November 17th, 2008

light in the darkness

"We are breathing, we are seething / We are hardly underway"

I was reading Velveteen Rabbi's post "Amos and Hosea: northern prophets of anger and love," and she quotes Amos 5:21-25, and I was just really struck.
I loathe, I spurn your festivals,
I am not appeased by your solemn assemblies.
If you offer Me burnt offerings -- or your meal offerings --
I will not accept them; I will pay no heed
To your gifts of fatlings.
Spare Me the sound of your hymns
And let me not hear the music of your lutes
But let justice well up like water,
Righteousness like an unfailing stream.
Did you offer sacrifice and oblation to Me
Those forty years in the wilderness, O House of Israel?
God does not ask for festivals, assemblies, or sacrifices, But let justice well up like water, Righteousness like an unfailing stream. That's a really challenging demand to make of us.

I also really like the reminder that God was with the Israelites during those forty years in the wilderness when they had nothing but themselves to offer God. (Which, of course, reminds me that we often say, usually right before collecting the Offertory, that all we have comes from God -- and sometimes even say that it belongs to God, is just entrusted to us for a time -- though it's hard to really believe that.)
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Addendum to previous post

I got so caught up by "But let justice well up like water, Righteousness like an unfailing stream" (which, sidebar, MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech -- "we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.") that I forgot to post the other bits that had struck me from the post:
In an especially powerful passage Amos condemns those who wait for Shabbat to end in order to resume corrupt business dealings; that still rings painfully true today.


Amos rails against the nations who behave in immoral ways, and against Israel who behaves in immoral ways. Like Elisha, he's concerned with the treatment of the poor; he knows that mistreatment of the poor is exactly what God does not want. One of the major messages I take away from Amos is that being "chosen" by God does not let us off the hook.

Indeed: being chosen puts us in an even more difficult position. "You only have I known / of all the families of the earth" -- we are the people God knows, so we're the people God gets most angry with for failing to live up to who we could be.