O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.
The Lord God has shown Amos a vision of locusts and one of fire. "How can we survive?" Amos asks.
Then the Lord shows him a plumb line--a way of measuring if a wall has been built straight. It hasn't been.
This vision in some ways is more ominous than the ones of locusts and of fire. We plant crops but we can't keep the locusts away. Some steps for fire prevention are possible, but some fires can't be stopped.
But, we could have built a better wall.
How much of the pain we suffer is due to our not following God's way for us?
A priest complains to the king that he resents the message that the prophet Amos has been preaching. He tells Amos to go back home, that he doesn't belong in the temple.
Who does? Who should speak? What message? What is it that Amos has said that is so upsetting to those in authority?
Amos asserts that he speaks because the Lord has told him to. His speech has been full of radical social justice (oppressing the poor and crushing the needy (4:1); mistaking ceremony and offerings as a substitute for doing justice (5:21-27); and even more disturbing to us modern readers, living comfortable lives (6:4-8).
Do we get too comfortable in our lives to be able to hear God's call? Who gets our attention? Who does Amaziah think is his real boss? Who do we think is ours?
The prophet Amos outlines the indictment that the Lord God has brought against them: They have trampled on the poor, taken advantage of them, engaged in practices which increased bankruptcies.
How much attention do modern prophets give to financial abuses? Do we consider fraudulent practices sins? Do we believe that God gets particularly upset about financial mistreatment of the poor?
Amos reminds us the the Lord will not forget any of this.
The congregation of Philadelphia has amassed little power but has demonstrated patient endurance of the trials they have faced. The angel's message: Hold on.
The congregation of Laodicea, on the other hand, has demonstrated mediocracy. Angel's message: Get earnest. Repent.
Psalms 120 through 134 all begin with the superscription, "A song for ascents." According to the notes in the Jerusalem Study Bible, there are several theories about the designation "ascents," the English translation for "ma'alah." Among these theories are the early rabbinic tradition that deduced that there 15 of these psalms to match the 15 steps of the Temple (see Ezekiel 40:26, 31). Some modern scholars connect these psalms to the return from exile. Others have a allegorist understanding; that is, the ascent is of the individual to God.
Psalm 131 begin with an assertion of humility, "O Lord, my heart is not proud nor my look haughty; I do not aspire to great things or to what is beyond me." I'm pausing here to ponder how honestly a typical modern can pray this psalm. Do we think a heart should be proud? Is it hard for us to admit that some things are beyond us? How willing are we to limit our aspirations? Or, I'm wondering if we, on the other hand, can pray this psalm quite honestly. Our humility is part of what drives us to our places of worship. Of course, we can't do everything. Of course, we don't understand why some things turn out the way they do. But, I'm still having trouble with the not-occupying myself part. I, at least, if not we, do tend to worry about a lot of things.
Back to the psalm.
The words of the psalm links the one on the way to the Temple (or on the way home from exile, or the one seeking the presence of God) to a small child with its mother. From an assertion of humility to an example of it. It's hard to come up with a relationship in which one party provides for the needs of the other--even when that other isn't behaving particularly well at all--than the mother and her child.
A person's pride will bring humiliation,
but one who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.
Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, sustain in the hard times. And, if the times get too easy, nudge us to remember you and what you intend for us. Amen.