“Then the LORD said, ‘See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I (the LORD) will never again pass them by…I (the LORD) will rise against the house of Jeroboam'” Amos 7. 8-9
What does it mean to be a person of “good will?” Are you one of those people who wishes for others goodness? Do you wish blessings and peace on strangers? If so, good job of following Jesus (see the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10)…for those of you who may not, why not?
So, as we consider the LORD’s plumb line this week, it is helpful to remember one thing: The LORD–not us people–uses the plumb line. That is, the plumb line exists for the LORD to measure righteousness and justice. The plumb line is how the LORD keeps relationships straight.
The big question then is WHAT is the plumb line the LORD uses? Christianity has answered that question for years by saying “Jesus.” But Christians have meant a lot of different things by that word “Jesus.” Broadly speaking (and we are painting with the big brushes here, no little details) there are three uses of “Jesus” as the plumb line of God.
For some Christians Jesus is the plumb line as we try to live and do our lives as we follow his example. So, whatever things Jesus did is the stuff we should try and do in our lives today. If Jesus fed people, we feed people. If Jesus prayed, we pray. If Jesus drank wine, we should drink wine (OK, to be fair, that doesn’t always make the list, but it should!) Jesus becomes some kind of iconic moral, spiritual, and religious exemplar, and how we follow that example (plumb line) is how God measures humanity. (Note: for some people, following Jesus is so important, that you don’t even have to know you are following Jesus to be measured by God…if you are doing the kinds of things Jesus did, that’s OK by God, and you don’t even have to know you are following Jesus in this.)
For other Christians Jesus measures us by how well we believe in what he did in his death and resurrection for our salvation. For these Christians, what matters about Jesus as the plumb line of God is how we believe in the death of Jesus as a way to set the world right, and how we believe in his resurrection to bring justice to the world. What he actually did when he was alive, although helpful and holy, is not how the LORD uses Jesus to measure us. It is Jesus’ death, his resurrection from the grave, that the LORD uses for measuring.
The third popular use of Jesus is to say that the LORD only uses Jesus to measure Christians. That is, whatever Jesus is, does, whatever he did or hopes to do only applies to those who believe in God through Jesus. Jesus as the LORD’s plumb line only affects those who want to measure their lives by Jesus. (Notice, this is good, because if you want to be measured by Jesus, you tend to also want to do whatever you have to to have that measurement work in your favor. Too bad for others, but for you? Good news!)
The only problem with those three uses of Jesus as the plumb line of God is that, at least according to Amos, they are all wrong. If we grant Jesus is the plumb line of God that Amos is talking about (and that is risky at best to assume that, but most Christians do…) Jesus is what God uses to measure relationships. That is God, uses the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth to plumb line the world. However Jesus measures it, well, that’s what the LORD is going to use…
So how does Jesus measure the world? Well, he dies with no money, no possessions, a new family taking shape in the shadow of his cross, and his friends all running away and waiting to see. He plumb lines the world on a cross that is not his last resting spot. He plumb lines the world with an empty tomb, with a hope and promise of something we cannot taste or see.
To be honest, gentle reader, I do not find it too interesting how you use Jesus to measure your life. I really don’t care which of the three options above you use, or even if you have another one you use. What interests me is that LORD uses Jesus as a plumb line. God measures God’s being in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Because you see, Jesus was just a guy…just a person…who showed all of us humans what it means to be human. Because as strange as it is, we humans never get being human right…we always try to be God rather than being human.
Jesus, as far as we know, never tried to be God, he was satisfied being human. So, are you? Are you satisfied in being human? If so, then you probably have no trouble with good will and blessings towards others…that’s about as human as we can get.
May your tables be full and your conversations be true.
Scott Frederickson, Ph.D., Lutheran theologian and educator, regularly blogs at “Thoughts from the Prairie Table.”