The rich ruling classes of Amos’s day resented the worship festivals in Israel’s calendar; they meant a day’s less trade for them to get fat on. What was more, their crooked and deceitful trade was riddled with injustice and oppressed the poor.
“When will the new moon be over,
that we may sell grain?
And the Sabbath,
that we may offer wheat for sale,
that we may make the measure small and our profit great
and deal deceitfully with false balances,
that we may buy the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals?..” (Amos 8:5-6)
Amos’s response to these selfish and corrupt fat cats, is to announce a judgement on their nation so fearsome that it makes difficult reading.
“So many dead bodies! They are thrown everywhere!” (Amos 8:3)
This prophet’s voice relentlessly carries within it God’s naked fury at the oppression of the poor. Perhaps, if we find the force of the anger in such passages ‘difficult’, it points to something of our own complacency or insensitivity towards the things that stir the white heat of God’s passion. God simply cannot abide the kind of selfishness that fattens itself at another’s expense.
“The end has come upon my people Israel” God declares through Amos; “I will never again pass by them”.
It was with Amos’s fiery words still reverberating around me that I read, today, an article about Sir Philip Green (knight of the realm), the multi-billionaire businessman who runs some of the biggest names on British high streets (Topshop, Topman, Dorothy Perkins, Burton, Miss Selfridge, BHS...)
According to this article, Sir Phil dodged tax on his self-awarded £1.2 billion paycheque. (His business empire is conveniently “owned” by his wife who has not done a single day’s work for the company, lives in Monaco, and pays not a penny of income tax.)
Any time it takes his fancy, Sir Phil can pay himself huge sums of money without having to pay any tax. A distasteful fact, made utterly disgusting when compared to the life of the sweatshop labourers in Mauritius upon whose back he has built his £5bn fortune. In these sweatshops, Sri Lankans, Indians and Bangladeshis toil 12 hours a day, six days a week, for minimal pay.
What would Amos say?
And what am I saying? How am I living? Where do I shop? What do I wear? (I don’t think wearing a wristband with WWJD on it is quite enough here.)
Do I get angry at injustice and oppression of the poor? If so, what do I do about it?