18th September 2016
The Sunday readings only use the prophet Amos three times; this and next Sunday are two of those. Amos was a country man used to living a simple life: a herdsman tending sycamore trees. Somehow he came to be a prophet of God in the city of Bethel, though he wouldn’t claim the title of prophet and was different from most of them. Such a man coming from the country to the big and prosperous city just had to speak what he thought in order to deliver a ‘scolding’ from the Lord, for the hiking of prices, lowering of measures and fixing of scales (Amos 8:4-7). His natural reactions to the corruption that he saw is described as visions from God, and they are nearly always expressed with an impressive literary style: matching couplets and triplets. Yet it is the language of wrath and condemnation, though elsewhere Amos does tell of a remnant few who will be spared and at the end of the book there is a very positive prophecy though this ‘epilogue’ may have been added later to end on a note of hopefulness.
The second reading, as last week, is from the first letter to Timothy (2:1-8). In this second chapter the writer is urging the Christian communities to which it is addressed to be sensible and prayerful citizens. Prayers are of different kinds: asking for what we want, praising and thanking God and interceding for others who perhaps wouldn’t pray themselves. God wants everyone to be saved; the rulers and non-believers could easily be looked down upon by enthusiastic Christians, and there were some, believing that only the religious were pleasing to God, who regarded what we would call secular society as evil; the writer wants to oppose this early mistaken view of Christianity. The last sentence of our reading about praying with hands held high is gender specific; only men prayed in this way (which was common among other religious groups at the time as well).
In the gospel we have an unusual parable found only in Luke (16:1-13), which I think means that we should be like the steward who sacrificed his commission on collecting debts so as to gain a good relationship with people. The master commends this steward and the word ‘master’ (κυριος in the Greek) can equally be translated ‘Lord.’ But the parable had been repeated again and again at gatherings of Christians and others, and to Jews and Gentiles alike before it came to Luke; and so it had gained different interpretations to make sense in different situations, and Luke has added some of these general sayings about the use of money. A shorter reading is allowed using just these last three verses – the general applications.