Scripture Focus: Amos 5.7, 10, 25-26
7 There are those who turn justice into bitterness
and cast righteousness to the ground.
10 There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court
and detest the one who tells the truth.
25 “Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
26 You have lifted up the shrine of your king,
the pedestal of your idols,
the star of your god—
which you made for yourselves.
Reflection: Justice to Wormwood
By John Tillman
As the people ignored Amos’s calls to repent, God called into question Israel’s entire history of worship, implying that in their hearts they always had worshiped a god of success, wealth, and comfort rather than him.
Rather than provide justice (mishpat) to the poor, they were frustrating justice and causing bitterness, more literally “wormwood.” Wormwood is translated as “bitterness” multiple times. It is symbolic of a curse or poison and may refer to hemlock. For example, wormwood is used to describe the poison of an adulteress whose lips “drip honey” but in the end, she leads victims to a bitter death. (Proverbs 5.4)
Justice is very much the business of people of faith and when people ignore it or frustrate it…God notices. God points out that the wealthy enjoy great benefits of stone mansions and lush vineyards, (Amos 5.11) but because of their treatment of the poor, the vineyards will be filled with wailing instead of joy and they will be exiled from their comfortable homes. (Amos 5.16-17)
Amos is sympathetic to the plight of living in a corrupt land where justice is denied. “The times are evil” Amos acknowledges and points out that “the prudent keep quiet.” (Amos 5.13) But this acknowledgment of the evil state of the world is not an endorsement of doing nothing or a command to be quiet. Prudence should mean “approaching a problem wisely,” but too often it means “avoiding a problem selfishly.” Rather than avoid trouble, God charges the people to “hate evil, love good” and to “maintain justice in the courts” despite the days being evil.
We are under the same charge. Is there bitterness and poison? We must counter it with justice and righteousness. Justice, or mishpat, is the law being upheld. Righteousness, or sedeq, implies the actions that uphold it. We must not sit quietly but speak out. We must not avoid the unjust but confront them and comfort their victims.
It will not do for us to sing about justice without bringing it to pass. We must bring justice to counter bitterness. We must bring a flood of mishpat to wash away wormwood.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream! — Amos 5.23-24
Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament, and he will hear my voice. — Psalm 55.18
– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle
Read more about Under His Covering
God…like a master craftsman…has given us everything we need. His gifts are beautiful, well-built, and practical.
Read more about Three Strikes
Israel, the prosperous nation, is held collectively responsible for the abuse and oppression of the poor.