The Plumb-line and the Pendulum
When I was in sixth grade, my class took a trip to Washington D.C. I remember going to the Smithsonian Museum, there was a large pendulum set up before a very old American Flag. As the pendulum ponderously paced through it's swing, some of us noticed there were bottles on the floor set in a circle. As the earth rotated, while we would feel no sensation of movement, over time the weight on the pendulum would appear to move around the circle, knocking bottles over every hour. I was fascinated by the precision, the predictability, the proof that this little globe we walk on is insignificant in the grand scale, but also the importance of our own lives to ourselves and those who love us. I stayed watching that pendulum swing until I saw one of the bottles crash, breaking the spell. I wasn't the only one of my classmates who waited to see the destruction! The pendulum never strayed from the steady, pulsing path, but did, eventually, achieve the aim of knocking the bottles off their perches.
By way of contrast to the pendulum, a plumb-line is not supposed to move. The job of the plumb is to be the weight that pulls a line taught, illustrating a vertical line. In Sunday's reading from the Old Testament, God uses a plumb-line image to show Amos God's expectations for the people. The plumb-line demonstrates both the fact that the people have not lived up to God's expectations, but also giving a new reference standard to "build" themselves, holding themselves to it, measuring themselves by this standard, the same way a carpenter or builder makes certain their measures are plumb - aligned to vertical. Used to it's purpose, the plumb-line would not knock the bottles off perches like the pendulum, it simply would not interact at all, but would show whether or not the bottles were upstanding and tall, aligned to the vertical.
On Sunday the Old Testament reading will be from Amos, the Gospel the story of the death of John the Baptist. Were either of these men meant to be plumb-lines, or were they pendulums instead? Did they display, demonstrate a standard of behavior for others to follow, or would they ponderously crash into people, knocking them off their perch, a catalyst for change? What about us: plumb-line or pendulum?