According to the principle of Catholic social teaching “Rights and Responsibilities,” every person has a right to life and the means to achieve integral human development. Correspondingly, each person has a responsibility to contribute to the development of the common good in such a way as to foster his or her brother’s and sister’s integral human development. The prophet Amos encourages the people who controlled the resources in his time to take responsibility for the weak and the poor. In fact, such action on behalf of the weak and poor is necessary if they wish to know their God.
Amos reports that God is not pleased with the “complacent” or the “overconfident” who live in excess luxury: “Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches.” (Amos 6: 1, 4).
God is to be found in the pursuit of justice: “Seek good and not evil, that you may live; Then truly will the Lord, the God of hosts, be with you as you claim.” (Amos 5:14). In fact, Amos reports that God is not pleased with the wealthy citizens’ attempt to “know God” through their monetary sacrifices:
I hate, I spurn your feasts, I take no pleasure in your solemnities;
Your cereal offerings I will not accept, nor consider your stall-fed peace offerings.
Away with your noisy songs! I will not listen to the melodies of your harps. (Amos 5: 21-23).
Amos realizes that this message from God is unpopular but he preaches it anyway, identifying the crimes of the rich that bring about God’s displeasure:
They hate him who reproves at the gate and abhor him who speaks the truth.
Therefore, because you have trampled upon the weak and exacted of them levies of grain, Though you have built houses of hewn stone, you shall not live in them! Though you have planted choice vineyards, you shall not drink the wine!
Yes, I know how many are your crimes, how grievous your sins: Oppressing the just, accepting bribes, repelling the needy at the gate (Amos 5: 10-12).
The rich may have built up lavish real estate where they feast on the finest food and drink expensive wine but, in the end, they will not enjoy the fruit of their labor because it is built upon the backs of the poor.
In one of the most famous passages from the book of Amos, the prophet proclaims,
But if you would offer me holocausts,
then let justice surge like water, and goodness like an unfailing stream (Amos 5: 23-24).
God is known in the doing of justice.
Submitted by: N. Rademacher, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Religious Studies
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.