Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land! "When will the new moon be over," you ask, "that we may sell our grain, and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat? We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating! We will buy the lowly for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!" The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done!(P) The word of the Lord.
Praise, you servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord. Blessed be the name of the Lord both now and forever. (R)
High above all nations is the Lord; above the heavens is his glory. Who is like the Lord, our God, who is enthroned on high and looks upon the heavens and the earth below? (R)
He raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor to seat them with princes, with the princes of his own people. (R)
Beloved: First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as ransom for all. This was the testimony at the proper time. For this I was appointed preacher and apostle - I am speaking the truth, I am not lying, teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus said to his disciples, "A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said, "What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward." The steward said to himself, "What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes." He called in his master's debtors one by one. To the first he said, "How much do you owe my master?" He replied, "One hundred measures of olive oil." He said to him, "Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty." Then to another the steward said, "And you, how much do you owe?" He replied, "One hundred measures of wheat." The steward said to him, "Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty." And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. "For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
The Prophet Amos of the Old Testament was different from many of the other prophets. He was neither a prophet's son, nor a priest, nor a professional prophet, nor a trained member of the schools of the prophets. He was just a shepherd and a caretaker of sycamore-fig trees, before he was called to be a prophet, a spokesman for God, Amos (7:14). He was one of the twelve Minor Prophets. Incidentally, some are called Minor Prophets not because they are of lesser importance but because their books are shorter than those of the Major Prophets, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
Amos lived around 750 years before Jesus and about 250 years after the nation of Israel had been divided into two - Judah in the south and Israel in the north. He was born in Tekoa, a town in Judah about six miles south of Bethlehem but for the most part, he preached in Israel. Other prophets such as Jonah, Hosea, Micah, and Isaiah also prophesied around this time.
It is believed that Amos appeared at a time of great economic prosperity, political stability, religious fervor and relative peace in the kingdom of Israel, which had reminded them of the golden age of David and his son Solomon two hundred years earlier, but at the same time, it was a time when lack of honesty and integrity, lack of moral conscience and social compassion, and lack of spiritual devotion and reverence to God's Law prevailed.
There was little connection between the people's religious exercises and their daily lives. There was religiosity among them but no righteousness. Increased prosperity had led them to pride, selfishness, greed, exploitation, oppression, materialism, contempt for the poor, and disregard for justice. They were observing all the religious rituals and ceremonies, laid down by Moses, while their hearts were far from God, Isaiah (29:13). They had become morally and spiritually godless and corrupt. They had become as evil as Sodom and Gomorrah in God's sight, Amos (4:11).
Amos entered the scene and bemoaned the state of affairs in both the kingdoms and directed his denunciations especially against a group of people, such as kings, judges, merchants, landowners, highly placed men and women, and the leadership. The text assigned for today's first reading from the Book of Amos focuses upon the greedy and dishonest merchants who single-mindedly pursued a profit, and ignored the plight of the poor and the needy, Amos (8:4-7). Amos put words into their mouth on the basis of the behavior he had observed and, then, cited some of their wicked works against the poor.
They were saying to themselves, " When will the new moon be over so we can sell our grain, and the Sabbath end so we can display the wheat for sale, and can diminish the ephah, can add a shekel, can fix our scales for cheating, can buy the lowly for silver and the poor for a pair of sandals, and can sell even the refuse of the wheat", Amos (8:4-6). Incidentally, Ephah was an ancient Hebrew standard measure or container used for measuring grain and shekel was a unit of weight and value, used for trading before the advent of coins by Hebrews, Babylonians and others. Let us now go back to the text.
First of all, in ancient Israel, the New Moon Festival marked the consecration to God of each month based on the Hebrew Lunar calendar. It was celebrated with the blowing of trumpets, special sacrifices and offerings, Numbers (10:10), public worship, 2 Kings (4:23), suspension of all work, Nehemiah (10:31), and family and community gatherings, 1 Samuel (20:5).
Secondly, observance of sabbath was considered very important among the ancient Israelites. The Hebrew word Shabbat literally means "to rest or stop or cease from work". In most people's mind, Sabbath is a day set aside for physical rest and worship. It is generally believed to be the seventh day of the week based on two texts in the Old Testament:
In addition to the seventh-day Sabbath, which the Hebrews were required to keep, there were many other Sabbaths and regulations governing them, Leviticus (19:3; 26:2). For example, each seventh year was a sabbatical year, during which the land was to lie uncultivated. If any produce grew by itself, it could be used for daily food by the poor and wild animals of the land, Exodus (23:10-11); Leviticus (25:1-6), and debts incurred by the poor during the previous six years were to be cancelled at the end of the seventh year, Deuteronomy (15:1-11), servants or enslaved persons were to be released, debt-free, after six years of labour, Deuteronomy (15:12-18), and so on. However, at the time of Amos, the Israelites were observing all the rituals outwardly but their hearts had turned cold toward God's Law. They were living in an economic and material sense but not in a justice sense. They were a society without sense of social justice.
Sadly, it is clear from today's text that the wealthy merchants even waited impatiently for the end of the holy days, such as, the monthly feast of the New Moon, and the weekly observance of the Sabbath, so they could resume their fraudulent businesses and make money from the poor and the needy.
They were cunningly planning to add to their profits by skimping the measure, in which the customers got less than they paid for, by "making the ephah small, and the shekel great" in which they boosted the price and the customer got less of the product than he should and got less money than he should when selling to merchants, by cheating with dishonest scales and deceptive weights, by tampering with the cross beam of the balances or by using one scale for selling and one for buying which favoured the merchants, by buying the poor even for a mere pair of sandals and, by deceptively selling even the refuse of the wheat mixed with clean and pure wheat. Thus, we see that the merchants of Amos' day were displeasing God on many counts.
Sabbath and other feasts, strictly speaking, were sacred times and yet their hearts were full of greed and covetousness. They were simply hypocrites. They were preying upon the poor. They were defrauding and cheating both buyers and sellers. They took advantage of the illiterate farmers, and made them sell themselves to pay their debts. But they did not realize that the Lord God was watching them. Their hypocrisy and wicked works aroused God's indignation; and He swore by the pride of Jacob, that He will never forget a thing they have done, Amos (8:7).
The phrase "The Pride of Jacob" here is a reference to God Himself, just as it has been used as the title for God in the first Book of Samuel, where God is referred to as "the Glory or the Splendour of Israel", Samuel (15:29). As we know, Israel was a new name given by God to Jacob after a wrestling match between him and a stranger or an angel of the Lord, a manifestation of God Himself, while he was running away from his twin brother Esau who wanted to kill him for he had disguised himself as Esau in order to inherit the "birthright" and the "blessing" from their father Isaac, Genesis (32:23-32).
It is, however, worth pointing out here that the same phrase "the Pride of Jacob" has been used in two other places in the Old Testament:
But the use of the phrase "the pride of Jacob" in today's text refers to God swearing by Himself, who is the Glory and Pride of Israel, and true to His own character and faithfulness, that He would deal with the sins of the people and would not let their rejection of Him and their disobedience to His Law go unpunished. The threatened punishment came true in the form of a huge earthquake that struck the region in 760 years before Christ, that is, two years after the death of Amos and, forty years later in the conquest and destruction of Israel by the Assyrians in 721 years before Christ, 2 Kings (17:5).
What is the message for us?
To us, Christians and non-Christians, believers and unbelievers, this kind of biblical narrative might give the impression that the ancient times were more barbaric and less civilized than we are; and that they were really evil and their thoughts were evil all the time; and that they were great sinners against the Lord. But while we may be living in a much more civilized society with laws, rules and regulations to ensure fair dealing, protection against cheating, misconduct, deception, tampering, manipulation, exploitation, abuse and other forms of unethical behavior in business activities and so many organizations, individuals and governments to tackle social injustice around the world, the picture is not any different from that of Amos's time. The sin has not gone away. The degree of the sin may be different, but the sin is the same.
Driven by excessive or insatiable desire for wealth or gain, hundreds of thousands of small and big business enterprises around the world choose to cheat, steal, lie and exploit lots of people particularly the marginalized and poor. To all Christian business men and women, today's text from Amos can serve as a timely reminder to be true to ourselves, and be honest, upright, and decent in both big and small business dealings and transactions with others, especially with the poor and the needy. Even if we are not business people we can be honest in our personal lives and help avoid causing suffering and injustice to the poor. Let us teach others what Amos preached, compassion, kindness, and generosity not selfishness, exploitation and greed.
Biblical narratives, such as this, might also give us a feeling that God of the Old Testament was a vengeful, wrathful, violent, and immature God compared to the gracious, loving and merciful God in the New Testament. Understandably, it has led lots people to be angry at the Old Testament God and even has made them feel confused and separated from God. But the reason they misconstrue the anger of the Lord is that they tend to think of God's anger and justice in human terms. When we are angry with God, our tendency is to express that anger in the same way we do to other fellow human beings; we forget to love them. In fact, as James says in his epistle, our anger does not produce the righteousness God desires, James (1:20).
But God's anger is always "righteous anger", and He desires justice not just for humanity but also for His entire creation. He judges human sinfulness because He loves sinful human beings, no matter how bad they are. He judges sinners in order to help, not to pay back or get even or seek retribution, or wipe them out. The fact that God can be angry means that He really cares about us and does not want us to put ourselves on the path to self-destruction. For example, Jesus drove the money lenders out of the temple to teach them about true holiness, i.e., moral purity, spiritual wholeness, separation from evil and dedication to God. In this way, we have the same God in the Old Testament as we do in the New Testament.
Several passages in the Old Testament affirm that the character and person of God is the same as in the New Testament. For example, on one occasion God passed in front of Moses and made the classic declaration of His character, "The Lord God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilt unpunished", Exodus (34:6-7). In Psalms (85, 103, 145) David describes the Lord as the one who is patient, loving, gracious, compassionate, faithful, just, and quick to answer. So, let us consider Amos' account as a warning to us, Christians, just as much as it was to Israel of old.
God detests every kind of wickedness and sin, so it is with the sin of greed or self-indulgence which drives us to trample upon the innocent neighbors, the poor and the needy. Saint Paul also warns us of the deadly consequences of our sin against the poor just as much as Amos warned the ancient Israelites, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction," Galatians (6:7-8). So, let us heed the warnings of the Prophet Amos and the Apostle Paul today for these words alone will help save our lives.
God Bless You!