It’s hard to read Amos.
Unless we want other people to read it so that we can say to them, “This applies to those people.” Unless we want to say, “this is a metaphor.” Unless we want to say, “This is a prophecy that has already been fulfilled and so isn’t relevant to me or my friends or my community or my congregation or my country.” Unless we want to get through it on our way to completing a reading of the Bible in a year.
If we can choose one of those ways to approach the text, we won’t have to ask ourselves, “Does this actually have relevance to how I live my life?”
Because Amos left his flocks and his groves in Judah and traveled to Israel. He carried messages from God. At one point Amos quotes directly from God. “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “the songs in the temple will turn to wailing. Many, many bodies—flung everywhere! Silence!”
And then Amos speaks to a particular group of people: “You who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land.” They would probably have preferred the label, “good congregational members.”
He repeats what he hears them saying about the rest that God had told his people to take, the rest that interferes with profitability: “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain,and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?”
And then Amos describes the business practices they use: “skimping on the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales,buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat.”
It’s good if we can distance ourselves from the applicability of these words, because Amos started talking about God again: “The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: ‘I will never forget anything they have done.'”
Aren’t you glad this isn’t part of your text to preach this Sunday? Aren’t you glad that this is all ancient history? Because if God still remembered this kind of disregard of others, there would be some need for repentance.