Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, 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, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”
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 that day the beautiful young women and the young men shall faint for thirst. Amos 8: 4-13.
In the Daily Office reading from the Old Testament, we find the prophet Amos acting in the quintessential role of the prophet: he speaks as a social critic, calling the people of Israel to change their ways. At first blush, we might wonder what this has to do with us today and how this reading fits into our understanding of Advent.
Amos speaks out against a terrible social and spiritual problem: deceit. Particularly, he is concerned with those who take advantage of the poor. We don’t have to look very far to find modern examples suggesting that this is still a problem. Our newspapers remind us that there’s nothing archaic about Amos’ concern. From pools of mortgage-backed securities to deceptive bank and credit card practices to borrowers who take out loans that they know they cannot repay, we encounter the problem of deceit every day. But, for the sake of our souls, rather than looking at the headlines, we should search our lives for the ways in which our own deception has separated us from God. If I have a superpower in this life, it’s my capacity for deception and self-deception.
Amos believed that the problem had become so widespread that he compared it to a moral famine and a spiritual drought. He believed that sharp dealings and deception would result in our inability to hear God in the world. He wrote about people going from “sea to sea, and from north to east” looking for some whisper of God, and not being able to find it. That’s the state of the people in first century Palestine: they knew that their spiritual lives were withering without God’s word, without God’s presence.
Amos summed up our Advent expectation, hoping for a day when justice would “roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” Amos 5: 24. In the Collect for this second we of Advent we pray: “Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer.”
Like Amos, we pray for the end of this famine, for this spiritual drought. We hope for a day when justice, honor and fairness would roll across the land like an overflowing torrential river. That’s our Advent hope, as well. The people of Israel were spiritually parched, dying for God’s word. Advent tells us that Word is coming.
God give you peace and a spirit of wonder,
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2011 James R. Dennis