Read the text here: Amos 7:7-17
Centered & Straight!
What is a prophet? There is a broad misconception that a prophet is someone who predicts the future. As we begin to enter into a series of wonderful texts from various prophets it is important for us to recognize that this is NOT what a prophet is. Predicting the future, like some kind of fortune-teller, is simply not what the ancient Israelite prophets were about. What is a prophet?
A prophet is a truth-teller; prophecy is telling the truth!
And the remarkable thing about ancient Israelite prophecy is that the truth-telling of prophets like Amos and Hosea and Micah is still as relevant and difficult to hear for us as it was for these prophet’s original audiences.
But there are instances where a prophet’s oracle contained a prediction that came to fulfillment. Jeremiah is a great example of this, as is Amos who warns that ultimately the North will be destroyed – and the north eventually is destroyed. But there is a distinction to be made between fortune-telling, that is simply predicting the future for the sake of predicting the future, and being able to see the consequences of a particular course of action. And from that being able to deduce what may happen. In the case of Jeremiah, the King, his court and religious advisors were desperate to appease the Babylonians and were going to great and extreme lengths to do so. Jeremiah could see that it was simply not going to work, and that the King and nation was simply selling its soul in a futile effort to prevent the inevitable. And Jeremiah told the truth – he spoke up and said what he saw.
The same is true with Amos. This prophet, who claims to be a non-prophet, can see clearly that in this time of economic boom the runaway materialism that had led to gross injustice and mass abject poverty would eat away at Israel like termites working on the foundation of a house until the nation would be destroyed and it would collapse in a heap of rubble. According to Amos the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer and this was creating a dangerous unbalance that was destroying the spiritual health of the nation and would ultimately destroy the nation physically. What was the problem then specifically? Well, not content with modest and honest success the wealthy and connected of Israel had hired lawyers to cheat smaller farmers out of their land and then they built mansions and threw wild parties. The rich thus became super-rich and the majority of the population could not find work and became beggars, day laborers, servants and destitute. Not only that but while the poor were starving in the streets they were being blamed for their own poverty while the rich filled the religious shrines to thank God for blessing them so abundantly. To this Amos speaks a harsh word of condemnation: God rejects your worship because you have rejected and taken advantage of others. You are sowing the seeds of your own destruction.
Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream. Amos 5:24. This is at the heart of Amos’ message. God is about justice and righteousness and we who claim to be believers and disciples of God through Christ have a responsibility to work for justice in the way we order our own lives and in doing what we can to reach out to others and demand justice and righteousness from our institutions. And to be clear – Amos is talking about economic justice here. In another very well known passage from chapter 7 Amos sees God with a plumb line, a carpenter’s tool to determine whether a structure is centered and straight. God then uses this plumb line on God’s people and discovers they are off center and they are crooked and will eventually collapse in a heap of rubble.
This vision is followed by an exchange between Amos and the King’s top religious advisor, Amaziah. During this exchange Amaziah orders Amos to stop bothering the King and the people saying, “for this is the King’s sanctuary, and it is the temple of the kingdom.” Amaziah has unwittingly confirmed what God’s plumb line has shown – off center and crooked! The sanctuary and the temple are not the King’s they are Yahweh’s! But they have become the King’s and consequently they are no longer Yahweh’s because they are being used to enable the abusers to continue to abuse and to support the thieves and encourage them to keep stealing. These religious structures are now being used by the rich and connected to pat themselves on the back and say, “aren’t we great!” And Amos says – no, you are destroying yourselves!
If God applied the plumb line to us, what do you think he would find? Are we centered? Are we straight? Do we live lives that reflect God’s grace, God’s love, God’s justice and God’s righteousness? Or are we caught up in the materialism of our culture. Are we guilty of putting money and stuff ahead of other human souls? In what ways do we work to reach out to help and provide for others? We are responsible for others. This is one of the corner stones of our Judeo/Christian faith. Being a Christian isn’t all about ME – it is about US. We have a responsibility to others – pure and simple. I know this is not a popular viewpoint in our culture today. But it wasn’t a popular viewpoint during Amos’ time either. Amos calls us all to take a hard look at ourselves and our life styles and our relationships with others and our commitment to our faith, and make adjustments as required to prevent the termites from devouring our foundation and to keep the walls from falling.
And it is not just Amos. In our Gospel lesson today we have the famous parable of the Good Samaritan. This is not a feel good story. It is a story that contains a profound and radical challenge! Who is my neighbor? Well, just look around. Your neighbors surround you and those who are the most different from you; those whose background and culture and race and religion and lifestyle are not only the most different from yours, but whom you also do not like or you find offensive – well - that is your neighbor! Speaking to a Judean audience, Jesus didn’t choose a Samaritan as the hero of his story for nothing. So who is your neighbor who is reaching out to you in need today?
God’s love for God’s people of all times is beyond our comprehension. It is all encompassing. But God’s love also calls forth a response. We are called to follow and to accept our responsibility to love, to care for, to work for justice and to do anything and everything we can to reach out to others. This includes the giving of our resources, our time and our abilities – all of which have been given to us by God. “Go and do likewise,” says Jesus. At the same time recognizing that God promises to remain engaged with us and to be present with us no matter what.
Questions for Reflection
How can we bear God’s fruit in the world? How can we live out the commandment to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves?