Posted on Sun, Sep 22, 2013
September 22, 2013
18th Sunday after Pentecost
Old Testament Lesson: Amos 8:4-7 “Buying the Poor with Silver!”
4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, 5 saying, ‘When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the Sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, 6 buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.’ 7 The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
Sometimes on Sunday nights, my family would go down to Waikiki to go our favorite noodle shop; it was a time to be with family. But sometimes, as we would walk among the crowds of tourists, there would be this crazy preachers standing on a chair, or up on a street light (yes, I have seen this) with their poster saying “God is love!” but then he would go down the list of those who were certainly going to hell. Most people would look at them strangely and walk way around them… I can’t imagine what the tourists from Asia who don’t understand English very well think of these screaming, accusing “preachers.”
In the Old Testament, there were some really strange people who were actually sent by God to warn, teach, guide and proclaim the words and wishes of God. Some were called, “Ecstatic Prophets.” This would sometimes include Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and one of the Isaiah’s… it would probably also include John the Baptizer, camels hair is not standard attire, and locusts are not yet a gastronomical treat. You also can read about the antics of some of the Ecstatic Prophets in the book of Kings.
However, Amos, Hosea, and sometimes depending on the scholar, Jeremiah & Ezekiel, would also fit into the category of “Classic Prophets.”
The difference between the crazy street preachers and the prophets of old, and I think the Old Testament “ecstatic” prophets could put the modern Christian Crazies to shame; the Old Testament prophets spoke the truth!
If you would have met Amos, I think you would have found him to be a rather unpopular guy in the minds of the people he was charged to prophesy to in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Amos lived at a time when there was great prosperity. The people were prosperous and distracted by their wealth. When King Jeroboam built a temple dedicated to a golden calf, and there were crowds of Israelites there, Amos showed up and stood up in the middle of the crowd, and let the people know that God would punish them terribly for their actions. A false prophet named, Amaziah, tried to get the crowd to attack Amos, but surprisingly the king made sure Amos was protected… but Amos had made his point.
What is going on in today’s text, and why is it relevant to us especially now? The buyers and sellers were so into their pursuit of making money or using the poor for their own purposes, they began to grumble at how long the Sabbath was, and how the Law of keeping the Sabbath was eating into their time of buying, selling and doing business in their own special way. Amos accused them by saying about them; “We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances.” An ephah was a measurement of wheat equivalent to a bushel… depending who was judging the weight and size. The size of an ephah or bushel of wheat should not change, and neither should the value of the Shekel, Amos was letting everyone know that the value would change depending on the cunning of the traders, measuring the bushel of weight below its real value and charging more for the wheat than it was worth. I’m sure he was really popular in the market!
Amos accuses the buyers and sellers that they were “buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals!” Their sin is putting a price on human beings, and especially putting a ridiculously low price on the workers & poor. It is as if the shop owner would look at someone to work for him and rather than offering a proper wage, he would notice that the worker has no shoes… So, rather than paying in cash, the man with all the power would just offer a pair of sandals for their labor… you can’t eat shoes! He continues, with their list of sins including, “selling the sweepings of the wheat.” What does this mean?
According to the Deuteronomic Code, it was tradition to leave the grain that you could not harvest the first time for the poor to glean from the fields for food. It was a kind of safety net for the very poor. But the buyers and sellers in Amos’ day were so greedy that they disregarded even this basic Jewish tradition so that they could make even more profit in their corrupt way
Amos is speaking very clearly about the sins of the people at that time, and don't they sound familiar even in today’s context? Their corrupt actions were easy to see and identify, but the main thing Amos was scolding them for, was seeing the Sabbath as an obstruction to their pursuits of riches, rather than a Gift from God.
The law about the Sabbath was very clear, no one, not even one’s slaves/servants, not even their donkeys or animals used for labor to work, EVERY ONE EVERY ANIMAL was to rest! Everyone was to stop his or her busy lives so that they could focus on the Word of God! Worship and scripture kept them together as a people with a purpose. By following the Torah, they would live as examples of a people of faith demonstrating God’s mercy and grace through their words and actions to the world. In order to try to keep God’s people attentive to their true identity as God’s People, lead from slavery into freedom and prosperity, it was essential to keep the Sabbath! It’s a LAW! NOT A GUIDELINE!
The people were only thinking about the pursuit of profits and in their selfish pursuits they had reduced their fellow “Chosen People of God,” into mere instruments of labor only alive in order to give to be exploited at the lowest price.
The issue is, the Gift of God’s blessing, the Torah, was given for all people. If you believe the story of Moses leading the enslaved Israelites into freedom was a story for you, then it was also a blessing story for your neighbor as well. If you believe you are loved and redeemed by God, and you honor and cherish that blessing, why would it be different for the stranger who might be sitting, walking, working or walking with you each day? If you believe you are loved by God, If you see the stories about God’s faithfulness to you, we need to remember they are written for the sake of our neighbor as well, so we need to really look at each other as blessed brothers and sisters all under the loving care of our faithful God. It changes the way we see our neighbor!
The tantalizing golden sheen of the Golden Calf and the weight of the shekels they could fill their pockets through corrupt practices, became the new god for them, and it was the responsibility for people like Amos to proclaim what was wrong in order to give the people the chance to repent of their thoughtlessness, greed, lack of focus and realizing who they truly were as God’s People. Again, ‘repentance’ is a gift.
Amos’ message is the same we have for today. We are called to make time to focus on the grace and mercy we have received by God; For us, living as Easter People, it isn’t about being hit over the head with the Law, but to wait in anticipation to hear that we are forgiven through the cross of Christ as we joyfully worship our Living Savior. We cut this time out of or busy week so that we can hear the Gospel and be focused to live in the Good News of God’s peace, joy and love. If we don’t let the scriptures, and especially the Gospel of Christ enter our hearts and free us from out own self pursuits, how will be able to a Bless of Aloha to all people and the aina we have been called to be good stewards? Amen.
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