- “The end has come upon my people Israel;
- I will never again pass them by.
- The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,”
- says the Lord GOD.
This Sunday’s readings are tough ones. We begin with God’s anger with Israel, as related by the prophet Amos, and we end with the oft-frustrating gospel story of Mary and Martha. Amos didn’t have an easy job: during the most prosperous times that the kingdoms of Israel and Judah had seen since the golden days of David and Solomon, God calls Amos out of the southern kingdom of Judah to preach God’s word in Bethel… and God’s word? Not a happy one for the Chosen People.
- They have rejected the law of the Lord, and have not kept his statutes.
- They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.
- They trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth.
- They push the afflicted out of the way.
- They lay themselves down beside every altar.
- In the house of their God they drink wine bought with fines they imposed.
- They store up violence and robbery in their strongholds.
- They oppress the poor, and they crush the needy.
- They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.
- They trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain.
- They afflict the righteous, take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.
- They have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood.
- They trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land.
Things don’t look so good for the people of God, do they? How do you defend yourself against these accusations? The truth of the matter is, these were Good People, just like we think of ourselves. They worked at their jobs, and they tended to their homes, and they went to the Temple and the synagogue like they’re supposed to. Just like us, right? Good Christian People. In a prosperous and wealthy kingdom, these folks thought, Hey, I’ve been working hard. I earned this money, right? So I can use it for a little bit of luxury for my family. or maybe, I’ve been saving up my wages; now we can take that trip to Jerusalem and do some sight-seeing. How about, Oh, I wish someone would clean up all these beggars from the marketplace. It’s getting so that there’s nowhere safe to go shopping with my kids around here! That’s just normal, isn’t it?
Well, God says it’s not. God says that my luxury at the expense of your poverty is a sin, a breach of the Covenant. God says that turning a blind eye to the sick, the needy, the afflicted is wrong. God says that not one of us has greater worth than another. If I were truly attending to God, I would know this.
It isn’t very comfortable to see ourselves in this light, is it? God’s accusations against Judah and Israel may as well be aimed right at us. And the punishments God promises to levy, well they’re pretty scary, too! God threatens earthquake, flood, eclipse. God promises that our joy will turn to sorrow, and our celebrations will turn to grief. And worst of all, God proclaims that God will remove Godself from our presence:
- The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD,
- when I will send a famine on the land;
- not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
- but of hearing the words of the LORD.
- They shall wander from sea to sea,
- and from north to east;
- they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD,
- but they shall not find it.
In the encounter between Jesus and the sisters Mary and Martha, Jesus makes this clear. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing”: living in relationship with God and with God’s people. From that loving relationship, all else flows. This gospel is not simply about be-ing vs. do-ing, about whether contemplation may be preferable to action. Rather, Jesus reminds Mary that when her relationship with God comes first, a life of generosity and loving-kindness becomes a state of being. The do-ing becomes be-ing, because Who We Are is a people of Christ, a joyfully grateful people, a people who live with and uphold the poor, rather than trampling them, a people who keep God’s Law as naturally as we breathe or eat or sleep, a people who know that all of Christ’s brothers and sisters hold the same worth.