Updated: Jan 31
The checking account I recently closed was one I held for some time. I opened it way back in 2005, when I first moved here. When I moved to Tennessee for a period of seminary residency, the same bank had a branch there. That made it easy to keep using the same bank account. Still, that always confused the teller when I made a deposit. She would always ask, “Did you open this account in Tennessee?” I got used to telling them as soon as I saw them look at the check and start keying in numbers, “I opened the account in another state.”
When we came back to this state, to this new location, we found there is a local branch for that same bank. So, I could still use the account without changing; but, for a while I had to keep myself from wanting to tell the teller that I opened the account in this state. I would confuse them when I offered that unnecessary information.
There is something to be said about having a relationship with a bank. Like with all business relationships, we are comforted to believe there is a level of trustworthiness, as well as friendliness. Regardless of how much business we generate for some company, we all want to be recognized as respected for doing business with them, if not welcomed. After nine years with the bank that I used for various accounts, I felt the need to change banks.
I opened the account in 2005, because that bank honored people of my age by allowing them to have free checking. I was over 50, so that got me a break. In the agreement paperwork that I signed, there was obviously some small print that said, “Free checking as long as we want to not charge a service fee.” Because they offered free checking for people over 50, I opened (over time) three other checking accounts, for various reasons. All had the same small print.
In 2011, when the financial collapse was in full swing, the bank began taking out $8 every month, from each account. They had sent me emails giving me advance warning that they were changing the agreement that said “free checking.”
When the bank actually began to take my money simply because I had checking accounts, I went to the bank to personally ask the bank manager what advantage a “50-plus” checking account had. That conversation did not go over very well. The bank manager was not friendly, and I felt a trust had been broken. Still, I went to them to open a new account after my mother died. I had a life insurance check to place in a saving account. Since savings accounts were not paying much interest, I was told I could get more interest for that money, if I put all the money in a money market account. The small print, as stated by the bank representative, said, “As long as I did not need the money any time soon.”
It was my fault for not listening closely, but the friendliness of the bank representative (not the manager) was enough for me to sign an agreement with small print I did not read. For each of four months, I received about $4 interest on the money in that account – about $16 total. Then, I had to withdraw some of the money to pay some bills. My account balance dropped below the minimum I needed to have in the account. As punishment, I learned I was then earning 7 cents of interest per month, instead of $4. On top of that, I was being charged a $25 fee for them holding my money, because my money was less than the sizable minimum they required for an interest rate that paid $4 a month. I had to bite the bullet and pay the price. I had signed an agreement.
I am sure we all have some stories like that to tell. I hear people complain about how breaking their phone agreements, before the agreed contract period is completed, can be quite costly. The I.R.S. also has a reputation of being hard on people who forget the agreement we have with the Federal government, at income tax time. The point is that our society is built upon laws, such that we know breaking an agreement or getting out of a contract will be costly.
The readings today reflect the root source of our agreement with God, as American Christians. We are part of a society that stands by laws from moral values, based on our Christian beliefs. The news of recent times has been a reflection of attacks of that belief system, by non-Christians. There have been stories about Ten Commandments monuments being forcibly removed from state-owned property, because not everyone in the state is of a religion that links to that history. Those ten commandments in stone were an agreement between the children of Israel and God. In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses brings down the Ten Commandments, along with a book of decrees, and tells them, “Surely, this commandment that God is commanding is not too hard for you.”
Moses told them that two stone tablets, along with the book of laws, as a physical presence in their midst will bring, “the word very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.” Seeing a reminder in the lawn outside a courthouse is meant to have the same purpose.
It is, as long as you memorize the large print and the small print, which devoted Jews do.
Two weeks ago, we read how Paul said Jesus freed us from the Law, such that it all came down to loving thy neighbor as you would love yourself. That meant, if you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then you never come close to breaking any of the agreements the people of Israel made with God, certainly none of the Ten Commandments.
Today we read how God told Amos to go tell the people of Israel the service fee is coming, and it is going to be huge. In the gentlest terms, Amos said the king will die by the sword and the country will go into exile, away from its land. That would be like the email notice or the statement that says, “What you thought you had is now less.”
If you are surprised and decide to go in to talk to the manager about this new change, then you hear Amos get real specific and personal. The changes are due to a failure to be reminded of the agreement. You dropped below the minimum requirement. In the fine print it says, “No prostitution, no turning your back to God, and no worshiping of false idols. The penalty is your land sold, you die in unclean lands, and you will be exiled, away from this land.”
You signed the agreement, and those are the terms. Did you forget them? Did you delete the email?
In the Gospel of Luke, we have a lawyer inquiring about the clause about eternal life in heaven. Jesus asked the lawyer if he had read the agreement documents; and the lawyer said he had. He knew the part about loving thy neighbor as thyself, but he wanted to clear up some of the small print. He asked, “Could you detail what a neighbor is, please.”
Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. In that make-believe story, the first passerby was a priest, meaning one who had the role in the Temple to sacrifice animals to God. The second passerby was a Levite, meaning one who had the role in the Temple to hand the priest the sacrificing tools and a wet towel. The Samaritan was symbolic of someone who was either of Assyrian descent, or one of the children of Israel who had married someone who was not of Jewish descent – impure DNA – a Gentile.
Jesus asked the lawyer to decide who of the three was the most likely to be considered a “neighbor,” and he answered correctly – the Samaritan – the mix breed.
That was not something spelled out in the Laws of Moses. Just like how a financial crisis could alter the way free checking accounts, causing them to go the way of the dinosaurs, the errors of the children of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) sent them scattering to the four corners of the earth. Time to find a new bank. Time to make a new agreement. This means a new agreement was drawn up in Christ.
A “neighbor” used to be anyone who lived close enough to walk to Jerusalem (from Judah) or Samaria (from Israel) three times a year, to partake of the grilled meat the priests and their aides were cooking up. The Jews who wandered back into Jerusalem, under foreign rule, they redefined “neighbor” as one who maintained the old agreement, with any lost Samaritans no longer part of the equation. However, Jesus was explaining to the lawyer (a Pharisee), “neighbor” includes Samaritans. From one classified as a Gentile, then everyone can be considered a “neighbor.”
That is hard to write down – every exception to the rule. In the parable, the man who was beaten and robbed and left for dead did not know the Samaritan who came to his aid. The man who was left with the innkeeper might have been unconscious when the Samaritan treated his wounds and carried him in the inn, over his shoulder, from the back of his animal. The man might have recovered and gone on his way before the Samaritan would return to settle any debt still owed. Thus, a neighbor does not need to be spelled out in writing. It is beyond the letter of the law.
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he wrote it from his prison cell in Rome. Paul never visited Colossae, but he had passed the Holy Spirit onto Epaphras, who had spread the Holy Spirit in Colossae. Epaphras had gone to Rome to aid Paul and he told Paul about the church he left behind. Paul wrote the Colossians to tell them to keep the agreement with Christ, so they will always have love in the Spirit.
Without knowing the people of Colossae, Paul wrote, “We have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” He said, keep the faith without everything being written on paper. Let it be in your mouth and written in your hearts.
Moses said that too, remember? The caveat is Christ, who advocates the Holy Spirit be the law within us. Paul reminded the Colossians, “so you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God, you will have spiritual wisdom and understanding” of what is right and what is wrong.
As long as you maintain that minimum balance – follow the Laws – and because you go well beyond the minimum – model Christ – you will never pay a service fee – be lost in darkness – and you will always be reaping the benefits – earn eternal life.