There are few books in the Bible as kick-in-the-pants as Amos. It is filled with God’s displeasure over Israel’s social and economic sins. Few Americans nowadays realize that the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century’s rise of the Social Gospel did not result from liberal theology, but taking the Old Testament prophets, particularly Amos, quite serious. Post-Civil War United States’ industrialization expanded at an incredible rate, swelling the cities. This was the era of the great robber barons, and the wildly wealthy capitalists. Although some of them were careful to be generous, most built their economic empires on the backs of poor immigrants and struggling families. Poverty, inequality, and poor labor conditions were rife. It was an era of tremendous social upheaval and change.
It was a time not unlike conditions in ancient Israel. Amos pulled no punches in communicating God’s message that the extreme wealth of some, while ignoring their fellow Israelites trapped in cycles of poverty, was leading them directly to their downfall. “Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory… who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” Because of base callousness and not providing justice for the poor, Israel would be taken over and their wealth redistributed.
There is not enough money in the world to immunize a person, group, or nation from the watchful eye of the God who has solidarity with needy and oppressed peoples. If others do not take up the mantle of justice by providing them with help, God himself will act. People everywhere need to be treated with basic respect, dignity, and the freedom to work hard and make a decent living. Poverty is not always personal, existing because of laziness. No, it is usually the result of some systemic sin in society that keeps people trapped. One of the things that every one of us can do is build a relationship with someone who is treated more like a nuisance or a project, and interact with them on a regular basis as if they were a fellow human being. Perhaps then we will find a greater connection with the prophets of old and the God who cares for all.
Watchful God, you care about all your creatures and all people everywhere. Lead me to those for whom you desire to provide justice and newfound dignity so that your name is made famous among both rich and poor for the sake of Jesus. Amen.