Scripture: Amos 5:18-27
Key verse: (24) “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Reflection: Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. These words of Amos may be familiar to your ears, whether through previous Bible reading, or the great hymn “Today We All Are Called to Be Disciples”, or probably most famously in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” These words have stood the test of time and continue to speak through generations from Amos, to King, to our day.
Like many popular phrases and verses in scripture, I worry that this verse has lost the sting of its substance over time from Amos’s lips, to King’s pen, to our ears. In our passage for today Amos is railing against Israel and their comfortable complacency. Amos a shepherd by trade and a prophet by calling is speaking freely, without having to answer to any higher power other than God. In the chapters leading up to our text for today Amos goes through the surrounding nations and the wrongs they’ve committed, and finishes by describing God’s judgment on those nations. Amos however wasn’t done with God’s judgment after commenting on the surrounding nations, instead Amos brings it straight to home and highlights Israel’s straying from God’s desires. The case against Israel is that they have trampled upon the poor, denied justice to the oppressed, and caused discomfort for many so they may be comfortable themselves. And these were the religious folk!
The verses immediately before Amos calling for justice to roll down like waters decries the religious actions and festivals of many in Israel. Sure, the Israelites have their feast days, they bring grain and burnt offerings, they sing their songs, they honor God with their religious actions, but in their personal dealings and in their day to day lives they are oppressive.
Amos’ words cause me to pause. As a pastor I could point to the number of days I’m at church, or how often I read the Bible, how many times I pray, how big my offering is, or how loudly I sing (trust me, you don’t want to hear my singing). But if I pointed to those things while the daily actions of my life caused discomfort and oppression of others, am I really glorifying God? Amos’ words in his time, and his words through King’s pen, and his words today call us to pause and question not whether we are good church attendees, or even whether we give and serve faithfully, but where these words sting the most is that they ask whether our comfort which causes discomfort for others is more important than seeking justice and walking rightly with God. May you pause with me today, and discern where in our lives we may seek to make changes that will bring justice and righteousness to all.
Prayer: Holy God, sometimes your words make me a little uncomfortable. Thank you for shaking me from the confines of my comfort and refocusing me on your justice. Guide me in word and deed this day so I may live into your way. Amen.
Author: John Magnuson
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].