Seek the LORD and live

Amos 5:6.

The prophet Amos spoke to a nation that was enjoying prosperity and flourishing. For some of its citizens there was economic prosperity and many enjoyed a good life. There was law and order, affluence and a vibrant religious life. From a material perspective the nation was doing well, but from a moral standpoint it was an evil nation.
Recognising its sins, the prophet issued a call for repentance and the establishment of a right relationship with God: “seek the Lord and live.” The people found it difficult to accept Amos’ call for they shared the view that they were seeking the Lord by their regular attendance at the Sanctuary at Bethel. They separated their religious life from their moral life. It is this separation that created serious moral problems for the nation. The prophet was calling the nation to a new life.

The call to repentance was precipitated by the following evils: they turned justice into ‘wormwood.’ The wormwood was a bitter plant and a metaphor for something unpleasant; they made justice a bitter experience for the poor and oppressed. They hated honest judges; despised those who spoke the truth; trampled the poor; stole their grain; afflicted the righteous; took bribes; and pushed aside the needy.

Amos identifies a problem that is common to all nations and people: economic prosperity is often accompanied by moral decay, depravity and corruption. Economic prosperity without moral responsibility is self defeating and destructive. It works to the disadvantage of the poor and weak of the nation.

It is sad but it seems to be true, the more we prosper the worse we seem to become. When life is  ‘simple’ we live in community and care for each other. But as we prosper and enjoy material success we seem to move away from our moral moorings. Look at our nation today. We have prospered over the years, more people receive secondary education, economically many of us are doing well, we have improved housing, most of our people enjoy a decent standard of living and we are blessed with many social amenities and the like.  But we need to ask a fundamental question: “Are we better off morally?”  With this success we still see violence, unrudely behaviour, decline in acceptable morals, various forms of injustice and oppression. Our material success has driven us apart as we become more individualistic and seek our own interest. We seem to be less caring, less loving, more self centred and we do not always work for the common good.

Amos delivered his message in the city gate. The city gate was a public gathering place where people assembled for all kinds of hearings, disputes and judgements. It was a place where justice was meant to be administered fairly and impartially, instead it had become a place of injustice, corruption, fraud and dishonesty. In this unacceptable situation, Amos issued a call for repentance. Amos’ call is always relevant to human societies; it is a call to our society to change. Economically and socially we seem to be doing well, but morally and spiritually we appear to be crooked as we stand against Amos’ plumb line. There is room for improvement and change in our nation’s moral life.
God is interested in what takes place in the city gate. God is a God of justice, love, mercy and compassion. God expects us to be just, compassionate, merciful, loving and kind as we assemble in the city gate. These virtues are often lacking in our individual and community life.

The prophet’s call “seek good and not evil,”  ‘hate evil and love good,” and ‘establish justice in the gate,’ is a summons to change.  The Old Testament and Gospel readings have to be seen within the context of change. They require us to make radical changes in our way of thinking, living and doing, radical changes in our value systems. The key word is CHANGE.

We must not fool ourselves into believing that we will be able to create a perfect society. Such ideas are utopian. But as Christians, humanists and people of good will, we must be aware of the issues that confront our people and commit ourselves to a process of change that would make it possible for the establishment of a more peaceful society.
Amos ends his message with a promise of hope:  “it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” All is not lost and we must not live in despair. There is hope if we change.

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