Kieran Fenn fms
The cycle of morning readings for daily mass introduces us to the prophets of Israel. Already we have met the fiery figure of Elijah (30 times Elijah features in the New Testament), and his successor, Elisha.
Now we meet prophets whose message was recorded by their followers. These writings were preserved, some among many, because time proved the speakers to be authentic when they began ‘Thus says the Lord!’
It is important to understand that a prophet spoke ‘in place of’ another. Aaron was prophet to Moses, a man of uncertain speech. Instead of being speakers ‘in advance of’ an event, prophets spoke ‘in front of’ their people, drawing on what was wrong in the present to foretell what would happen in the future.
They are people of the word of another, the word of God being their sole passion. This word brings them alive and leads them to transforming the world and changing their people. They pay a high price for that word makes them suffer persecution and rejection.
There were men and women (Miriam, Deborah, the wife of Isaiah, Huldah, and Noadiah) prophets.
Leading the lectionary is the roaring voice of Amos, long ignored and misunderstood by Christians. There are two reasons for this.
As in his own day, it was felt that his message was too hard to receive in light of the hope offered in the gospels. His book contained no promise of the messiah, and Christians looked for prophets who could be interpreted as proclaiming Christ – the basis for the selection of our Sunday readings. Isaiah dominates the prophetic selection there.
Amos has come into his own in our day. As the voice piece for a Christian conscience that slept during the Nazi atrocities, the Protestant theologian, Karl Barth, raised the indignant cry of the prophet of Tekoa on behalf of the poor and oppressed. The Dominican Savonarola hurled the accusations of Amos against the pride and arrogance of a triumphal and abusive church in 1496 – and was condemned and executed for it!
We may proclaim in business that ‘the customer is always right!’ but Amos gives a new spin with his list of economic crimes. ‘The customer is always wronged’ Amos the businessmen of Samaria and Bethel in the corrupt northern kingdom where money spoke louder than God.
Business was booming and the merchants eager to capitalise on every chance to increase their sales at the expense of the needy. Matching the insatiable greed of these merchants is their pious observance of religious practices, shutting their shops on the sabbath and new moon festivals.
Though the shops are closed, their minds are open to every dishonest scheme to profit, cheating their customers in buying and selling land, using under-sized baskets and weights in selling, using rigged scales. Downtown, the customer was always wronged!
How easily they forgot that religion has to do not only with sabbath and sanctuary but also with shops and weights. The poor and needy are treated like trash, the trash that was added in with the good wheat to make a profit.
Well might Amos cry out:
‘Let justice roll down like waters
And righteousness like an overflowing stream (5:24).