"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

25th SUNDAY -C- SEPTEMBER 18, 2022

Amos 8: 4-7; Psalm 113;
I Timothy 2: 1-8; Luke 16: 1-1

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

We say that God knows everything and remembers everything. Amos tells us today that God’s memory is especially sharp in particular instances – when the poor are mistreated, or ignored.

The prophet voices God’s displeasure towards those who pretend being devout, but exploit the poor and vulnerable in society. Israel practiced prescribed religious observances according to the lunar calendar. During the Sabbath all work and business were suspended. The unscrupulous merchants may have observed the Sabbath, but they could not wait until the celebration was over so they could return to their cheating, unscrupulous ways. It would be like distinguished members of our parish sitting in front pews they had paid for with their family name engraved on the pew. They might claim it is their pew, others can sit elsewhere in the back. Their wealth gives them a place of honor in church, or at other religious and social functions, but their wealth may come from their questionable financial practices . Amos questions the integrity of their religious practices, accusing them of being in a hurry to finish their prayers to go back to their dishonest ways.

Note the poor on whose behalf Amos speaks. They are easy victims for those who set prices. Some are so desperate they have to sell themselves into slavery. That happened in Amos’ time and is still going on among the world’s poorest. Isn’t it ironic how these crooks describe their dishonest deeds? They used false weights and undersize bushel baskets (the ephah). ("We will diminish the ephah.") They manipulated the currency by measuring with lighter weights. They even fixed the scales in their favor.

But God has noticed how the poor are taking advantage of and will not forget when the accounting time comes for their fraudulence. God has also noticed the self content the prosperous of Judah have, probably thinking God has not seen their dishonest behavior; how they indulge themselves while neglecting the hungry all around them. As another prophet voiced, "They have eyes, but they do not see they have ears but they do not hear" (Jeremiah 5:21).

Does Amos have anything to say to what some have called our "national religion," capitalism? It is a system that favors the strong and well-organized. In capitalism the strongest prevail. But, in fact, it is the greediest and most aggressive who come out on top. The point of our labor is to sell to our neighbors and gain a profit. But do we care for our neighbor? Which is much like the Israelite community. Amos addressed those in power, the king and the entitled, who wanted to sell things to people. In their dealings they cheated the unsuspecting. They cared more about making a profit – they should have cared for their neighbor.

Psalm 113 is our response to the Amos reading today. It is a summons to give praise to the God revealed by Amos and throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. God is bountiful and gracious. That is how Amos describes our God, who sees the plight of the ignored. "[God] raises up to lowly from the dust; from the dunghill God lifts up the poor." The rich and powerful are in trouble if they don’t see the needs of the least and respond. God is observing and has a good memory, "Never will I forget a thing they have done." And we might add, "And a thing they have not done."

The Psalmist rightly asks, "Who is like the Lord, our God…?" We don’t need to respond to that question, the prophet has made it quite clear; there is no one equal to our God, who has no rivals in generosity and compassion. The God our Scriptures proclaim seems to be in a hurry to respond to the needs of the least. The question before us is: will we team with God and quickly respond to the neediest around us?

The Psalmist describes a grand reversal. God, who reigns "above all nations," and is "enthroned on high," has come to raise up the ones society has cast off into the "dunghill" (the place garbage was thrown to be burned). God does more: raises up the lowest to royal seats of honor. Psalm 113, like so many texts from the Hebrew Scriptures, counters the stereotype many have about the so-called harsh, punishing and judgmental God they call the "God of the Old Testament." Amos and the Psalmist have a blended message for us today. Our all-powerful God, who reigns "high above all nations," reaches to the lowest regions of human life and raises us up to places of honor.

God extends that reach to each of us, to also make us conscious how we use our power over the dependent and overlooked. That same extended hand of God offers us forgiveness and does for us what God always does for the needy, "God raises up to lowly… to seat them with princes…."

Amos cautions us to be careful that the benefits and privileges we enjoy are not at the expense of the poor and powerless. For example, are our clothes made in sweatshops, or by the slave labor of women and children in undeveloped countries? Have I made investments international conglomerates that exploit and oppress hungry and desperate workers, parents struggling to feed their children? If I am an employer, do I pay my workers a living wage?

In Catholic social teaching we have heard the call for a "preferential option for the poor." That means we are to give priority to the well-being of the poor and powerless. It is clear from Amos’ message this is not a recent innovation, but is a theme that flows through the Hebrew Scriptures, which always emphasizes God’s "preferential option for the poor." It is a theme throughout the New Testament, particularly in our weekly Sunday readings from Luke’s gospel. The evangelist makes it quite clear that the Good News is of God’s mercy and love directed foremost to the poor, disinherited, blind, lame and prisoners (Luke 4:18).

If we are disciples of Jesus we too must continue, in our day and in our world, God’s saving mission. We, who are made in God’s image and likeness, must have a special empathy, care and desire to help God’s favored, the least.They have no land, like the displaced and also the borders fleeing violence in their towns and villages seeking asylum they are the ones who have to pay inflated prices for state they don’t have land to raise their crops and are desperate to buy for their families In other words, we must have a "preferential option for the poor."

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/091822.cfm