By Bill Mefford
Making my way, as often as I can, through the chapters in the books of the Minor Prophets chronologically. As it should be with the Prophets, I will reflect on what they are saying in their context and how it relates to ours.
But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood. (6:12)
Amos continues his harangue against Israel into this chapter and his language and vivid imagery make for some pretty terrifying rhetoric. Amos is very specific in his charges throughout this book and especially in this chapter. He warns, “those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp…who drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils,” (4-6) they have a special punishment coming. Amos could have simply said the wealthy or the rich, but he is not content to just name the group. He describes in quite pointed terms not only who they are, what their focus is on.
Amos contrasts the focus of the wealthy, which is not only on themselves, it is on their comfort and ease, while ending this section in a rage saying that while they are so focused on their luxury, they are “not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” The wealthy and powerful are content with the poor experiencing even greater oppression and marginalization, just so long as the affluent can satisfy their appetite for luxurious living.
This of course brings to mind the well-financed political classes in the United States today. It is more than just the electoral college victory of a corrupt real estate developer (who we are finding out each day how entirely corrupt and criminal he and his entire family truly is). There is a degree of corruption among our political leaders that blinds them to the real suffering that people on the margins are experiencing. All the while, politicians and their rich donors use every ounce of power they can attain to guard their power and affluence. Recent news of the celebrities who paid exorbitant amounts of money to get their kids into elite colleges and to secure a wealthy lifestyle is a perfect example of this.
Further, look at the ridiculous tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations that passed last year while people are literally dying without access to affordable health care. Or look at the focus on building a wall (something Democrats did indeed support in the past) rather than granting immediate citizenship to all undocumented immigrants who continue to suffer from unrestrained state-sponsored terror as seen in the reports of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers writing and signing their own warrants in their lust to abduct and deport black and brown people.
Actual suffering means nothing to our moneyed political classes today just as it did to the moneyed political classes in Amos’ day.
But Amos will not let them off the hook.
Amos goes on and promises that the political moneyed classes will be “the first to go into exile.” (7) He also promises death and guaranteed destruction from an unknown nation to the north. And the primary reason why this destruction will be handed down? Because those steeped in power and affluence have “turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood” their destruction, and the destruction of their entire nation is at hand. How did they make justice a poison? They eliminated access to justice for the most vulnerable in society and they kept for themselves access to resources.
Providing access entails sacrifice to those in power and with affluence, but this sacrifice gives life and benefit to all. Denying it, as the moneyed political classes were doing in Amos’ time, and as they continue to do it in our time, only brings about destruction for everyone.
And this is why we must pursue justice like our nation and our world depends on it. Because it does.