The book of Amos is written by a shepherd who got angry. He had something to say from God even though he was uneducated and from a humble habitat. A contemporary of Hosea, Amos penned this book to be directed to the northern kingdom, though he lived in the south, near Jerusalem. The book is written before the destruction of the temple in 586 BC.
God’s message through Amos, probably more than any other book in the OT, was specifically about the ill-treatment of people who were not part of the privileged class. Often this route taken was at the disadvantage of others for them to be in this elite class. Amos hit an emotional boiling point when he saw the Israelites behaving as bad as the other nations, particularly because she knew better. She had been given the law, while the Gentiles had not.
Amos and Jesus have a lot in common; both carried a burden from God, came from a humble background, and resisted by the Israelite priests. And Amos 8:8-9 foretells of the day’s episode during Jesus’s crucifixion. Amos lacked the credentials that still today we rely on as an audience before deciding whether to listen to someone or not.
Amos was that kind of guy. His references would be from God. He was worried no one would listen to him. Typically, much emphasis is on academic credentials, resumes, accomplishments due before earning the right to voice an opinion. Amos’s outrage and concern were greater, though than his worry on human dictated credentials. Besides, even if any of those credentials are held, there is no guarantee it opens doors for people to listen.
He eventually traveled to the northern kingdom to share his message about these horizontal sins by man toward others. His message was unpopular due to its content, as well as he is an outsider coming in to tell them what they were doing wrong.
The message from Amos insists God’s relationship with people is meant to be played out in our lives on how we treat each other. The covenant provides us with that information. God loves people, but still, it provokes Him when people are intentionally the cause of others suffering.
Chuck Swindoll once shared something he read that falls under a lesson learned from taverns, “The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit that there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give his church. It is an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality – but it is permissive, accepting and an inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. It is democratic. You can tell people secrets, and they usually do not tell others or even want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many see a counterfeit at the price of a few beers. With all my heart,” Swindoll concludes, “I believe that Christ wants his church to be unshockable, a fellowship where people can come in and say, ‘I’m sunk, I’m beaten, and I’ve had it.’ Alcoholic Anonymous has that quality – our churches too often miss it.”
Swindoll makes the following observations about going to a tavern or bar:
- People go because they want to be there, not out of duty or obligation.
- People seek companionship, not to sit alone.
- Guests do not feel ostracized (formally or informally) if their family is not the traditional one, or if they are widowed, divorced, or unmarried.
- Singing is celebratory and sometimes therapeutic.
- Greetings are heartfelt and welcoming, not only done by people wearing a name tag.
- People are not over-welcomed by the other patrons or by the bartender.
- There is no welcome gift given to try to entice or bribe the patron to come back.
- If there isn’t room for seating, seats are offered up, tables shared.
- People notice when they stop showing up and do not get chastised when returning.
- Nobody puts on “airs” and when they do, they get called on it.
- They aren’t judged as harshly when a story is shared on some crisis, problem or bad decision. Nobody expects anybody to be perfect, and nobody pretends otherwise.
- If they make a mistake, they expect to be called on it.
- If admitting a mistake, they tell their story even if not victorious over it yet they get the sense it is forgiven and then forgotten.
- It is a place to go when feeling lonely.
- It fills the social gap.
- It is a place to go when feeling down or feeling up.
In light of current politics and leaders, I see the advantage of experience and credentials. However, why is obtaining one seems to be at the loss of other basic relational skills of accepting people. Some churches have managed to make themselves inclusive and unwelcoming. My paradigm in America is that there is room enough for all as our churches should be. But human nature continues to put up barriers.
Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” And Proverbs 3:27 says, “Do not withhold good from those to whom to whom it is due.”
One of St. Benedict’s rules of order sums it up as well: “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ.”
One of my children, when around six years old, said he thought he might want to become a pastor. I already knew his heart to be more caring, gentle, humble, and selfless than usual. It continues to play out in his life today. He, with the true heart of a servant, didn’t go into the ministry. Instead, he (and his wife) works in the hospitality industry. Actor Bill Murray, whose son is also in the restaurant business, salutes his son on his chosen occupation: “He has taken the joy of the family – to have a drink, to have a meal and have friends together – and made it his life’s work.” There are few things that surpass the goodness, fellowship, and pleasure of breaking bread together with friends in a warm, inclusive environment.
The book of Amos is known to be a favorite of Martin Luther King, Jr. He quoted it in his famous I Have a Dream speech given during the March on Washington DC for civil rights on August 28, 1963, On the north wall of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in D.C. is an engraved quote from Amos 5:24 as a reminder to defend and fight for the people who disenfranchised and marginal for color, gender, and age. Paraphrased, it reads, “We are determined here to work and fight until justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”