In the midst of this, we get a shepherd/herdsman from Judah bringing a hard message from the Lord to the leaders of Israel, a psalm pleading for restoration, a Hebrews passage using the metaphors of a sword and a high priest, and Jesus again undercutting our assumptions of who is "blessed" and who will receive eternal life.
I have several initial thoughts as I read through these passages. You can find my thoughts in the italicized text below each reading. I would love to hear your thoughts and discuss your questions. If you share your thoughts and questions in the comments below, I will respond and continue the conversation.
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.
- The gate within the city wall was more than a doorway. It was a passageway through the wall and it was used like a town hall and a courthouse. Town leaders would hold meetings here and judges would settle disputes here. If you wanted to know what was happening within and outside of the town, you would hang out within the gate.
- Amos was a shepherd from the land of Judah (AKA the southern kingdom) who was called to be the Lord’s prophet to the leaders of Israel (AKA the northern kingdom). He spoke as an outsider and was received as such (meaning the leaders of Israel received him as an opponent rather than as a friend).
- In time, Israel would be conquered by Assyria. The leaders would indeed be forced from their homes and fields and sent into exile.
- We can read Amos 5:15 as a proclamation that a mass confession and repentance would be received like the confession and repentance of Ninevah in Jonah 3 or like other confessions and repentances led by the good kings of Judah.
Psalm 90:12 - 17
12 So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.
13 Turn, O LORD! How long? Have compassion on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands-- O prosper the work of our hands!
- When paired with the Amos reading, we can hear this psalm as though we are one of the leaders sent into exile by the Assyrians and pleading to the Lord for relief.
Hebrews 4:12 - 16
12 Indeed, 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.
- Hebrews 4:12 is a well-known passage regarding the word of God. However, there is much confusion regarding what it means for this word of God, this sword, to “(divide) soul from spirit, joints from marrow.” Do we take this literally, figuratively, metaphorically, or some other way?
- Another passage claims that Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek is a mysterious figure in Genesis who runs into Abram after he has defeated and plundered an enemy who had captured his nephew, Lot (Genesis 14:10 – 20). If Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek, then he has greater authority than the currently-serving high priest in Jerusalem because that high priest serves in the order of Aaron because Melchizedek appeared and served generations before Aaron became a priest.
- The author of Hebrews claims that Jesus is able to forgive, redeem, and reconcile us to the Father because Jesus lived a fully-human life and experienced the full range of human activities, life stages, and emotions.
Mark 10:17 - 31
17 As he 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." 26 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."
- By all appearances, this man wanted to ensure that he was doing enough to earn his way into the Kingdom of God and eternal life. When Jesus stated a new hurdle to clear before this was possible (i.e. sell everything you own, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus), the man was not prepared for the standard to be so high.
- Some have argued that the “eye of the needle” is not an actual needle but a specific gate within the city of Jerusalem. This gate was narrow enough that a camel loaded with baggage could not walk through it; to get the camel through this “eye of the needle,” the rider would have to stop the camel, fully unload all of the baggage, move the camel through the gate, and load everything back onto the camel. Only then could the journey continue. In recent years, however, scholars have debated whether such a gate ever existed.
- Some have used Mark 10:28 – 30 as a justification of “prosperity gospel,” the term for a believe system based on the claim that the Lord will financially bless true followers of Jesus. In doing so, they conveniently ignore the phrase “with persecutions” in verse 30 as well as the reversal of fortunes in verse 31.