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I don’t know why, but thinking about the prophet Amos this week got me thinking about limericks. So I wrote one:
There once was a prophet named Amos
Whose chocolate chip cookies were famous
He sold out the brand
Now they’re in Keebler’s hand
We still eat ‘em, how can you blame us
Ok, wrong Amos. And now we’re all hungry for chocolate chip cookies. Sorry. Let’s try this one:
There once was a man from Tekoa
Whose visions from God were mind blowas
So to Israel he went
Saying you must repent
But instead they said you must goah.
Ok, so it’s kinda hard to rhyme with Tekoa. That’s where Amos was from. He was just an average small-town guy, taking care of sheep and a grove of sycamore fig trees. Amos heard a word from God and felt called to go to Israel and try to get them to listen and repent. Like happens with many prophets, the people didn’t want to listen or change, so they sent him away.
Amos wasn’t a typical prophet. He wasn’t from a family of priests or prophets, like many were. He was a shepherd, a farmer. Sitting in the field all day watching over sheep can actually be quite a boring job, which may be why Amos had all these visions in which God tells him about the problems in Israel. He had time to think and pray and imagine.
In his praying and pondering he saw that the people were being quite religious about their worship practices but then mistreating people the rest of the week, and he wanted the people to know that God cares about more than just what you do on the sabbath. God cares what we do all week long. He said:
- For I know the vast number of your sins and the depth of your rebellions. You oppress good people by taking bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Amos 5:7
Word gets around about what Amos is saying, so a priest named Amaziah comes and tells Amos to go home. Amaziah was a priest in the king’s service, which means he probably made sure the king only heard encouraging and positive prophecies. So Amaziah told the king:
What he is saying is intolerable. He is saying, ‘Jeroboam will soon be killed, and the people of Israel will be sent away into exile.’” (Amos 7:10-11)
They thought Amos was a religious hack, someone who got paid to prophesy. And he was a foreigner, from Judah, the southern kingdom, not from Israel, the northern kingdom where he was prophesying. It would be kind of like somebody from Canada or South America coming here and telling us that we needed to repent. The priest Amaziah and the people didn’t want to listen, but Amos was right, and what he said would happen did happen about 40 years later.
Seven hundred years later, in our New Testament reading for today from Luke, Jesus tells a story that shows how the people of Israel should have been acting, the story of the good Samaritan. Jesus is telling the story to answer the question the religious lawyer was asking. The lawyer had asked what he must do to inherit eternal life.
In response, Jesus asks him what he sees in the Torah, and the man says, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” (Luke 10:27-28)
But the man wants further clarification, so he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers with a parable that basically says that everyone is your neighbor. We don’t need to draw lines to separate out neighbors from enemies. Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for them.
I wonder if the man was hoping Jesus would tell him that he didn’t need to love certain groups of people. That would certainly be easier. Who would we be hoping Jesus would rule out?
Sometimes what gets in our way is fear.
Sometimes we get caught up in a Scooby Doo scenario. That’s a standard plot of an episode of the cartoon about the dog named Scooby and his owner’s group of friends. There’s always a mystery to solve, and that usually involves some person or place that everyone is scared of, usually because people have been telling ghost stories about them. And when Scooby and his friends go to investigate, scary things happen, but in the end they’re not real, and it usually turns out that the person who’s been trying to frighten everyone has something to gain by scaring everyone away.
We see that happening in the real world too:
- Politicians are good at making situations sound scary and then promising that they are the only ones who will solve the problem.
- Media can sometimes make situations sound scary so we’ll keep watching their reports.
One problem with this is that they sometimes do this by telling us to be scared of certain kinds of people, often telling us that those kinds of people are the problem with whatever’s wrong, and that the solution to the problem is to get rid of those kinds of people.
So sometimes the problem is fear.
And sometimes the problem is that we’re just too busy.
That’s what they found in a famous seminary experiment about the Good Samaritans. The researchers wondered why the priest and the Levite passed by the injured man by the side of the road?
- Were they were in a hurry and were filled with busy, important thoughts?
- Maybe the Samaritan was in less of a hurry.
- Or maybe the virtues that the religious leaders taught were not something they followed themselves (unlike the Samaritan).
The researchers had three hypotheses:
- People thinking religious, “helping” thoughts would still be no more likely than others to offer assistance.
- People in a hurry will be less likely to offer aid than others.
- People who are religious in a Samaritan fashion will be more likely to help than those of a priest or Levite fashion.
- In other words, people who are religious for what it will gain them will be less likely than those who value religion for it’s own value or are searching for meaning in life.
The recruited seminary students and told them it was for a study on religious education.
- First they completed personality questionnaires about their religion (to help evaluate hypothesis #3).
- Later they began experimental procedures in one building and then told to go to another building to continue. On the way they encountered a man slumped in an alleyway (the victims condition is unknown — hurt, or drunk?).
They varied the amount of urgency they told the subjects before sending them to the other building, and the task they would do when they got there.
- One task was to prepare a talk about seminary jobs,
- and the other about the story of the Good Samaritan.
- In one condition they told the subject they were late for the next task,
- in the other they said they had a few minutes but they should head on over anyway.
The amount of “hurriness” had a major effect on helping behavior, but the task variable did not (even when the talk was about the Good Samaritan).
Overall 40% offered some help to the victim. (More detailed results at the link below.)
Conclusion: a person in a hurry is less likely to help people, even if he is going to speak on the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Some literally stepped over the victim on their way to the next building!).
Many subjects who did not stop arrived were anxious because they were in a conflict between helping the victim and meeting the needs of the experimenter, so conflict rather than callousness can explain the failure to stop.
So our takeaway from this story is that if we want to be more like the Good Samaritan, we have to be willing to take the time. People in a hurry are less likely to help people, even if we mean to.
If this is something we want to work on, it might mean changing the way we schedule ourselves so we aren’t having to rush so much. Or reevaluating the speed at which we live our lives. It can be tough to make this kind of change, but I think God blesses our efforts. Because God is good and merciful.
That’s why my favorite part of our Old Testament reading today is that Amos pleads with God and God relents. Amos says:
“O Sovereign Lord, please forgive us or we will not survive, for Israel is so small.” So the Lord relented from this plan. “I will not do it,” he said. Amos 7:2-3
Amos isn’t the only one in the Bible who pleads with God!
- Abraham argues on behalf of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah
- Abe says, “If there are 10 righteous people left, will you spare them?” God says, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” (Genesis 18:32)
- In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with God all night asking for a blessing.
- Moses argues on behalf of the Israelites when God gets angry about their complaining and Moses convinces God not to wipe them out. (Exodus 32)
- Jesus pleads with God in the Garden of Gethsemane
- “Take this cup from me, if you are willing….nevertheless not my will but thine be done.” (Luke 22:42)
So we see that lots of people argue with God. Sometimes God relents, and sometimes God doesn’t, but God is always merciful. We see this at the end of the book of Amos. After all the warnings and criticisms, God’s says that he will restore Israel. He will not leave them in exile forever. He is still their God, and he still cares about them.
We see this mercy in Jesus’ conversation with the religious lawyer, too. At the end of Jesus’ conversation, he offers no condemnation to the religious lawyer, he simply asks, “Which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?”
The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”
God doesn’t just care what happens on Sunday. God cares what happens every day of the week. So go and show God’s mercy to everyone.
Take comfort in knowing that God is infinitely merciful and patient.
No matter how many opportunities to help people we might miss, God still loves us and forgives us.
So I must close with a limerick:
Jesus taught us to love one another,
Treat everyone as sister and brother,
He loves us so much,
Keeps us in his touch,
And his mercy will keep us forever
 Darley, J. M., and Batson, C.D., “From Jerusalem to Jericho”: A study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior”. JPSP, 1973, 27, 100-108. https://faculty.babson.edu/krollag/org_site/soc_psych/darley_samarit.html