If you have ever stripped wallpaper, you know that it is a tedious and thankless job. I have known people, who before they were even unpacked in their new house get to work on wallpapering as one of the first things they do. Many still live in these houses. As one person whom I knew was working around a room, they pulled down a particular sheet of paper and saw the line on the wall where the paperhangers had put the plumb line—and I remarked to the family, “Well, now at least we know where they started when they put this ugly paper up.” They had a starting point right there in bright chalk-line blue.
The person restruck a line over the old one, because they believed you can never be too sure about the previous owner’s sense of perpendicular. Putting new paper over the crooked line would be a disaster. The plumb line that we find mentioned in Amos 7, which is set in the Lectionary for this week, is seeking to use the image to warn Israel. However the image seems to me to really be about the place where our identity begins. For the audience of Amos’ writing, it is a warning for Israel to return to the ways that God had provided.
Israel had become corrupt; the original identity of the ones chosen by God was to be their starting point, their source of identity. All the other ways that Israel had tried to had left it lost. Our identity is the starting point from which all the other details of our lives will either be aligned or skewed. Who are we? What is that thing we know so intimately about ourselves on a visceral level that prompts us to worship the living God or not? Through God’s gift of grace, we are able to inescapably become God’s own daughters and sons. However with such an identity comes responsibility.
Having been through an election and watched parties spruke visions that didn’t seem plumb, let us renounce that bigotry and party zeal which would contract our hearts into an insensibility for all the human race. Let us honour the first nations of this land we inhabit as other colonised countries have. Let us not harden our hearts with greed and desire for power against those who are different. Let us despite our leaders misguided focus seek to bring love and compassion into our world, especially for those who seem different and alien to our context.
Yet sometimes sadly we are unable to move outside our context as God calls us to and a small number whose sentiments and practices are so much our own becomes a love to them which is can be the start for self-love reflected. With an honest openness of mind let us always remember that kindred between people, and cultivate that happy instinct whereby, in the original constitution of our nature, God has strongly bound us to each other.
Having expressed that thought it leads me to comment on this week’s reading from Luke about the Good Samaritan. What strikes me about this familiar story is not that the Samaritan helped the Jew but rather the extent to which the Samaritan helped him. Our Samaritan exemplar was not only willing to pull over, see what had really happened, and then engage. He went well beyond that. He took the person in trouble to a nearby inn and gave the innkeeper what amounted to a blank check to do whatever made sense for the person’s healing. “The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’”
The Samaritan could have ended his involvement there but committed to returning after fulfilling another commitment. This Samaritan was a man who knew the blessing of grounding one’s life in faithful loving kindness to others. The lawyer whose original question prompted Jesus to tell this story could not have missed this. The issue for our lawyer was not to understand the limit of his responsibility but rather the extent of his opportunity. So it is for us. Where do my gifts, vocation, and past-times create opportunities to bless the lives of others with the steadfast loving kindness of the gospel of the kingdom of God?
If I am part of the Church, where does my church’s time, talent, and treasure offer corporate opportunities for the same? Where these answers lead is where we can validate God’s steadfast love to us by extending it to others. If we read further in our stories of Jesus from the Gospels we can see that he says to his disciples to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. He never answers that question the same way in any of his encounters but encourages us to have love and compassion for all of God’s creation. And he never does it with a shout, or a punch. But sometimes he does leave us with a story about mercy and an encouragement. “Go and do likewise,” he says.