thing needed is for Martha to receive the gracious presence of Jesus, to listen to his words, to know that she is valued not for what she does or how well she does it, but for who she is as a child of God.”
And another view I read: “The fact is there is a danger that when we forget to sit at Jesus’ feet that our service can get to a point where it is no longer out of love, it is out of duty and we get quite frustrated with those who are just sitting at the feet of Jesus. The problem is not with them but with us as we have become unplugged from the source of our love, service, and devotion. Only when we are truly devoted to sitting at the feet of Jesus and having a relationship with him can we really serve with a heart of compassion that pleases God.”
Many people in our congregation likely identify with Martha. All four of us at Bible study this past Wednesday (Corby, Joyce, Mary—yes, Mary, and I) all said that’s who we probably most identify with in this story. Feeling pulled in different directions, feeling worried and distracted by many things -- these seem to be common threads of life in our fast-paced world. And yet, as Jesus says in Luke 12:25, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?"
I think that there is some sort of positive balance to be found in being both Martha and Mary. There IS important work and service to be done for Christ and being Martha as far as attention to details and persevering to get things done is really meaningful. Surrounding that with Mary’s focus on Jesus and his teachings, his love, and his sacrifice for us all makes the work and service that much more special and satisfying.
So, take both your Martha and Mary traits into the world and serve Christ in all you do, serving others while being aware of Jesus’ presence all around you.