There are many reasons to avoid the prophet Amos, and I have used them all. Being a lazy person, as I began to write this morning's blog, I noticed that the gospel lesson of the lectionary deals with the good Samaritan, a subject I can pontificate about in my sleep. In fact, I’ve blogged about it seven times in four years (see http://billkemp.info/search/node/samaritan). There’s also the fact that Amos is a bit political, and during an election year, polite pastors don’t touch that electrified rail. This is ironic, because in Amos 7 the king says, “I find it so disgusting, Amos. That you criticize my faith. Why don’t you go back to Rome? Don’t you know that America is the king’s place to do and worship as he pleases?” (My loose paraphrase of Amos 7:12-13) Further, most church leaders follow Marcion’s heresy (see Old Testament) and abandon all prophets, especially minor ones. This is to declaw the lion, and make scripture irrelevant to today’s world.
Yes, Amos is irretrievably political. Even though Amos presents himself as a mere fig farmer, his message concerns the great political and economic forces of his day. He presents himself as an example of how God can use insignificant people to speak a word to the rich and powerful. He would be appalled at the way church today avoids discussing hot topics: LGBT rights, Black Lives Matter, universal healthcare, criminal justice reform, gun control, climate change, refugee resettlement, immigration, etc. Strip away social justice concerns from Amos, and you are left with a couple good one liners that carry none of the fire that inspired a simple dresser of vines to step out into the public arena. Strip away from the Bible the urgent call to work to transform our community for good, to do justice, to stand with the poor, and to be a bulwark against oppression, and you are left with the fuzzy impression that shepherds are nice people, and in America, all good boys do fine.
In Amos 7, God shows his prophet two apocalyptic disasters — locusts eating the crops and fires consuming our homes (how is this not relevant?) — but, God decides to spare us this time. Others suffer, but we are safe. Instead, God shows a plumb line to Amos. We will be spared irrational natural disasters. Instead, God will bring judgement to his people based upon what they have actually done, or failed to do. Now before you get all, but I am saved by grace on me, remember Jesus said:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-18)
Do the church a favor, study the Old Testament.