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. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord: In all the squares there shall be wailing; and in all the streets they shall say, ‘Alas! alas!’ They shall call the farmers to mourning, and those skilled in lamentation, to wailing; in all the vineyards there shall be wailing, for I will pass through the midst of you, says the Lord.
Like many passages we have been reading from Amos, this one can give us fresh energy for writing to our MP or joining a Joint Public Issues Team campaign against economic injustice. There might not be much sign of the rich being thrown out of their houses (v 11) but God’s timing is not always ours.
Or perhaps the passage is about us. Most of us assume the rich are those who can afford a bit more than we can. Yet if we watched television last night and are about to get into our car for today’s jobs then to many in today’s world – and to every one of Amos’ shepherd friends – we are fabulously rich and pampered. So is God just waiting for the right moment to throw us out of our homes?
Another reading might be that the passage is giving a warning that modern research confirms: we expect a larger house, a better wine cellar or a second car will make us happier but are soon disappointed after we achieve them. We soon take them for granted and are no more satisfied with life than before.
The pivot of the reading is verse 14. Put the Lord, the God of hosts first. Seek good and not evil. You might still live in the same house, but you will see it as a tool for doing good. When Rowan Williams, now the Chair of Christian Aid, was Archbishop of Canterbury, he used to like to ask Christians a neat question: “For whom is your money good news?”
Lord Jesus Whatever my credit card statement says, all my greatest debts are owed to you and your love. I offer you all that I call mine. I offer you my car, my house, my bank balance. Show me how I can use them to be good news to someone today. Amen
John Ellis, Immediate Past Moderator of the General Assembly and Church Secretary, Tudeley and Five Oak Green LEP