Where is Amos when we need him? Amos made it hard for the rich, the famous and the powerful to sleep well at night. He put their feet to the fire, so to speak.
He started out in the Tekoa countryside but was last seen in Bethel. That was before they kicked him out, sent him packing, closed down his operations. He ran afoul of the authorities.
Amos was shaking his verbal finger in the face of the king, his judges and all the national administrators: “Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground!”
Not that these important people were unbelievers. Bethel was the site of “the king’s sanctuary,” probably something like a chapel at Camp David. It was a place where powerful people could worship without risking public confrontation with a man like Amos.
For good reason: Amos made it hard for the rich, the famous and the powerful to sleep well at night. He put their feet to the fire, so to speak.
Here is what happened: Amaziah was the pastor at the king’s sanctuary in Bethel. He told the king of the harsh criticisms of Amos; he then said to Amos: “Preacher, get out of here! Go back home and earn your living there. Never again preach in Bethel because this is the king’s sanctuary, it is a temple of the kingdom.”
We don’t know what happened to Amos, but we do know that he recorded some of his convictions in a very small book. Small books are popular these days.
Small books like the one Amos wrote don’t make it to the New York Times “Best Seller” list. They don’t make it on other lists either, like the reading list of the executives of Enron or the politicians in Washington.
If they had read this little book, would we have laws that allow multi-billion dollar corporations to make millions in profits but not pay a penny in taxes?
Would wealthy executives be given millions in bonus pay, while the pension plan of thousands of employees is left bankrupt?
Would the attorney general remove himself from the investigation citing “conflict of interest”?
You can find the little book of Amos in what Jews call the Book of the Twelve and Christians call the Minor Prophets (near the end of the Old Testament).
The Book of Amos is minor in the same way that the Gettysburg Address is minor; both are relatively short. Both are major in the same sort of way, however; they present a transforming and compelling vision of human society where peace and prosperity are rooted in ethics and equality. “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream,” Amos said.
We need a man like Amos, a straight-talking, truth-telling, no-holds-barred man like Amos, who understands right from wrong and is not afraid to say so.
Preachers everywhere shy away from the Amos model of pastoral work. After all, he irritated the most powerful man in his congregation and ended up out in the streets.
No doubt these Enron executives in Houston are church members. Many of them probably serve as deacons, teachers, elders, and (of course) finance chairmen. They probably heard sermons on gambling, smoking, drinking and adultery, with an occasional word on homosexuality thrown in for good measure.
What they needed was a strong dose of preacher Amos. What they needed were clear answers to simple questions.
Does God want corporate executives to make $300 million while the workers make $30,000? Is it right for corporate executives to sell their falling stocks while preventing employees from selling theirs? Should companies be allowed to deduct executive bonuses from their taxes? What good is an attorney general who is so beholden to corporate executives that he is not able to investigate their illegal and unethical behavior?
Where is Amos when we need him?
But Amos lived a long time ago, had a very short career and ended up dismissed from his preaching post. His detractors will say he never understood the complicated issues of supply and demand, management and labor, capital and resources.
All Amos understood was right and wrong, and that rarely makes it to the top of the list.
Dwight Moody is dean of the chapel at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky. He teaches courses in New Testament and preaching and conducts student tours to Israel and elsewhere. He also hosts the public radio program, “The Meetinghouse: Conversations on Religion in American Life.”