10/10: Job 23:1-9, 16-17 and Psalm 22:1-15 • Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 and Psalm 90:12-17 • Hebrews 4:12-16 • Mark 10:17-31
Tucked away, in the so-called minor prophets at the end of the Hebrew scriptures, is the short book of Amos. It begins with a brief introduction: the words of Amos, a shepherd, and what he saw at a particular point in the history of Judah and Israel, two years before an otherwise unidentified earthquake (1:1). Later in the book (7:14), Amos himself denied being a prophet.
In chapter 7, Amos was being pressured by Amaziah, priest at Bethel. Warning Amos to go earn his bread elsewhere, Amaziah described Bethel as the king's sanctuary, and a temple of the kingdom. Amos quickly quelled any notion that he was in this project for the money. He earned his bread through working as a herder and a dresser of sycamore trees. He was prophet based on what he had seen and understood as his to communicate to the people of Israel. He had a responsibility he intended to meet.
The priest back in Bethel gets hammered for trying to stop him! The curse (7:17) was thorough, beginning with his own family and extending to the entire people of Israel. And this makes sense to me. The people were responsible, in a sense, for making Amaziah responsible for them. It was a reciprocal process. It's a bargain somehow: if you will be the priest, we will let you think for us.
Nothing good comes from letting others think for us, as it keeps individuals stuck. Nothing good comes from thinking for others, as it keeps each one from his own work. No one grows up! The over-under responsibility imbalance is a quandary for churches today. As families shrink in size, congregations have new challenges. Will they adapt quickly enough to live in this new world, seeing the path forward, reframing the mission? Will there be a famine of hearing the word of the Lord? (Amos 8:11).
Amos was clear about his own mission. Over and over again, in this short book, he condemns those who trample on the poor (5:11). Little escaped his scrutiny. Rich women were cows of Bashan… who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, 'bring something to drink. (4:1). He warned the people that their lovely worship was despised by God: I will not listen to the noise of your songs… but let justice roll down like water (5:23-24). In particular, he pointed out (twice – 2:6, 8:6) that the rich sell the righteous for sliver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.
It's unclear from the text whether this selling of the righteous and the needy was a matter of bribery to slant justice their way or outright slavery – from which they as a people had escaped just a few centuries earlier. Either way, they were directly or indirectly profiting from those less fortunate. Amos was calling it out: an 8th century BCE version of systemic injustice if you will. As a people, they had been formed through years in the wilderness, managing their togetherness with an acute sense of justice described in the ten commandments. Now their community was fraught with unfairness.
For his part, Amos was not without mercy. He pleaded O Lord God, forgive, I beg you! (7:2). Maybe his compassion and perspective came from a vocation of herding sheep and trimming trees. I'm reminded of All Creatures Great and Small, a book about veterinarians in rural England. Just reading the book or watching the original show – no less if one had actually been on the dale, day after day – one can develop more of an awareness of what we creatures are up against.
With wealth, one can forget how hard life can be. Here Jesus calls it out, in a well-known but routinely ignored verse. How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! (Mark 10:23). Hiding behind houses of hewn stone (Amos 5:11) keeps one from the reality of what others are facing. Staying connected with others is each person's responsibility to (not for) us all. Keep us ever mindful of the needs of others is a prayer that manifests – and blesses – to the extent that one is in relationship with others.
Morning: What would Amos say about the world I live in? What might I do differently within it?
Evening: How wealthy am I? How does my wealth get in the way of living in the kingdom of God?
Psalm 90:12 So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.