The book of Amos contains among the earliest sayings from a prophet recorded in the Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament). Amos’ prophetic career was centered around the year 750 BCE (BC). We know very little about Amos’ life except for what’s recorded in the book itself. He was wealthy, owning substantial herds of sheep, and raised large orchards of fig trees. He lived in the town Tekoa, located a few miles south of Jerusalem. By this point, the original kingdom of David and Solomon had been split in two for centuries. The southern kingdom, centered around Jerusalem, was named Judah while the northern (and more powerful) kingdom was called Israel. At some point in Amos’ life, God compelled him to leave Judah and preach in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Amos wasn’t a professional prophet. He didn’t belong to the many prophetic schools and organizations that existed in ancient Israel. Instead, he was a wealthy business owner that God transformed into God’s mouthpiece. Amos’ words, while spoken in the Northern Kingdom, were directed towards anyone with wealth, power, and authority in both Israel and Judah.
As Amos sees it (Amos 5:6-7,10-15), those in comfort have lost sight of Israel’s special relationship with God. The covenant God established at Mt. Sinai (i.e. the ten commandments and the law) had been broken. The practicing of their faith had been reduced to mere performative acts. Instead of loving their neighbors and helping the power, those in power had increased the wealth gap between the rich and the poor. The wealthy feel entitled to bribe judges, believing that the laws of land were something only other people had to follow. Corrupt judges were installed in the courts (in the ancient world, courtrooms were in the city gates – see 5:10) so that they could rule in favor of the powerful. Amos, in chapter 5, is pronouncing a death sentence against the people of Israel because, according to Amos, God is about to enforce the terms of the covenant. Since Israel wasn’t fulfilling their end of the bargain, God was going to respond. Yet the situation was not completely hopeless. The invitation to take God’s covenant seriously was still open. Amos’ call at the end of today’s passage is to “seek good and not evil [so] that you may live.” Even in the midst of death, resurrection can always happen.
It’s easy for us to read this passage and believe it doesn’t apply to us. We can always think of someone richer than us or that these words are meant for a so-called “elite” or “establishment” that we are not a part of it. But what if we didn’t do that? What if we let Amos’ words speak to us? As a church in Northern New Jersey, we live in one of the wealthiest areas in the world. If we own our home, know where our next meal is coming from, and have any kind of savings or wealth at all, we have a lot in common with the audience Amos was speaking to. This reading is an invitation for us to re-evaluate how our faith impacts how we live, consume, and practice any power that we have. And if our actions do not match our faith, then God is inviting us to change.
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, 10/14/2018.