Commentary: Biblical ‘plumb line’ remains a relevant allegory

A friend recently made reference to a “plumb line” in a conversation we were having about Costa Mesa, which inspired me to do some research.

She mentioned she attended a local church service that discussed the book of Amos. So I scurried home and found information online that Amos prophesized in Israel during the reign of King Jeroboam II, 785-745 B.C. This was during a time of much peace and prosperity, but Amos argued that Israel was going in the wrong direction “because they sell the righteous for silver and oppress the poor and take bribes and push aside the needy at the gate.”

Amos proclaimed God’s judgment upon his people for failing to live by God’s standards of justice and righteousness. Amos pleaded with God to relent his judgment and, in their place, God places a plumb line. A plumb line is a weight suspended from a string used as a vertical reference line to ensure a structure is centered. As they always find the vertical axis pointing to the center of gravity, they ensure everything is right, justified and centered.

I wanted to look into this further so I located a sermon online, “What’s your plumb line?” written by the Rev. Joseph J. Clifford, in which he writes, “By what do we measure our lives and our community? What tells us that things are aligned, that life is where it needs to be?’'

He also asks, “How do our plumb lines compare to God’s?”

God’s plumb line “has a lot to do with the poor. It has a lot to do with righteousness that is living in right relationship with God and neighbor. It has a lot to do with justice.”

His 2013 sermon cites that “In November 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau indicated 16% of Americans live in poverty. One in five American children live in poverty ... While the economist’s plumb lines have been righting themselves, we’ve witnessed an unprecedented rise in children living in poverty.”

Income inequality is worse today in America than it was in 1774, when slavery was still legal.” The picture is only partially complete as he continues, “Entwined with poverty is the disparity of race in American life. Over 60% of our prison populations are minorities.”

He continues, “Putting the plumb line up to our justice system, statistics show the system is slanted against people of color. The issue is not only one of race, but also poverty.”

He asks some relevant questions.

“Will the imbalance in our justice system come to light?” “How are we to respond?”

His sermon includes a quote from Dr. Bernice King: “In the words of my father, we must conduct ourselves on the higher plane of dignity and discipline.”

My friend and I talked about the homeless in Costa Mesa and their growing numbers. We talked about the new developments and the luxury high-rise apartments proposed in the General Plan.

We also discussed the lack of affordable housing for so many people. We also conversed about the proposed voting district and wondered if Latinos would truly be equally represented when this all comes to pass. We talked about injustice.

As we said our goodbyes, my friend shared her thoughts about the story of Amos and the plumb line and that it could have been written about our city today. I am left wondering if she was right.


LAURENE KEANE lives in Costa Mesa.