A prophet’s reminder that greatness is a sin
March 25, 2021
The Lord asked, “Amos, what do you see?” “A basket of fruit,” I answered. The Lord said to me, “The end has come for my people Israel. I will not change my mind again about punishing them. … Listen to this, you that trample on the needy and try to destroy the poor of the country. You say to yourselves, “We can hardly wait for the holy days to be over so that we can sell our grain. When will the Sabbath end, so that we can start selling again? Then we can overcharge, use false measures, and fix the scales to cheat our customers. We can sell worthless wheat at a high price. … The Lord, the God of Israel, has sworn, “I will never forget their evil deeds. And so the earth will quake, and everyone in the land will be in distress. … I will turn your festivals into funerals … — Amos 8:2–10 (Good News Translation)
Sometimes it is challenging to read the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, given the fact that they are full of what one can only call “good news” and “bad news.” Of course, this text from Amos is taken from the version known as the Good News Translation, which is intended to keep us moving toward God’s final act, even as the path often seems circuitous. In the end, of course, it leads us to the fulfillment of God’s promises in the person of Jesus Christ, born among us, crucified and raised in glory for the salvation of the world. That’s the good news.
The bad news — dare I say the “scariness” — comes when we study passages such as the one above and see the finger of judgment pointed at human behaviors of which we are too often a part. Sin, of course, is both personal and institutional. As U.S. citizens and people of faith, we cannot avoid discomfort. It is easy to embrace the patriotic affirmation that we are the greatest nation in the world or, for those who doubt, to follow leaders who will “make us great again.”
And so it was for the Israelites who, as they embraced their position in the world as “God’s chosen people,” also embraced lifestyles that exploited the poor among them.
Has COVID-19 not brought the world to such a juncture, with the marginalized being exploited and those impoverished facing higher risks of infection? If a virus wasn’t enough, our country’s racial inequities are boiling, demanding that change happen. And amid it all, calls for “reopening our economy” are heard, with many refusing to acknowledge that the economy reopening would be a return to the same exploitative arrangement that had many of the marks of the economy that Amos condemned in the crisis in Israel.
Max Boot, a columnist for the Washington Post, recently wrote that “we should not be especially surprised by our failure at pandemic-fighting. We have the second-highest poverty rate and the highest level of income inequality.”
Perhaps it is time for the followers of Jesus Christ to move beyond the search for a so-called “great” America and to respond passionately with a call to make America “compassionate and just.” Now that would be good news.
Vernon S. Broyles III, Volunteer for Public Witness in the PC(USA)’s Office of the General Assembly
Today’s Focus: Compassion
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray:
Dear God, thank you for your love, which gives us life. Thank you for calling us to venture into your world. Give us a sense of joy and adventure in serving you and our neighbors. Help us to share you and what we have with all those we meet. We pray this in the name of Christ Jesus, who came that all might have abundant life. Amen.