Reflection on the Lections: Amos 8:4-7

One of this Sunday’s lections — Amos 8:4-7:

Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

Amos sure lays it on the line, doesn’t he? Pretty blunt — when it comes to entities that trample on the needy, he says that the Lord will never forget their deeds.

So who are these people or insititutions that trample on the needy? Here’s the bullet list:

  • People who value work over sabbath.
  • People who sell something for more than it is worth.
  • People who cheat others, especially in business.
  • People who take advantage of the poor and needy.

Many individuals and many institutions can find themselves somewhere in this list. I’ve been guilty of valuing work over sabbath, that’s for sure. I’ve tried to “drive a hard bargain” as a seller at times. I would bet you, the reader, might have similar confessions to make.

Let’s not forget, though, that this can apply to institutions as well as to individuals. Companies and organizations can do all these things. Many companies value their employees only as commodities, not as human beings. “Making a profit” can sometimes meaning “cheating any sucker we can find.” Certain Wall Street firms come to mind, as well as certain national chains that promote low prices on the backs of their workers.

It seems to me, though, that this passage goes beyond calling out greed and cheating and focuses on the abuse of the poor specifically. Why? Because the poor are powerless. I think Amos is pointing out cheating the poor as a double sin — first the cheating, and then the taking advantage of someone with no recourse.

We should be doubly watchful for the way our collective “we” (individuals and institutions) treat the powerless. Any time we choose the way of power rather than the way of love, we are in danger of treading into this passage. Any time we take advantage of the poor and needy, or the powerless in any form, we are moving in the same dimension as these ancient business people.

If I’m going to be remembered by the Lord, I’d prefer it not be for something like this passage.

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