Amos 8:4-7; 1 TM 2:1-8; Lk 16:1-13
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A few weeks ago, one of the priests in my parish commented that Wall Street financiers bore a significant amount of the responsibility for the problems that led to the financial collapse and the beginning of the Great Recession back in 2008. It took about 30 seconds at the end of Mass for a parishoner to make a beeline to where the priest was standing and ask him what gave him the right to criticize Wall Street when the Church had so many sins of its’ own.
Perhaps we should rip out the first reading from the lectionary this coming Sunday so as not to send this fellow and his compatriots into apoplexy: “Hear this you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land”, Amos begins. By the time he finishes, he has catalogued briefly but without hesitation the sins of the rich in his own day – specifically the many subtle ways the rich can rob from the poor without leaving a mark. The final condemnation is the most damning: Speaking from the viewpoint of the calous rich man, he writes, “Even the refuse of the wheat we will sell.”
To appreciate the reprehensible nature of this atttitude, it might help to have a bit of context. Ancient Israel had no social safety network – no welfare system, no social security, no medicaid or medicare. When you could no longer work, you risked death by starvation or disease (usually, a combinaiton of both.) In order to show some compassion for the poor and to ease their hunger just a bit, Israel had long observed the process of gleaning. A wealthy land owner was expected to leave the wheat growing on the edges of the field that bordered the roads standing so that the poor passing along the way might have a little bit of food. The same was true for any grain that landed on the ground as the harvest was completed. Apparently, even this little concession to the poor was considered too extravagant for the wealthy of Amos’ time.
Of course, such things could never happen here in the good old democratic U.S. of A., right? The place where membership in unions has dropped to about 10% of the work force? The place where C.E.O’s are payed about 400 times what their average workers are paid? The place where the top 10% of the population controls over 50% of the nations’ wealth? The place where Congress recently blocked the passage of the farm bill for the sole purpose of preventing the sufficient funding of Food Stamps programs?
No, of course not. How dare any priest, my fellow parishoner, suggest that Amos might have had a point. Who does he think he is – a disciple of Jesus Christ?
Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)
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