Friday of Week 13 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Amos 8:4-6, 9-12

Today’s reading is part of the “Fourth vision: the basket of ripe fruit”.

Ideally, in a world of great prosperity all should be enjoying its fruits. Experience shows us again and again that that is never the case. The denunciations listed by Amos today have an unpleasantly familiar ring – little has changed.

“When will the new moon be over?”, people used to ask. The new moon, like the Sabbath, brought a halt to all commercial transactions. The question was asked by merchants who could not wait for the holy day (devoted to God) to be over so that they could get back into doing business.

“We will diminish the ephah.” The ephah was a standard of measure, a little more than our bushel. So the merchants fiddle with their measuring instruments of buying and selling. They take advantage of the poor and the lowly and shamelessly exploit them. The lowly can be bought for money (“Everyone has his price”) and the poor for even less, a pair of sandals.

Selling even the “refuse of the wheat” reminds one of how tea merchants discovered that tea-leaf dust could be used for teabags! And only the Lord knows what goes into some of our processed foods these days.

At the same time, today many parts of our world, including “ordinary” people, enjoy a level of prosperity not even dreamed of by the rich in former times. The low income worker in North America, Europe and parts of Asia can have his own house, a car, marvellous electronic devices and even go abroad for summer holidays. Solomon in all his glory did not enjoy such perquisites!

But we also live in a world where hundreds of millions live at appalling and totally unacceptable levels of poverty, deprivation, malnutrition and starvation. Every few seconds, someone dies of hunger, mostly children.

This cannot last, Amos tells the people in the Northern Kingdom. “I will make the sun set at midday,” says the Lord through Amos. The Day of Yahweh is accompanied by cosmic signs: earthquake, solar eclipse. The later prophets enlarge on this, using conventional imagery that must not be taken literally. Darkness, in every sense of the word, will cover the earth.

Celebrations will become times of mourning and songs become lamentations (“By the waters of Babylon, we sat and wept…” Ps 137). As signs of mourning and loss, people will wear sackcloth and have their heads shaved. People will be reduced to destitution and will lose their only son.

A famine is coming but it is not a famine of food and water. It is a famine for hearing God’s word. People will have no sense of direction, “they will wander from sea to sea”. They will seek the word of the Lord and not find it.

This is just what is happening to many in our affluent world. They have lost a sense of values, a truly moral sense, a sense of integrity and solidarity as they are caught up in the consumerist world of hedonism and pleasure. “If you like it, do it!” They seek pleasure and enjoyment and are surprised that they cannot find happiness.

Happiness is only for the poor in spirit, for the gentle and compassionate, for those who hunger and thirst for justice, for those who are peacemakers, for those ready to suffer for sake of justice and what is right, for those committed to making God‘s Kingdom a reality in our world.

Until we rediscover these truths we will continue to wander from pleasure to pleasure in a search that has no end. But where are we to find the guiding lights that will point us in the right direction? Where are we to go to find him who is the Light of the World, who is the Way, who is Truth and Life? Is it possible that helping to illuminate this path might be a responsibility for me?

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