“There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth. You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many your offences are and how great your sins are. There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil. Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.” —Amos 5:10-15
One of the Lectionary offerings for this week, Amos 5:10-15, has remained a most provocative text. The Shepherd of Tekoa’s harsh words have become even more poignant as humanity struggles with the dis-ease caused not only by the COVID-19 pandemic but by the levels of pain, marginalization, and injustice that still exist. Truth has become elusive and conditional, in fact, truth has been twisted and trampled (v 7), the innocent remain oppressed, bribery and corruption stalk the hallways, and those with the privilege of voice, in the name of prudence, remain silent because the proverbial times are evil.
Amos was not a typical or career prophet, but he received a peculiar message for the people of the Northern Kingdom. His onslaught of words in Bethel addressed not only the people of Israel but challenged the neighbouring nations. His words were penetrative and tough to hear as his soul got angry because of the constant oppression and dehumanization of the poor and dispossessed. Amos recognized and condemned the many crimes of war, and he was strident in denouncing the atrocities and suffering of the people as nations ravished each other. The images of fire, ripped open pregnant women, the enslavement of people, the killing of relatives, and the general gruesomeness seem harsh for our ears and imagination today.
However, some of these realities dwell within the underbelly of who we are as Caribbean and North American people. Deeds of evil allow for the dispossession, racism, discrimination, and disparity which mar our societies. For a long time, people have been suffocating under the weight of oppressive systems that prevent access to good health care, proper housing, equal educational and employment opportunities, and the enjoyment of life in its fulness. These have all become magnified in the current time.
The Prophet warned the people of Israel that they would be chastised as they worshipped false gods, yet they expected Yahweh to protect them. Israel and Samaria would suffer great devastation unless there was repentance. Spiritual poverty echoed in the words ‘The Lord has said that they don’t even know how to do right’ may still be our challenge today. Unfortunately, even when all was in decay and sorrow abound because the people did not know how to do right, they still rejected God.
Can the Prophet speak to us?
It was from this dark place that Amos called the people into a right relationship with God. The call to ‘Seek Good, Not Evil…Hate Evil, Love Good…Maintain Justice’ belong in our hearing and midst today. More persons need to purpose in their hearts to seek good. Simply put ‘ if you want to live, you must stop doing wrong and start doing right’. Collectively, we must decry the actions of evil and cease the folly of denial and own the call to love good and maintain justice. Our souls must yearn for that which is good!
In your daily walk seek to do good, help to transform the darkness, announce works of hope, seek peace and pursue, provide a safe place for those in need, share table with the poor, welcome the stranger, embrace those who come empty and fill them with good things, support the weak kneed, and lift up the bowed down. Then and only then will we begin to glimpse Amos’ call to ‘Seek Good, Not Evil…Hate Evil, Love Good…Maintain Justice’.
Rev. Dr. Yvette Noble-Bloomfield is a Deputy General Secretary in the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. She has responsibilities for the Cayman Islands Regional Mission Council.