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Written by Jim Jordal   
Wednesday, 11 March 2015

“BUT THEY ARE NOT GRIEVED…”

By Jim Jordal

 Those who …cause the seat of violence to come near; Who lie on beds of ivory, And stretch themselves on their couches, And eat the lambs out of the flock, And the calves out of the midst of the stall; Who strum on the strings of a harp; Who invent for themselves instruments of music, like David; Who drink wine in bowls, And anoint themselves with the best oils; But they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.

Amos 6:3-6, WEB

Another of my favorite Bible passages is this one from Amos, the humble untrained farmer/herdsman prophet called by God to speak truth to God’s people, Israel. The context of his message is that both Israel and Judah are at the pinnacle of physical prosperity but have forsaken God’s laws of justice and righteousness in favor of idolatry, sloth, luxury, moral depravity, and oppression of the poor and vulnerable. Amos identifies the sin, pronounces God’s judgment of national dispersion, and promises Divine mercy and reconciliation as Israel and Judah repent.

The key principle here is not the sins of indolence, luxury, and excess; but the arrogant refusal of wealthy leaders to be at all concerned with the sufferings of their people. They were “not grieved for the affliction of Joseph [a generic name for the people].”

One wonders why people who prosper from the labor of others seldom seem to comprehend what they do. It’s natural that some should be more intelligent, industrious, or just plain luckier than others. But what is not natural, according to God’s rules of justice, is that those having power should oppress their workers so as to squeeze out a bit more profit. God doesn’t demand perfect equality as the desirable condition of society; but he does ordain equity, or fairness.

Back in Amos’ time the rich sought pleasure in excessive gourmet feasting, ostentatious use of furniture and belongings, drunkenness, and the joy of music and body lotions. What they were really seeking was meaning for their existence, but they looked in the wrong places. They were so engrossed in their chosen lifestyle that they ignored the poor and afflicted of the land. It’s almost like they lived on another planet.

Some of today’s oppressors sincerely believe that their superior education and financial achievements entitle them to their privileged positions atop the income pyramid. They see themselves as better able to rule a country than those of lesser status. Others are so insulated from reality in their ivory towers and gated communities that they don’t perceive the outcomes of their actions. And still others really believe that since the poor create their own misery, there is nothing they can do except to dole out enough charity to keep them alive.

Today we face somewhat the same predicament as did Amos: Many top leaders seem not to care that their people suffer. Recently at the annual meeting of the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland, some 1700 private jets carried world political and economic leaders to a meeting where they spoke great swelling words of comfort to the poor, but took little direct action to match their words.

However, it seems that some presidential candidates are awakening to the horrors of a world economic system gone wild in transferring wealth up the economic pyramid to the top few percent rather than downward to the masses. That awakening is wonderful; but there is still a serious problem because some of them think that income inequality can be solved by more of the same “supply-side” economics that caused it.

So how can we become more sensitive to the “affliction of Joseph”? One immediate action we can take is to stop avoiding the issue in our polite conversations and religious gatherings. We seem to prefer to be happy in our ignorance, not realizing that the boring economic and political policies we prefer not to consider could eventually return to bite us. So we need to awaken to the message of Amos before even more damage occurs.