This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Greeks will suffer for five years to gain bail-out
6 Seek the Lord and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.
710 They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.
11 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.
12 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.
13 Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time.
14 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.
15 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.
From the 8th century BC the voice of Amos speaks in the name of God with astonishing force and relevance, on this Ash Wednesday. He demands repentance for the arrogant follies of affluence by which poor people have been exploited and justice neglected. It would not have occurred to Amos to excuse people on the grounds that their private lives had been decent. He held them responsible for social good and evil, even in a society where democratic freedoms were absent. He would have been even more severe on those who hold democratic rights but use them only for their own benefit. He recognises that a prudent person will keep quiet in an evil time for blunt speaking may bring trouble on the speaker. Nevertheless he speaks. For the biblical prophets, the test of a society is how it treats the vulnerable and the poor. He would have considered a society which attempts to remedy the folly of the rich by reducing the resources avaialble to the poor and vulnerable, as the UK is presently doing, utterly despicable. It is impossible to seek good and fight evil while pandering to the needs of a pampered elite. Nobody needs an income of more than £50,000 a year; most people make do on much less, while the poor of the earth barely survive on £200 a year. It’s time to listen to Amos and repent, that is, make a fundamental change in our lives.
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:10‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector.11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector.12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”13But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’
The tax-collector is not a Revenue official; he is scum, a man who betrays his neighbours to collaborate with the occupying enemy, using its power to live well at the expense of his own people. The Pharisee is not a bad person: he lives decently and gives for the benfit of the poor. Yet Jesus praises the first at the expense of the second! It has become so usual to see Jesus as a advocate of the poor, that this story will be shocking to as many now as it was in his own time. Hasn’t the Pharisee done what Jesus suggested, “built up treasure in heaven by his good deeds”? Yes, he has. And hasn’t the tax collector done what Jesus forbad, “serving Mammon at the expense of God”? Yes, he has. Yet the cold pride of the Pharisee leaves him open to the devil; while the bitter self-reproach of the tax-collector leaves him open to God. This is one of the most difficult and searching of Jesus’ teachings.