Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on Mount Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, “Bring something to drink!” The Lord God has sworn by his holiness: The time is surely coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks. Through breaches in the wall you shall leave, each one straight ahead; and you shall be flung out into Harmon, says the Lord.
If Amos were alive today, he would surely be a newspaper cartoonist. He has the ability that the best cartoonists have of linking grotesque imagery with scathing social comment. Just like modern cartoonists, Amos teeters on the edge of going too far – moving from humorous to downright offensive. He surely knows that he is painting some very memorable images.
This picture is of drunken, fat women, lolling on their couches, calling for more drink from their husbands. The obscene partying is depicted as being on Mount Samaria; at the foot of the mountain are the poor and needy, oppressed and crushed down by the weight of the opulence of their social ‘betters’.
Just out of sight of the women and their husbands, however, is God doing some fishing. With his fishhook – or perhaps his whaling harpoon – he is ready to catch these gross creatures and haul them in through a hole in the wall (this is a cartoon, remember) – from whence they will be flung back out, perhaps into that outer darkness where Matthew’s Gospel says there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
It’s a grotesque picture; like the best political cartoons it tells the truth. 25% of our population today is obese – and a further 37% are overweight. At the same time, Foodbanks, run by our churches, are serving more and more malnourished adults and children, especially during holidays when free school lunches stop. The Welsh Government is now using part of its education budget to fund ‘Food and Fun’ clubs in the holidays to try to stem the tide.
We may laugh at Amos’s cartoon. But the joke’s on us. Some of us reading and writing these Daily Devotions are today’s ‘cows of Bashan’, lolling about in overindulgent luxury while the poor are oppressed (because we pay such low taxes) and the needy are crushed (by having to seek handouts to survive). We followers of Jesus, who should be part of the solution, are too often part of the problem.
Lord, I like the odd touch of luxury and the occasional glass of wine – don’t I deserve it after a long day? Ok, Lord, sometimes I do overindulge just a little, But it doesn’t do any harm does it? Lord, I do try to give a packet or two to the Foodbank, And help out there on alternate Tuesdays. The stories I hear are so sad, And it’s the hungry children that worry me most. Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Amos didn’t really mean that you were fishing for me, did he? Did he? Lord?
The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is National Assembly Policy Officer for Cytun.