This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
AMOS CH 2: 6-16
This is what the Lord says:
Because of outrage after outrage committed by Israel
I will not relent!
For they have sold the innocent for a handful of silver,
And needy men for a pair of shoes.
They grind the faces of the poor into the dust,
And force the humble out of his rightful path.
Father and son use the same temple-girl,
And so defile my holy name.
Beside every altar they lounge on garments which they
took in pledge,
And in the houses of their gods they drink away the
money they imposed in fines.
Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before your eyes,
A man as tall as cedar and strong as oak.
7 But I destroyed his fruit above the ground, and his roots
And that you might inherit the land of the Amorite,
10 It was I who brought you up out of the land of Egypt,
And led you in the wilderness for forty years.
It was I, too, who raised up some of your sons to be
And some of your young men to be Nazirites.
Is this not true, you children of Israel?
This is the Lord himself speaking to you.
12 But you forced the Nazirites to drink wine,
And forbade the prophets to prophesy.
13 Look, I will make you groan in your tracks beneath my
As the sheaf-covered earth groans beneath the weight of
the loaded cart!
14 Swiftness of foot will prove no escape,
The strong man’s strength will avail him nothing,
And the fighting man will not escape alive,
The archer will not stand his ground,
And the fleet of foot will not run clear,
Nor will the horseman make his escape.
16 In that day the bravest warrior will take to his heels,
And run away, stripped and unarmed!
This is the order of the Lord.
I’ve used the great translation by JB Philips in “Four Prophets” which is hard to find these days. It successfully renders the crackling poetry of the prophets of the 8th century BC. Amos especially created splendid rhetorical devices for miming the justice of God. This passage is just the (unexpected) culmination of a series of God’s judgments on Israel’s neighbouring states. Naturally Israel’s God will not relent from punishing them. Even when Amos speaks of a judgment on Judah, a part of the chosen people, the Israeli listener (the judgments were declaimed publicly) may not have guessed the outcome. Then it pours out, the invective of God’s anger, his outrage at the social injustice, greed and idolatry of the rich of Israel. Amos tells his hearers that he is not a professional religious prophet but a herdsman from rural Tekoa. The dry passion of his language becomes a characteristic of Hebrew prophecy. His metaphors often come from the countryside: God’s wrath will crush his people as a full-laden cart crushes the ground. Something of Amos’ grasp of God’s anger is found even in the very different language of Jesus eight centuries later. The excessive greed, frivolity, meanness and amorality of Israel’s rich are memorably delineated; and stand as an image of such people throughout history, as we’ve seen in the U.K. today.
Does Amos simply attribute the rage of the poor to his God? Not quite. He believes that a God of justice must feel even more outrage than the victims of injustice, not only on their behalf but on behalf also of his own insulted holiness. This theology remains a central element in the Christian faith and requires as vigorous expression now as then.
21When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ 4This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
5 ‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ 11The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’
Matthew’s commitment to the fulfilment of prophecy is such that when he misunderstands the poetic parallelism of Zechariah’s words to mean two beasts, he actually envisages Jesus mounted on a donkey and a colt. It’s possible nevertheless that Jesus himself, knowing the prophecy arranged to enter Jerusalem on a donkey, and possible also that some people understood his meaning: the claim to be Messiah –of a sort! He comes in peace and humility to create peace. Eventually all Christian writing speak of Jesus as “the Christ (Messiah), but it’s clear from the gospel stories of Jesus’ reluctance to broadcast this title, that either he or his disciples or his compatriots felt it didn’t fit him comfortably. In this story Jesus seems to have found a scriptural role he could play with enthusiasm and perhaps, humour. His entry to the city is an acted parody of a Roman triumph and undermines conventional ideas of power. The profundity and wit of Jesus’ public statement are a model for how his 21st century followers should represent his cause. Just shouting about injustice is better than silence but it’s not Jesus’ way. His demonstration illustrates an alternative while putting himself in real danger.