Tuesday of Week 13 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Amos 3:1-8; 4:11-12

Amos continues his severe warning to his people. He speaks to the “whole family” that God brought up from the land of Egypt, apparently addressing all 12 tribes, although the Northern Kingdom only included 10. The others formed the Southern Kingdom, Judah, of which Amos himself was a member.

Over all these years God had shown his people a love which he had not given to any other people. “You alone have I favoured more than all the families of the earth.” However, they had taken this privileged position as a right and did not respond in love and service. “Therefore I will punish you for all your crimes.” Because of the abundance of love and favours showered on them, their wrongdoings far from being overlooked are considered all the more serious. Israel’s present strength and prosperity gave rise to a complacency about her privileged status as the Lord’s chosen people. She is now shockingly reminded of the long-forgotten responsibilities her privileges entailed.

What is going to happen them must follow, then, as night the day. And Amos lists a set of rhetorical questions. When things happen, they demand a cause. There can be no effect without a cause, nor any cause without an effect. Therefore, the behaviour of the people inevitably brings a reaction from God expressed through the mouth of his prophet.

Amos builds up a series of questions leading to an understanding of why God reacts with terrifying punishment on his people. Each picture is of cause and effect, using figures drawn from daily life – and culminating in divine action.

“The lion roars – who will not be afraid! The Lord God speaks – who will not prophesy?”

The prophetic call cannot be resisted: in all this passage the prophet is justifying his intervention. There is neither effect without cause, nor cause without effect. If the prophet exercises his office, it is because Yahweh has spoken; if God speaks, the prophet cannot but prophesy. The images chosen suggest that the message will be one of disaster.

In the past, there had been terrible punishments. When Sodom and Gomorrah were utterly destroyed in an “upheaval” (referring to an earthquake?), Abraham and his family, the only faithful ones left, were “like a brand plucked from the fire”. The complete destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and its sinful people had become proverbial. In spite of this and similar experiences in their history, “you returned not to me, says the Lord”.

Now, God is once again going to deal with his faithless people in his “own way”. The passage ends with frightening words: “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” And we know that a terrible punishment indeed awaits them resulting in the utter and final destruction of the Northern Kingdom.

We too call ourselves God’s people and have been particularly blessed by the revelations that come to us through Jesus and the Christian Testament. But this greater knowledge only makes our wrongdoings all the more serious and deserving of greater punishment. Where God is concerned it, there is no ‘inside’ track by which we can claim privileged treatment over non-believers. On the contrary, the closer we are to God, the greater our responsibility. That is why the saints could see themselves as sinners. Their closeness to God made even their minor shortcomings matters of repentance.

We too can think of many times when God has rescued us or given us ample warnings and yet we have continued our sinful ways. Are we ready to meet our God? For some, it is a moment to be dreaded. For others, it is a day to be looked forward to with a passionate longing. “For me, life is Christ and death is gain,” Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi (Phil 1:21). For me, which is it?

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