I’m going to stick with the Old Testament lectionary passage this week. Not that Luke’s story of Mary and Martha isn’t a good one. But right now is a good time to return to the words of the prophet Amos:
This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit. He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me, “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by. The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord God; “the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Be silent!” Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day. The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it. –Amos 8:1-12 NRSV
Like many other Hebrew prophets, Amos’s primary concern was to point out injustice. And he found plenty of examples of economic injustice in ancient Israel. The poor suffered at the hands of the wealthy, even at a time when there was an abundance of crops and considerable international trade. The old saying that “a rising tide raises all boats” simply didn’t apply. The result, the prophet predicted, would be a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
Here we are almost 30 centuries later and the same prophetic judgment could be applied. The once growing middle class here in the USA is actually shrinking as so-called real income continues to decline year after year. Millions of people work hard at one, two, or even three jobs and yet they fall farther and farther behind. A family simply cannot support itself when one or two adults in it earn minimum wage. The dollars don’t stretch far enough for food, housing, transportation, medical care, and all the other recurring items on a family budget list. And when catastrophe or crisis hits, well, it can be game over.
Mixed into this economic reality is the ongoing presence of racial discord and mistrust. Every week seems to bring new evidence of racial, ethnic, and class discord in the United States of America. Adult African Americans are confronted for being “black in the wrong places.” Deranged gunmen open fire in synagogues, churches, and other public spaces. Four women of color who serve in the U.S. House of Representatives are singled out by the President at one of his racuous rallies. His lies are matched by the crowd’s chanting of “Send them home,” when, in fact they are all U.S. citizens and three of the four were born in the USA. Racism, white nationalism, fascism–it’s all stewing in this country, ready to explode in violence and hatred. This will not end well, my friends.
Yet, you may well ask, what does all that have to do with religion or reading the Bible or worshiping as we choose (or not) in church on Sunday morning? Amos confronted the Israelite powers-that-be with pretty much that same question. As long as there is injustice in the land, God is not pleased. There can be no segmentation of life for those who worship the One God of the universe. Everything is connected, and that includes money, race, educational opportunities, voting rights–well, the list goes on and on.
It keeps coming back to the question at the top of this blog: What matters most?
Do we actually care that some–perhaps many–people don’t have enough to eat? Or that our society is so structured that they don’t stand a chance of ever having a better life? Or that some people’s “rights” end up being more important than other people’s? Or that young adults are becoming so burdened by debt, especially for college, that they see little hope of ever getting out from underneath it? Or that the number of people marginalized by our hyper-consumer-driven world increases daily?
In recent years my denomination has often proclaimed that what matters most is the gospel, or good news, of Jesus Christ. And while some Christians say that “good news” is all about being assured of a place in heaven once we physically die, I throw my lot in with those who believe the mission of Christ is a whole lot bigger and broader and more immediate and longer-term than that! And so I, and others, bear a responsibility to do everything possible to first of all identify injustice in its many forms. And then to actually do something about it. There’s no one-size-fits-all template or tidy list of steps to take to ensure the overcoming of injustice in society. There are, of course, lots of folks who say all that is simply unrealistic or impossible–so why even try?
Why? Because that’s who–and whose–we are: disciples of Jesus Christ living out our calling to share the good news with a world sorely in need of it.
My most recent book, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile, is up on Amazon in both print and e-book formats: 161-page Book ; Kindle e-book. The ancient Hebrew prophets can serve as guides for modern-day prophetic communities to engage in actions for peace and social justice. Each of the 10 chapters includes questions for reflection and discussion, making this great for class use. My previous book What Was Paul Thinking? is also available on Amazon in both print and Kindle e-book editions.