For three sins of Israel,
even for four, I will not relent.
They sell the innocent for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
as on the dust of the ground
and deny justice to the oppressed. Amos 2:6-7
Amos was the forefather of the Occupy (insert name of your town) movement. He was a shepherd in Israel in 760 bce. For various reasons this was a time of prosperity for Israel. The rich, as they did for millennia before and millennia afterwards, took the lion’s share of the wealth. As we can see from the sort of practices he rails against, they also seemed to have quite a knack for sucking back up whatever wealth managed to trickle down to the poor.
Amos confronted his society and said, “If God was here he would definitely be in smiting mode”. He rails against everyone. They all wait for the “ but if you” that will bring relief; it never arrives. If Amos had access to emoticons it would be frowny faces from start to finish.
If you read the Old Testament you’ll notice there is relatively little text about sex (it’s not as obsessed about it as we are) or rules that we take to be controlling stories in our lives. It talks a lot about justice. When God tells his people they are in the wrong he points to their economics as an expression about how they deviated radically from His path. This is the tradition Jesus follows.
Scripture talks about wealth starting with the poor and powerless and revealing the tendency of the rich and powerful to trample them. God chooses a slave nation to be his chosen people. When he says the rich and powerful have an obligation, he names who they are obliged to: the widows, the orphans and aliens. These are the people who have no one to stand up for them. The king was meant to stand up for those who would be preyed upon by the powerful and woe betidesthe king who failed to do so.
Amos knew this and expected that everyone who signed up for God’s chosen people project should have known this too.
So our ancient friend Amos would have a lot to say to our society starting with those who made dodgy loans that were rigged against the people who received them. He would have lots to say to governments who stayed asleep when that was happening and then recapitalised the predators rather than the prey. He would chastise the merchants who encouraged us to spend and spend with cheap credit.
He would also add our names to the list for accepting the idolatry of “we deserve to be living better than this” at all levels of society. The financial crisis was generated by people loaning money they didn’t have to people who couldn’t pay it back to buy things they couldn’t afford. We believed that money would buy us the happiness we wanted.
However, as my wise friend Eric (in one of his Amos moments) pointed out, “Happiness has been replaced with the pursuit of happiness”.
So we might imagine Amos occupying some town square and letting rip against all the bad guys. But we should be careful. He might tell us that we, people who are not widows and orphans and aliens, need to scrutinise ourselves too. He might say to us:
“Self worth is not based on our new car or big house or how many times we eat out or get new clothes or go on holiday or change our phone. If it is, the problem isn’t financial. If we can’t say no to what is clearly a bad deal and something that will blow up in our faces later, the problem isn’t financial. If we can’t organise a decent economy and society without maxing the out credit card, the problem isn’t financial.”
The right blames the poor and the vulnerable and the left blame the rich. All the finger pointing and scapegoat hunting distracts us from looking into our own idolatrous hearts to see how we have played our part.
No matter who spread the rumour that the good life could be bought regardless of your ability to pay for it, we all allowed it to become our mantra. Amos was an uncompromising guy. He tells us that God isn’t interested in us and them. He is interested in us demanding and living in a new society that is just, first for the poor and then for us all. We know how to form it, we just lack the will.