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BUT THEY ARE NOT GRIEVED FOR THE AFFLICTION OF JOSEPH... PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 31 October 2004

The prophet Amos spoke eloquently against the indolent wealthy classes of Israel who were not concerned for the "affliction of Joseph," meaning they did not care for the suffering of the poor and diadvantaged of the nation.  Today we have similar problems with those who seemingly care more for profits and power than for the welfare of common Americans.  As it was then, so is it now!

Among the top 11 developed countries, the U.S. is now the most unequal in distribution of wealth. In 2003 the top 1% of Americans owned 33% of the wealth, while the bottom 40% owned just .3 %.

New York Daily News, May 16, 2004

Amos, a humble shepherd from the Judean village of Tekoa south of Bethlehem, came into the prophetic line during a time of great wealth and apostasy in Israel eight centuries before Christ. Although not trained as a prophet, he was called to speak God’s word concerning the prosperous, corrupt, idolatrous, oppressive ruling classes of ten-tribed Israel living in and around the northern city of Samaria.                                                                                            

Amos spoke to the obscenely rich about their callused treatment of the poor and needy. His words are as descriptive of opulent luxury today as then: "Woe to those who are at ease in Zion….That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock…That chant to the sound of the viol…That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief anointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph" (Amos 6:1-6).

Amos clearly pronounced woe upon wealthy and powerful people living lives of luxury and indolence. Their apathy toward those whose labor provided their wealth was total. The phrase "they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph," highlights this unconcern for the poverty and suffering of the common people, or those descended from the patriarch Joseph.

The grievous sin Amos pointed out was not that some people had wealth while others did not: it was that the rich enjoyed and even flaunted their wealth while exhibiting no empathy for those less fortunate. Anthropological research in this area correlates the size of dwellings owned by wealthy people with the cries of prophets for economic justice. When a certain amount of economic equality is present, as indicated by the relatively equal sizes of dwellings, the prophets remain quiet. But when a rising number of large and luxurious houses reveals a period of economic inequality due to oppression and injustice, the prophets thunder away. Amos was one who thundered.

If you believe that scriptural history exists for our learning today (see Romans 15:4 and I Cor. 10:11), then you can accept that Amos speaks also to modern nations afflicted with similar problems. And who can deny the callused unconcern for their people by dictators such as Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Robert Mugabwe and a host of other tyrants and autocrats.

It’s easy to look at the blasé cruelty of these vicious dictators and draw the conclusion that these terrible things happen in backward, poverty-stricken countries, but could never occur in democratic, developed nations like the United States. But that would be an inaccurate conclusion. Callused indifference to the plight of poor people exists in the U.S. as well as elsewhere. It’s just on a different scale.

Nobody in this country imprisons or assassinates political opponents. Nobody sends federal troops to wipe out poor towns and refugee settlements. And nobody steals the major share of federal tax revenues for their own use. But the effects of unjust and oppressive actions are the same here as in dictatorial countries, even though our intent may be different.

You don’t think so? Look at the above figures for income inequality in the U.S. today. Nobody steals tax revenues, but present economic policies of government and business have the same effect--transferring massive quantities of wealth from common people to the rich and powerful while creating an increasingly poor, almost hopeless under class.

Nobody imprisons political opponents, yet our prisons bulge—the U.S. has the largest proportion of its population in prison of any developed nation—with the fall-out from our failed social, political, and economic experiments. Yes, it was never intended to be this way (or, was it?), it just is!

And nobody sends troops against poor settlements, but the people, their families, and their infrastructure are destroyed just the same. Consider some current revelations concerning life in poverty-stricken areas of Appalachia, the Mississippi delta, backwoods subsistence farms, and urban ghettos. Consider the broken-down housing, substandard schools, insufficient police, shortened life spans, endemic diseases, family disintegration, and almost non-existent social services in some of these places. Isn’t the result about the same as if we had sent troops against them?

It’s time for America to wake up. It’s time for Christians to add economic justice to their lists of concerns for humankind. It’s time for churches to realize that more charity, good as it is, will not deal effectively with problems of poverty and destitution. It’s time for persons of faith to take up the prophetic imperative against injustice, oppression, inequity, lying propaganda, and social indifference, wherever they are found. It’s time for politicians to realize that they cannot continue to ignore the cries of the ever-increasing numbers of poor, homeless, and under-employed in the land of plenty if they hope to continue in power. And finally, it’s time for business to conclude that the god of efficiency is not all there is, and that if they continue to export jobs all over the earth, who then will buy their products and services?

Last Updated ( Saturday, 19 November 2005 )