Amos 8: Swallowing the needy
I remember a holy priest from many years ago when I was a student at University in
the North of England. His Parish was in a very poor part of the city. He had a warm
heart, a generous spirit, a cheerful disposition and showed great concern and pastoral
care for his parishioners. He would light the fires of the elderly on winter mornings.
He would do shopping for the housebound and if needed buy food for the poor. Often,
in place of buying oil for heating the Church, he would give the money to the
homeless and to charities. Not many attended the Church.
I recall one winter morning we were freezing in Church at the morning service: the
boiler had broken, as usual, and our feet were like blocks of ice. Father B. always
advised the small congregation to put on two or three extra layers of clothing. We
were hoping the sermon would not be long- it wasn’t!
As he was starting the homily, suddenly from under his vestments clouds of steam
like incense started to arise! Somehow the hot water bottle that he had secreted around
him, had burst.
After rescuing the good cleric from his sudden and untimely sauna, we dried him with
a towel and he continued to serve at the altar. His rather appropriate sermon text was
from the Prophet Amos5:24:
“Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like and ever flowing stream.”
Rich men are rarely remembered but those who show compassion, joy, mercy,
righteousness, justice and love, their memory is unto eternity.
4 Hear this, you who swallow up the needy,
And make the poor of the land fail,
“When will the New Moon be past,
That we may sell grain?
And the Sabbath,
That we may trade wheat?
Making the ephah small and the shekel large,
Falsifying the scales by deceit,
6 That we may buy the poor for silver,
And the needy for a pair of sandals—
Even sell the bad wheat?”
7 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
“Surely I will never forget any of their works.
Woe to you who make mammon great and mercy small
Who today eat the apple of financial Fall
Who use the Sabbath to plan and cheat the more
Whose deeds white heat the flaming sword at Eden’s door!
Ah the flaming sword! You see there is no way back;
Not until you renounce excess and recognise the lack
In your brother’s life.
When will the market open so to satisfy our greed?
When again gratify desire and passion feed?
Poor men have no names, the heedless suffer fools to dream
Whilst God places at the East a bar – the Cherubim!
Oh the Cherubim! Whose faces guard four ways,
Affording plutocrats no bliss in all the days
of their little, mortal life.
They will rue the moments when they made mammon great.
When they closed their hearts to love and welcomed hate
They chose the serpent’s wiles over heaven’s gifts, too late
Espy eternal treasures through the guarded gate.
Alas the gates to Paradise! Are to some locked tight
Who choose outer darkness, the world’s whirlwind, an endless appetite
for their future life.
And God still looks at the rich through the needle’s eye
And walks in the garden and calls with a sigh
He sews with this needle those garments of need
And God still loves Adam and all of his seed.
Oh the love of God a garment of light, a consuming fire
Depending upon Whom, what and where lies our consuming desire
In this life.
“Wealth … is like a snake; it will twist around the hand and bite unless one knows
how to use it properly.”
Clement of Alexandria, “The Instructor,” 3.6.34