This Sunday, a portion of Amos 5 is appointed as the first reading. Verses 10-15 read as follows:
They hate the one who reproves in the gate,
and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.
Therefore, because you trample on the poor
and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your transgressions,
and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and push aside the needy in the gate.
Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;
for it is an evil time.
Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
just as you have said.
Hate evil and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
It is easy to look around and conclude that Amos was written specifically for us today. It sure seems like the time is evil. It sure seems like the poor are trampled and all that they have is taken away from them. It sure seems like the righteous are afflicted and there are plenty who are corrupt.
Yet, this is not new. There is nothing special about this time or the people who do these things. The prophet Amos was active in 760-755 BCE in the northern kingdom of Israel. It was a time of relative peace and prosperity. Yet, his message shows that peace and prosperity for what it really was – a fraud. Is it peace when the poor are trampled? Is it prosperity when there is corruption?
If anything, Amos’ message is comforting in that it shows that humanity hasn’t changed in 2700 years. In fact, it’s pretty predictable. And in the end, those who abuse power fall.
So for us, there remains a few questions:
What does it mean to establish justice in the gate during an evil time, as Amos claims?
What does it mean to establish justice when the poor are trampled on and what they have is taken away from them?
What does it mean to establish justice when there are those who afflict the righteous and take bribes?
How can we do that? How can we establish justice when those in charge oppose the establishment of justice?
How do you establish justice when there are entire systems designed to prevent justice from flowing? When the needy are pushed aside?
How do we establish justice in an evil time?
Has there ever been a time that wasn’t evil?