Monday, December 03, 2007

Speaking to Power

Monday, December 3, 2007 -- Week of 1 Advent (Year 2)

"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
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Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p 937)
Psalms 1, 2, 3 (morning) 4, 7 (evening)
Amos 2:6-16
2 Peter 1:1-11
Matthew 21:1-11

In "The Access Bible" which is the Bible I read from most regularly, the annotation that introduces this opening section from the prophet Amos says the following:
"'They sell the righteous for silver' With this phrase, Amos strikes at the heart of Israel's guilt (2:6, 8:6). He criticizes not just an abuse here and an injustice there, but an economic system that condones the accumulation of great wealth in the hands of a few (6:106) and the growth in the gap between rich and poor (5:11)."

Many Christians who speak today from a prophetic orientation have remarked with urgency about the similarities between the economy that Amos condemns and the characteristics of the economy of our nation. The last decade has been marked by a notable increase of great wealth in the hands of a few, stresses on the middle class, and the growth in the gap between rich and poor.

Amos speaks from the perspective of a traditional family farmer. In the eighth century BCE he saw the results of the economic practices of the wealthy and powerful who influenced markets and debt service in such a way as to force the family farmers into foreclosure and sale, even into debt-slavery. Family farms were gobbled up by large corporate interests, often absentee owners. Amos also condemns the moral indecency, material excess and conspicuous consumption prevalent, particularly among the wealthy. He ridicules the overt religious practice of the powerful and wealthy who pray and make sacrifices to God even as they ignore the economic suffering of their neighbors. Amos pronounces God's judgment upon these practices. He promises that God will punish their iniquities.

Reading of the scandals Amos decries 2700 years ago is like reading something that could have been published today. In the name of God he demands a more just and egalitarian economic system that restores security and dignity to the poor and expects modest, compassionate behavior from the rich.

Amos' words were controversial and provoked a political storm. The high priest of Bethel banished Amos from that religious center and reported his unpatriotic activity to the king. Amos remained loyal to God's values and found himself at odds with the prevailing political sentiments. It is likely that his prophecy would have been suppressed and lost, except that the judgment he pronounced actually happened.

We have another dramatic political challenge in today's reading from Matthew. The description of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem is a deliberate act that fulfills some of the prophetic expectations of the longed for Messiah, the new king who would enter the capital city riding on a donkey, the traditional mount of King Saul and the early kings of Israel. The people do not miss the imagery. "Hosanna to the Son of David!" This is a political entry, guaranteed to attract the notice of the Romans, ever vigilant for sparks of rebellion.

Much of the rest of the week (Passion week) will be the playing out of the consequences of this Messianic entrance. Jesus will alienate the religious authorities by attacking the economic injustice of their Temple sacrifice and tax system. He will disappoint those who are zealous for a Messiah, but demand one who will drive out the Roman occupiers by force. He will stir up enough rebellious energy that Rome will identify him as a political rebel. In the middle of it all Jesus will offer the core of his teaching, the combination of two ancient laws. "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heat, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

In the name of God, Amos and Jesus challenged the political and economic powers of their day. Their words provoked powerful resistance. What might they be saying to our society today? If Amos and Jesus were making commentary on American economic and political life, what might they address?


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The Rev. Lowell Grisham
Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, AR

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

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Our Rule of Life:
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.


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