Don’t let the sun go down on me – Friday, 13th week in ordinary time – Amos 8:4-6, 9-12
The text of today takes on the fourth in a series of five visions that Amos is shown by God himself. (7:1-3, 7:4-6, 7:7-9, 8:1-3 and 9:1-4) In today’s vision, Amos returns to his familiar theme of justice, decrying those in Israel who made their money from the unjust treatment of the poor and vulnerable. This theme of justice falls in line with the eighth century prophets; besides Amos, Isaiah and Micah were also in one accord about the Lord’s demand for justice.
This desire for justice will meet with indifference on Israel’s part and finally God’s wrath. Only a few years after Amos’ prophecies, the Assyrians will win a decisive battle against Israel and will force the ten tribes of Israel into exile in Assyria. Amos chapter 8 makes clear (along with many other passages) that Amos saw God’s judgment against Israel as a fait accompli, a course of action that was already underway; one that was impossible to reverse.
So what got Amos so riled up on this occasion? Amos, in verses 4-6 confronts the hypocrisy of a ‘prayerful people’ who desire to hit the fast forward button on the Sabbath day so that it would come to an end quickly and then get down to the business of cheating their neighbours. It is important to remember that the Sabbath day was not first-and-foremost a day created exclusively for worship but a day of rest. As a day of rest, the sabbath was meant to bring about a sense of justice to all of society and not just to the property owner; but also “your ox and your donkey, and your livestock, and the resident alien in your towns” (Deuteronomy 5:14). Yet, people longed for the justice-establishing Sabbath to be over, so that they could return to exploitation.
By Amos’ time the Sabbath was seen as a day of worship and while the heart should have been resting with God the mind was restless to make money, that too dishonestly. Deuteronomy 25:15 stipulated “You shall have only a full and honest weight; you shall have only a full and honest measure.” In Amos’ day, untrustworthy market places were contributing to a sense of injustice.
Such was their desire to make money that we are told they ‘buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals’. In short they were enslaving people in debt and spared no one; even those who owed only a pair of sandals. Cheating the poor who were already living on the edge financially had the potential to push them over the edge.