15 May 2018Amos 5:18-24
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (v. 24)
Psalm: Psalm 62
Today we meet Amos, a prophet in the Old Testament who delivers a series of searing criticisms about the oppression of the poor by the rich through a series of prophetic messages.
We know quite a lot about Amos – he was from Tekoa (a town near Hebron in Southern Israel) and worked as a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore trees (fruit fact of the day: sycamore trees were also known as mulberry figs and a dresser punctured the fruit before the harvest to help it ripen). He lived in the 8th century BC, a time which had been relatively peaceful and prosperous. However, towards the end of the century, things began to change and the gap between rich and poor became much more glaring. In the midst of all this inequality, the people still worshipped as normal. But it seems their worship and the needs around them were deeply dislocated.
As Nick Page writes in The Bible Book: “Never mind the volume of the singing, it’s the quality of life that matters. Never mind the frequency of attendance, it’s what’s inside the heart that God cares about.” (London, Collins, 2002)
Amos’ approach is interesting. He begins his prophecies by outlining the wrongdoing of Israel’s neighbouring countries, starting with the furthest away, Syria. Then he moves closer to home, before ‘hitting the bullseye’ and turning his damning prophecies onto Israel itself.
The Israelites were used to living with dualities: day and night, land and sea, darkness and light. In his prophecies, Amos warns that the anticipated ‘day of the Lord’ (a term pointing to God doing great things for God’s own people) may not be as they hope. Instead of being vindicated, they will be judged. Instead of being lifted up, they will be punished.
Today’s passage does not make for comfortable reading but it is a call to action; to strive for justice as much as the perfect act of worship, to care about righteousness as much as about creating the most amazing song of praise.
- The former Vice-President of the Methodist Conference (2016/2017), Rachel Lampard, reflected on Amos in her address to the Conference. Read it here.
- How do the words of Amos challenge you about the ways in which worship and justice fit together (or the ways in which they are disconnected?)