The prophet Amos is a reminder to us that God can and does choose the lowly and the unheralded to speak to the people that gather under his name but whose lives are indifferent or antagonistic to their covenant relationship with God.
Amos might be the one prophet of the Old Testament whose call from God took him the farthest from his humble beginnings as a sheep breeder in Judah. Not only did Amos move on from his flocks of sheep, but he also left behind the Southern Kingdom of Judah to bring the Word of God to the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
An immigrant sheep breeder denounces the foolish excesses and the cruel usurpation of other people’s livelihood. But Amos is not denouncing evil in a moralistic or righteous anger. Amos knows that the path that the people have taken is not the way of the covenant, not the way of recognizing God’s sovereignty over the people. Everything that will come crashing down upon them is of their own doing, because the power they hold is the power of force, not the power of the Saving and Loving God who guided their history as a chosen people.
As Amos prophesied, the Assyrian captivity will follow the fall of the capital of the Northern Kingdom, Samaria. The power that Samaria wielded gave way to a stronger power. That is always the case when leadership rules with brute power, brute authority, or brute cruelty.
However, Amos could see beyond the destruction that befell his people; his Book concludes with the promise of a Davidic restoration of a faithful leadership over the people in which all people’s lives would be able to flourish.
This is a reading that speaks to our hearts and minds today. There is a political hubris that ignores the evident suffering caused by policies that are exactly what Amos decries:
Woe to those who are complacent in Zion,
secure on the mount of Samaria,
Leaders of the first among nations,
to whom their people turn. Amos 6,1.
Fr. Arthur Carrillo, C.P., is the director of the Missions for Holy Cross Province. He lives in Citrus Heights, California.