Woe to you who think you live on easy street in Zion,
who think Mount Samaria is the good life.
You assume you’re at the top of the heap,
voted the number-one best place to live.
Well, wake up and look around. Get off your pedestal.
Take a look at Calneh.
Go and visit Great Hamath.
Look in on Gath of the Philistines.
Doesn’t that take you off your high horse?
Compared to them, you’re not much, are you?
Woe to you who are rushing headlong to disaster!
Catastrophe is just around the corner!
Woe to those who live in luxury
and expect everyone else to serve them!
Woe to those who live only for today,
indifferent to the fate of others!
Woe to the playboys, the playgirls,
who think life is a party held just for them!
Woe to those addicted to feeling good—life without pain!
those obsessed with looking good—life without wrinkles!
They could not care less
about their country going to ruin.
But here’s what’s really coming:
a forced march into exile.
They’ll leave the country whining,
a rag-tag bunch of good-for-nothings.
God, the Master, has sworn, and solemnly stands by his Word.
The God-of-the-Angel-Armies speaks:
“I hate the arrogance of Jacob.
I have nothing but contempt for his forts.
I’m about to hand over the city
and everyone in it.” (The Message)
A fool is one who either cannot or will not see that their personal actions have communal ramifications. Arrogant people are shortsighted, and when there is no immediate consequence to their selfish actions, they quickly assume everything is okay.
Perhaps we are fools – not so much because of any heinous sins – but because of our great indifference toward the mass of humanity across the world, as well as the neighbor across the street.
If there is any foolishness with the Christian, I submit to you that it could likely be because we believers have abjectly avoided the Old Testament minor prophets as some anachronistic judgment of the past which has little to do with living in today’s New Testament grace.
It is high time that Christians, especially Western Christians, take the entirety of their Bibles seriously through a hard examination of the prophet Amos.
Those with power and privilege nearly always believe that what is good for themselves is good for everybody else. In their pride, they either cannot or will not look under the ghost of Christmas Present’s robe. The boy Ignorance, and the girl Want, are out-of-sight, out-of-mind, for the foolish person of indifference.
The issue is not one of actually possessing wealth and influence. After all, the Lord God is wealthy and influential beyond anything we can imagine. The real issue is how we have obtained such things and whether we seek to use them for the common good of all people, and not just for myself or people just like me.
It will not do to be a simpleton and toss out flippant phrases such as, “If they want money they can get a job,” “They’re just lazy and unmotivated,” “The government takes plenty from me for those people,” “They could be self-sufficient if they really wanted to,” “They should be happy that I give them a [minimum wage] job,” “The poor are uneducated…addicts…drug seekers…unreliable…” And on the blustering goes, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
Those, and many more statements like them, are nothing more than mere projections of the privileged few upon the masses. Truth is that addiction, debt, ingratitude, and laziness are marks of the rich and powerful in the same way you can find them anywhere. What’s more, projecting and deflecting are endemic of the mind that either cannot or will not engage in critical thinking and avoid logical fallacies.
Such persons are unaware that their luxurious eating and drinking in the dining room of the Titanic will suddenly be their last meal. Their complacency is their ruin.
Many of us tend to see the sins of others rather than our own sins. So, reading Amos, we may reflexively think of “those people’s sins, back then,” or, the sins of “other people.” Yet, as Jesus suggests in the Sermon on the Mount, when we interpret the law, we should first examine the logs in our own eyes, rather than starting with the slivers in our neighbor’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)
The place to begin with giving Amos an honest hearing, is to look inwardly at our own shadow selves. The lack of self-awareness is the beginning of all callousness, complacency, and conceit.
There are two practices which can help illumine our inner person, thus opening the way to greater compassion for others:
- Listen to your self-talk. What’s going on in your mind? Is it a series of negative thoughts that make you feel like crud? Or do you also consider gratitude and positive thoughts? Take a couple of minutes each day to sit in silence and listen to the tone of your inner voice. It might even help to write down your thoughts so that you can get a better idea of what they are truly like. If we cannot listen to ourselves, we won’t be able to listen to the voice of others – which means we’ll never really understand other people.
- Pay attention to your feelings. Emotions are barometers of how we are truly doing, as well as flags which signal what we are supposed to be paying attention to.For example, a warm feeling in your face might mean you’re embarrassed; ‘butterflies’ in your stomach can mean you’re nervous; or clenching your teeth might mean you’re angry. Stuffing emotions or trying to avoid them will inevitably lead to hardness of heart.
I suggest focusing on these two practices while you are reading the prophet Amos. That’s because reading the prophets never leaves us the same. They evoke lots of self-talk and plenty of emotion. This is the path to better understanding the prophet’s message.
God of the prophets, and of all living things: We are all hungry in a world full of abundance. Give us the grace and awareness to see the abundance of our world and to acknowledge our sins of greed and fear. Give us openness of soul and courageous, willing hearts to be with our sisters and brothers who are in need. We ask for your intervention on behalf of every person hungry for earthly food and hungry for the taste of the Spirit of God.
We give thanks that we can be part of your compassion for all people. This world is blessed with enough food for every person to eat and be satisfied. And we can all feed on the bread of Christ, as God makes a home in our hearts. We are in awe and wonder your great love for us, that we are invited and urged to participate with you in the care of our brothers and sisters. In the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.