Are You That Guy?

I love reading spy thrillers. I like following all the plots and characters, I like the suspense, I like the twists and turns of the story. And, I like a good hero. Why? Because I imagine myself as the hero. As Bruce Willis said in Die Hard 4, I like to think I could be that guy.

Don’t laugh — you do it too. Even when you read the Bible, you put yourself into the action, right? You imagine yourself as either being somewhere in the scene, or actually being one of the characters. And it’s usually one of the Good Guys or Gals, I bet.

So here’s this week’s set of Biblical movie clips, and a question for you — which of these people are you, really? Which do you act like the most?

  • Jeroboam II, King of Israel
  • Amaziah, priest at Bethel
  • Amos, prophet to Israel
  • Priest and Levite
  • The Samaritan

And before you say Amos or The Samaritan, better read a little further.

First there’s good old Jeroboam II, king of the northern tribes. He wasn’t some sort of fly-by-night character; his reign lasted over forty years, so he must have had some success. And he did! As per Wikipedia, “he was victorious over the Syrians (2 Kings 13:4; 14:26, 27), conquered Damascus (14:28), and extended Israel to its former limits, from ‘the entering of Hamath to the sea of the plain’ (14:25; Amos 6:14).” Jeroboam’s reign was marked by peace and prosperity, bolstered by trade with the Phoenicians and a rising standard of living throughout the country.

And yet, a number of prophets condemned him and his reign. Why? For two big reasons — the expansion of idol worship, and the oppression and neglect of the poor in the midst of wealth and leisure.

“Woe to those who lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches … you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood.”

If you read the entire book of Amos, it is obvious that the leaders of the nation are paying attention to their friends and their wealth, and ignoring or even oppressing the poor and the powerless.

Then there’s Amaziah the priest. He has a bit part in the story, but still one we see today. He is the “friend of the powerful” — that person who likes to bask in some reflected glory of those with the money or the political muscle. As such, he doesn’t like it when someone attacks those in power, so he takes it on himself to tell Amos to preach somewhere else.

We don’t know what motivated this priest to attack the prophet. Actual loyalty to the king? Discomfort at hearing a painful message? An attitude of “Israel — Love It or Leave It”? Whatever the reason, when he had an opportunity to be a true friend to the king — to help the king see the results of his actions — Amaziah chose to attack the messenger instead.

How about Amos? By now, you’re probably thinking “Oh, I’m definitely like Amos in this passage — the one telling truth to power.” Perhaps. And perhaps, you and I are like Amos in what we say … but not so much in to whom we say it. If we gather in our churches and prophesy to each other, we may feel good about what is said, but not so good about its reach. To speak truth to power, you have to go to where the powerful are listening. Are we doing that?

So far, here’s our cast:

  • Jeroboam, who is successful and powerful — and only seems to care about the other successful and powerful people
  • Amaziah, who uses his church position to hang out with the powerful and to attack those who would point out the truth
  • Amos, who goes to where the power is and calls out those things that go against the values of God (and who could use another of our readings, Psalm 82, as a guide)

Then there’s the Gospel reading for the week: the story of the robbery victim, the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan. We all know the story, so let’s jump to the question of the day: which of the characters are you?

The priest and the Levite both saw the robbery victim, and kept going. We all like to think that we would not be like them, that we would stop and help. And yet, do we not do exactly that when we walk on past those who have been robbed in other ways? What about those who are robbed by corporations, or by the powerful? Do we just shake our heads and mutter “what is this world coming to” while going on to our meeting? Uhm, sounds like the priest and the Levite. We can’t fix everything — but we can do something. If we do not do what is at our hand to do, then put a P on our foreheads and call us Passers-By.

Finally, there’s the Samaritan. Again, we all hope we would be this person, be “that guy.” I was struck, though, by one part of the story. After stopping (I can do that), and binding up the wounds as best as he could (I can do that), and putting the victim in the passenger seat of his car (I can do that too), the Samaritan abandons his planned itinerary (hmm), gets a room at the nearest motel (hmmmm), and spends the night caring for this victim he’s never met before (hmmmmmmm).

Then, the next morning, the Samaritan continues on his way … but first, he leaves two denarii with the innkeeper to pay for any charges the robbery victim incurs. (Remember, the guy was robbed — he can’t pay for anything, including the room.) Two denarii — how much is that? According to other passages in the Bible, one denarius was equal to about a days wage. So how much is that?

One of the great things about the 40-hour week is that it makes it easy to figure out either an annual salary or an hourly rate. A 40-hour week times 50 work weeks == 2,000 hours a year. So, if you make $50,000 a year, your hourly rate is $25. Two days wages equals 16 hours of work, or 16 x $25, or $400.

So, to all of us who think we would be that Samaritan — after you stayed the night at the motel taking care of this person you’ve never met, would you throw $400 in cash on the front desk, and then promise to pay whatever else was owed when you came back through on your return trip? Yeah, me neither.

I don’t know about you — but frankly, I am very challenged by this week’s readings. All of them ask me to really consider the question: who am I, really? Which of these characters am I most like? And which ones do I want to be like? And what do I have to do to get there?

Amos spoke God’s truth in the midst of wealth and power. The Samaritan lived God’s truth in a way that involved real sacrifice. As we consider their examples in our own lives, may our prayer be: Lord, make me “that guy.”

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