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Powerful voices have emerged in recent years to compel Americans to confront economic suffering and poverty in their country. Among the most influential has been Bernie Sanders, whose speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention exemplifies his conviction that politics should be about addressing the brutal injustices that have long made life in the United States so hard for so many:

Election days come and go. But the struggle of the people to create a government which represents all of us and not just the one percent—a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice—that struggle continues…

This election is about ending the forty-year decline of our middle class. The reality that 47 million men, women and children today live in poverty. … This election is about a single mom I saw in Nevada who, with tears in her eyes, told me that she was scared to death about the future because she and her young daughter were not making it on the $10.45 an hour she was earning. This election is about that woman and the millions of other workers in this country who are struggling to survive on totally inadequate wages.

These excerpts give a sense of Sanders’s focus on those failed by a system that favors the privileged and powerful. To redress these inequities, Sanders, like many of the other progressive 2020 presidential candidates, repeatedly invokes the rhetoric of justice and rights.

On the other end of the ideological spectrum, the pro-life movement represents a strand of American political thought that is often viewed as diametrically opposed to Sanders’s way of thinking. Yet its leaders also contend that they are speaking for the most vulnerable elements of society. The comments of then-candidate Mike Pence at the 2016 vice-presidential debate are an illustrative example:

For me the sanctity of life proceeds out of the belief [in] that ancient principle where God says, “Before you were formed in the womb I knew you.” And so from my first time in public life I sought to stand with great compassion for the sanctity of life. … For me my faith informs my life. I try and spend a little time on my knees every day. But all for me begins with cherishing the dignity, the worth the value of every human life.

Pence does not appeal to justice or rights. Rather, his ethical appeal is based in the dignity and sanctity of human existence, as well as the transcendent spiritual value of each individual life.

The issue Pence focuses on here places him at a distance from progressive politics, but there is no reason why a focus on the divine and transcendent should be alien to those whose main concern is economic and social justice. Indeed, there is a tradition—that of the Biblical prophets—for which a focus on the suffering of the poor and vulnerable is inextricably linked to an appreciation for the wonder of creation.

This tradition has been operative in America’s recent past, including during the civil rights movement, but it currently lies on the margins of our politics. If we want to reclaim this tradition, it is instructive to look back at the ancient texts that initiated it. Among them is the Book of Amos, which stands out for having grappled, almost three millennia ago, with the same questions that confront us today: What is at the root of cruelty and injustice? How can so many citizens support policies that are deeply hurtful to those in desperate need of assistance and compassion? What will it take to steer society toward compassion and justice?

Amos’s response to such questions was not grounded in the modern concepts of fairness, rights and equality. Rather, he incorporates a vision of social justice within an explicitly spiritual frame. For Amos, indifference to the pain of others was one aspect of an enormous ethical transgression, indicative of a failure to appreciate the sanctity of God’s creation. His mindset was anchored in the universal human experience of wonder, which leads to compassion as well as, for some, a sense of the divine. The connection between wonder, compassion and the divine is woven throughout the Book of Amos and, once understood, is a primary source of its power and relevance for us today.

 

I. AMOS IN HIS TIME

Many nations have experienced eras of glory and prosperity after years of struggle—ancient Athens during the “Greek Awakening,” Great Britain when it dominated the seas, the United States following World War II and then again at the end of the Cold War. The result typically has been a fervent belief in the nation’s greatness, its special destiny and, often, a feeling of divine favor. However, this faith was often belied by behavior that constituted horrible ethical transgressions: slavery, mistreatment of women, colonialism. People who were pillars of their societies and who fervently worshiped their gods were blind to wrongs that later, and even to some at the time, seemed quite obvious.

In the eighth century BCE, Israel had recently emerged wealthy and victorious after decades of agony at the hands of the Arameans. Throughout this tumultuous period of defeat and revival, the people of Israel had been sustained by the conviction that they had a special bond with their god, known as YHWH. Among the Israelites there was a firm belief that YHWH had intervened in the history of their ancestors—most spectacularly in the liberation from Egypt—and now had intervened again to bring about the nation’s triumph.

Despite the aura of resurgence and rebirth, the prophet Amos believed that Israel would soon face utter destruction. In fact, according to Amos, Israel was an affront to the divine order of the universe, and did not deserve YHWH’s help at all. This was for one reason above all: the horrifying treatment of the poor.

Amos accuses wealthy Israelites of exploiting the poor by relying on taxes, fines and robbery to take what is not theirs. But that is just one part of an oppressive relationship that consigns the poor to destitution and humiliation. According to Amos, the system has been rigged against the poor in every way: the rich have bribed those who arbitrate financial disputes to favor them over the poor; grain is measured inaccurately to benefit the sellers; a “dishonest scale” is used to increase the payments of the poor. Even the food that the poor purchase is in fact a fraud, “grain refuse” sold as grain.

Moving beyond unjust transactions, Amos presents the oppression of the poor as an ongoing physical assault perpetrated by the wealthy of Israel:

You who trample the head of the poor
Into the dust of the ground
And make the humble walk a twisted course. (2:7)

Amos goes on to accuse the rich of “annihilating” the poor, and that is the appropriate summary of all that he describes.

Amos is particularly outraged that the wealthy—despite their abhorrent behavior—continue to vaunt themselves as guardians of religious practice, and asserts that YHWH rejects their worship: “I loathe, I spurn your festivals, / I am not appeased by your solemn assemblies.” (5:21) Repeatedly, Amos declares that YHWH will destroy the wealthy and all that they value: “I will wreck the winter palace / Together with the summer palace; / The ivory palaces shall be demolished, / And the great houses shall be destroyed” (3:15). A vivid parable describes a man running from a mortal threat and, just when he finds safety, discovering death and a frightening end.

Ah, you who wish
For the day of the Lord!
Why should you want
The day of the Lord?
It shall be darkness, not light.
As if a man should run from a lion
And be attacked by a bear;
Or if he got indoors,
Should lean his hand on the wall
And be bitten by a snake. (5:18-19)

Like the man fleeing a ravenous animal only to be bitten by a poisonous snake at a moment of respite, the leaders of Israel would learn that nothing was as it had seemed. Their liberation from foreign invaders was transitory, their outward worship of YHWH fatally undermined by their treatment of the poor.

But the Book of Amos is more than a blistering depiction of oppression and hypocrisy, or an invocation of the apocalypse that awaits the wicked. It offers, in addition, a pathway for restoring justice and righteousness. This pathway may not initially be obvious to a modern reader, as Amos does not rely on linear argumentation, favoring shorter passages (called “oracles”) of singular poetic intensity. In some of the most disjointed parts of the text, the literary device known as chiasmus illuminates Amos’s central message.[1]

A chiasmus is a series of concepts that typically lead up to a central statement, at which point similar or complementary concepts lead away from that central statement in the same order. It is through a chiastic structure that Amos explicitly links together his criticism of his society with an invocation of the wondrous and the divine.

One significant chiasmus begins by announcing a terrible breach: YHWH’s protection has been converted into punishment, placing the nation of Israel on the brink of apocalyptic destruction:

(Destruction of Israel)
Hear this word which I intone
As a dirge over you, O House of Israel
Fallen not to rise again,
Is Maiden Israel;
Abandoned on her soil
With none to lift her up.
For thus said my Lord God
About the House of Israel:
The town that marches out a thousand strong
Shall have a hundred left,
And the one that marches out a hundred strong
Shall have but ten left

The nation’s oppression of the poor has made its destruction all but inevitable. Still, it is possible for those who are willing to shun the official state-led cult of YHWH—represented most powerfully by the corrupted cities of Bethel and Gilgal—to survive:

(Seek good and shun evil)
Thus said the Lord
To the House of Israel:
Seek Me, and you will live.
Do not seek Bethel,
Nor go to Gilgal,
Nor cross over to Beer-sheba;
For Gilgal shall go into exile.
And Bethel shall become a delusion.
Seek the Lord, and you will live,
Else He will rush like fire upon the House of Joseph
And consume Bethel with none to quench it.

(Oppression of the defenseless)
[Ah] you who turn justice into wormwood
And hurl righteousness to the ground!

The Lord of Amos—revealed in the passages that surround the central statement of the chiasmus—is not found in the palaces of the rich, but rather encountered on the plane of time and endless transformations: the change in seasons; the annual rotation of the stars; the cycles of tides, floods and rain; the progression of days; the rise and fall of empires.

(God of wonder)
[Seek the Lord,]
Who made the Pleiades and Orion,[2]
Who turns deep darkness into dawn
And darkens day into night,
Who summons the water of the sea
And pours them out upon the earth—

(Central element of the chiasmus)
His name is the Lord.

(God of wonder)
It is He who hurls destruction upon strongholds,
So that ruin comes upon fortresses.[3]

This central element of the chiasmus is crucial to understanding the Book of Amos. Amos was not a proto-economist depicting the inequitable distribution of wealth, or appealing to abstract notions of rights or fairness. His denunciation of the Israelite form of worship was not an attempt to minimize the role of faith in human lives. YHWH was the organizing element of Amos’s life and thinking, including his attention to the suffering of the poor. His call for compassion was inextricable from his invocation of YWHW’s fearful judgment.

But how can we think of YHWH as indicating a path away from injustice and oppression? One way we might try to understand Amos’s sense of YHWH in the central passages of the chiasmus is with reference to the notion of wonder. Abraham Joshua Heschel, a prominent twentieth-century theologian, rooted his theology in the teaching of the prophets and particularly in his observation that “to the prophets wonder is a form of thinking … it is an attitude that never ceases.” Importantly, for Heschel, wonder is a real-world experience—one that is latent in every person—resulting from even the most mundane aspects of life. “We do not come upon it only at the climax of thinking or in observing strange, extraordinary facts but in the startling fact that there are facts at all: being, the universe, the unfolding of time,” he writes in God in Search of Man. “We may face it at every turn, in a grain of sand, in an atom, as well as in the stellar space.” In another passage, which could describe many key parts of the Book of Amos, Heschel writes:

The meaning of awe is to realize that life takes place under wide horizons, horizons that range beyond the span of an individual life or even the life of a nation, a generation or an era. Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal.

With wonder and awe as the context for our lives, according to Heschel, we inevitably begin to question how to live “in a way that is compatible with the grandeur and mystery of living.” It is this quest to discover how to respond that moves us beyond ego and self-centeredness.

Put another way, to Heschel, the wonder of the prophets results in a radical change in perspective, one less focused on personal needs and desires and more oriented toward awe, compassion and a sense of the divine. This can help us make sense of the abrupt shifts in the chiasmus, from concrete descriptions of the suffering of the poor to that which “turns deep darkness into dawn / And darkens day into night.” For Heschel, a sensitivity to the suffering of others is intrinsic to the encounter with wonder and with God.

It would be a mistake, however, to treat Amos’s prophecy as purely abstract or detached from human events. Amos, according to Heschel, was interpreting a “particular moment in history, a divine understanding of a human situation.” Part of what makes the prophetic books so compelling today is their intimate engagement with the realities—and the injustices—of their time. Wonder, awe and compassion are not passive sentiments. They are a call to action. This is brought vividly to life in Amos’s personal confrontation with the religious leadership of ancient Israel.

At some point, Amos’s prophecies became intolerable to the political and religious elite. From Bethel, the holiest sanctuary in Israel, the high priest Amaziah sent a dire message to King Jeroboam II:

Amos is conspiring against you within the house of Israel. The country cannot endure the things that he is saying. For Amos has said, Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall be exiled from its soil. (7:10-11)

The king apparently agreed and had Amaziah order Amos to leave Israel immediately, including a demand that he “not ever prophesy again at Bethel,” which had been a holy site as far back as the time of Abraham, when the land was known as Canaan. By the time of Amos, Bethel had become an important locus of the official state religion, the site of national religious festivals and a storehouse for the rulers’ riches. In short, Amos chose to deliver his prophecies at a spot that was central to the nation’s glorification of itself.[4]

Amos understood that he was being accused of sedition, both for his prophecies and where he chose to proclaim them. In response, he could have claimed a divinely granted right to prophesy at Bethel. Or he could have noted that his words were a direct inspiration from YHWH. Instead, he assured Amaziah that he was not a prophet at all:

I am not a prophet and I am not a prophet’s disciple. I am a cattle herdsman and a tender of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me away from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to My people Israel…” (7:14-16)

In Biblical literature, dialogue is often used at particularly charged moments and, as the only human dialogue in the entire Book of Amos, this exchange merits special attention. For instance, the reader must ask why Amos, instead of responding directly to Amaziah’s accusation of subversion, chooses to identify himself as a herder and tender of sycamore trees. Perhaps Amos merely wanted to present himself as a manual laborer in order to separate himself from other so-called prophets. (As is the case today, the political and intellectual elite in ancient Israel had plenty of their own “prophets,” willing to propagate a message that served the interests of the wealthy and powerful.) But his chosen professions carry other connotations as well.

Earlier in my adult life, I spent some time herding cattle on my uncle’s farm. I can attest that it is both intensely boring and deeply spiritual work. The herdsman can be driven to distraction—or perhaps intense reflection—as he follows the herd, circles the herd, chases stray animals or simply sits still as the herd stops to eat. He is also required to be carefully attuned to natural cycles. The weather, the seasons, the time of day and the growth of vegetation are all of paramount importance to ensuring that there is food for the animals and a safe place to rest. He can feel both very important and totally insignificant. The animals are dependent but, at the same time, quite uninterested in their human overseer.

Farmers will come and go. But the animals will reproduce and the herd will continue for generations. Meanwhile, each of the animal births that perpetuates the herd is a shocking, often violent disruption. There is nothing quite like the pathetic loneliness of a cow howling in pain during birth and then instantly transforming as it carefully tends to its calf. Often the birthing requires intervention in the form of a human who will reach almost an entire arm into the animal’s birth canal in order to position the calf properly and to pull until it can be thrust out explosively at the end. The whole experience can be summed up many ways, but one obvious choice would be by referencing Heschel’s concept of wonder.

Amos’s other self-proclaimed profession also involves a relationship with the miracle of creation, as well as the cycles of decay and rebirth. When he termed himself a tender of sycamore figs, Amos was referring to the ancient process of scraping an incision on each fig of the sycamore tree. Left undisturbed, the figs would dry up and be inedible. However, with the properly timed incisions, the figs become sweet and plump and numerous—the ripening process accelerated so dramatically that up to six crops of figs could be produced from each tree during the summer months. As is the case for the herder, the tender of sycamore trees is confronted with life’s regeneration and constant, interdependent change: the sun, the grass, the rain; the mysterious, miraculous growth of plants and fruits; what Heschel termed “the silent allusion of things to a meaning greater than themselves.”

Amaziah stood for wealth and doctrinaire religious observance, as well as the selfishness and brutality that characterized ancient Israel; his way would lead, Amos prophesied, to destruction and apocalypse. Amos represented a sensitivity to wonder and awe, grounded—in Heschel’s words—in “an intuition for the creaturely dignity of all things and their preciousness to God,” the starting point of a rejection of widespread poverty and oppression. This conflict, between Amos and Amaziah, is what underlies the Book of Amos and makes it so relevant to our time.

 

II. AMOS IN OUR TIME

The suggestion in Heschel’s writings is that the prophetic outlook could alter the underlying dynamic of modern life, which was guided by what he called “the way of expediency,” a mindset that emphasizes profit, efficiency and self-seeking over compassion and wonder. However, it surely would be misguided to assume that Amos’s prophecy can be transposed directly into the modern world. Indeed, the Book of Amos is filled with the details of Amos’s social world: the small ephahs of flour used to shortchange the poor, the corrupt judges at the gate, the ripening fig trees, the herds of cows and sheep, the beautiful palaces of the wealthy, the high priest Amaziah, the elaborate but hollow religious festivals.

The details of life in ancient Israel were the foundation on which Amos’s prophecy was built, and they are his starting point for conveying a different way of thinking. Amos’s worldview was both familiar and different, embedded in the theology of ancient Israel but also a dramatic departure from it:

Hear this word, O people of Israel,
That the Lord has spoken concerning you,
Concerning the whole family that I brought up from the land of Egypt:
You alone have I singled out
Of all the families of the earth—
That is why I will call you to account
For all your iniquities (3:1-2)

In this passage and others, Amos showed he agreed with the religious orthodoxy of his time that the people of Israel had an intimate connection with YHWH. However, in his interpretation, that meant that they had a particular requirement to live in a way that matched their privileged status. Failure to do so—as evidenced most dramatically by the mistreatment of the poor and needy—would mean utter devastation.

A pivotal moment in the modern American civil rights movement offers a similar example of how the prophetic mindset can be embedded within a particular historical context. When Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, he was standing before the modern equivalent of the ancient sanctuary at Bethel: a site that embodied the ideals and self-image of the nation. As with Amos, King’s rhetoric exposed the gap between his nation’s ideals and its behavior:

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “For Whites Only.” We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

That final quote, drawn from Amos 5:24, is the culmination of a passage that captures several key elements of the prophetic mindset: engagement with the brutal and specific details of oppression; a sense that human suffering cannot be acceptable; connection to a higher plane of understanding at which the imperative of justice is intertwined with natural forces, such as the awe-inspiring rush of a mighty stream. It also evokes King’s presence at a hallowed site that is meant to consecrate the nation’s virtue. In the Book of Amos, the line quoted by King appears right after a cutting assault on the empty rituals, grotesque festivals and “solemn assemblies” of the Israelites.

That line from Amos was one of King’s most-cited quotations from the prophetic books of the Bible, and the words he used were taken from the translation of Abraham Joshua Heschel, who was a friend and ally of King’s. It is the point at which Heschel, King and Amos converge, and it is no accident that the verse expresses—in a compressed way—so much of their worldview.

However, King did not only focus on the details of injustice and oppression. As with Amos, he also offered an alternative mindset, one that both connected with and departed from his society’s prevailing values. In the famous “dream” sequence at the center of the speech, King reimagined the commitment to equality regardless of skin color as the true fulfillment of the nation’s founding principles, without which the nation’s ideals should be regarded as mere self-justifications. As in the previous section of the speech, this passage culminates with a quote from the prophets—this time from Isaiah—that brings together the dream of justice and the dream of wonder and divinity:

I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

There have been moments in more recent history when the prophetic mindset—combining justice, compassion and wonder—has surfaced in our public discourse, although not articulated with the force and logic of Martin Luther King, and not as successfully connected to the modern context.

Pope Francis has been seen as a transformative figure for his attention to matters of social justice, which he often situates within a prophetic worldview. A passage from his speech to the World Meeting of Popular Movements demonstrates how he seeks to bear witness to suffering while focusing on each human being and the wonder of creation:

What governs then? Money. How does it govern? With the whip of fear, of inequality, of economic, social, cultural and military violence, which spawns ever greater violence in a seemingly unending downward spiral … But this kind of world does not allow the development of the human being in his integrity, a development that is not reduced to consumption or to the well-being of a few, but includes all peoples and individuals in their full dignity, enjoying as brothers and sisters the marvel of creation. That is the development we need: one that is human, integral, respectful of creation, respectful of this common home.

The Pope’s spiritual vocabulary is reminiscent of that utilized by some conservative American politicians, like Mike Pence, when they talk about issues like abortion. However, as Pope Francis has made clear, such a vocabulary cannot be squared with tax policies that harm the poor and protect the wealthy, cutbacks in social services needed desperately by millions, the scapegoating and mistreatment of immigrant families and children. Nor is it understandable why the argument about the sanctity of life is so rarely extended to those seeking racial justice, particularly when, as in the case of Black Lives Matter, such campaigns are predicated on a similar respect for the dignity of life.

On the progressive side, some have begun to blend Sanders’s concern for economic justice with an emphasis on the wonder of every life, an outlook that appeals to the American individualist tradition without reducing that tradition to self-seeking and greed. Reverend William Barber’s Moral Mondays campaign in North Carolina represents a clear effort to draw on the prophetic tradition. As part of a renewed “Poor People’s March,” he has led an effort to frame conversations about poverty in terms that are focused on the inherent dignity and sanctity of each person:

I don’t know any way to be a person of faith and not be concerned about how we’re treating the poor, how we’re treating the least of these, how we’re ensuring health care, how we’re breaking the back of the prison-industrial complex, and how we’re respecting the image of God in all people regardless of their race, their color, their religion or their sexuality.

Barber has even asserted that a new conceptual framework is required in the political realm, arguing that we need to “shift the narrative because the power of life and death is in the tongue. We can’t even have a new politics until we have a new language.”

Some prominent progressive politicians have been experimenting with such a language, speaking about inequality as a specifically spiritual indignity. In an interview published in the Atlantic in February, following his reelection to the United States Senate from Ohio, then-presidential hopeful Sherrod Brown illustrated his commitment to serving the poor with a passage from Tolstoy’s late religious novel Resurrection, on the “fundamental religious feeling that recognizes the equality and brotherhood of men.” Similarly, in an essay about criminal-justice reform written before she was elected to office, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez formulated her policy recommendations explicitly in terms of each individual’s relationship with God and the divine concern for every human being:

By nature, a society that forgives and rehabilitates its people is a society that forgives and transforms itself. That takes a radical kind of love, a secret of which is given in the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And let us not forget the guiding principle of “the least among us” found in Matthew: that we are compelled to care for the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and, yes—the imprisoned.

These are important steps in the direction of forging a politics that matches concern for human suffering with an appeal not only to our sense of fairness and justice but also to our capacity for wonder and awe. However, these fragments are not enough. In the face of so much suffering in our society—suffering that apparently has not moved enough people to care for “the least among us”—it is urgent that we find a way of altering our prevailing mindset and values. As was the case in Amos’s time, greed and indifference today not only constitute a violation of basic notions of fairness or justice, they threaten to “annihilate” our entire way of life.

Generally speaking, progressives who wish to challenge the ethos of greed, competition and “rugged” individualism have focused on rights: the right to health care, the right to a job, the right to a quality education, the right to be protected from discrimination, the right to a decent retirement, among others. This is not wrongheaded—people do have basic rights. But there are limits to the effectiveness of this framework. Most obviously, theoretical principles of basic rights, even if logically coherent, do not inevitably lead to an intuitive commitment to social justice. (For example, someone may cite the “right” to retain as much of one’s earnings as possible.) Additionally, the rights-based framework often fails to reach the many people who develop their political views through their own lens of holiness. Much has been written about those who are economically disadvantaged and yet opt not to support progressive policies that would help them and their families. Many plausible reasons have been given for this phenomenon—among them race, cultural affinity and regional history. But it is also important to understand that many voters across the political spectrum simply see their economic interests as being subordinate to their spiritual ones.

The suggestion here has been that the prophetic mindset is a compelling and important response at this moment of crisis. It is potent not because it achieves political ends that we want anyway, but because it speaks to the deeply felt human need to grapple with the inexplicable and orient ourselves in a tumultuous and often cruel world. This sort of response is what makes Amos such a powerful and lasting example, along with other spiritual leaders who have led social and political movements, from Jesus, Muhammad and Bartolomé de las Casas to Sojourner Truth, Chief Joseph, Gandhi, Óscar Romero and Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is impossible to know exactly what words will be necessary for the prophetic mindset to express itself today. I wrote this essay simply to suggest that the underlying principles of that outlook—even when presented in plain, non-poetic language—are powerful, straightforward and particularly relevant at this moment.

Think of your children, your parents, your friends: the deeply personal connections built over lifetimes; the capacity for love; the uniqueness and originality of each person; the miracle of each child’s development into an adult. Project out from those you know to an ever-wider web of families, friends and relationships. Each individual in that web points to the wondrous and, perhaps, to the divine.

Now think of the pain that is visited on so many: hunger, hopelessness, unnecessary sickness, marginalization, lack of education, environmental damage, fear of violence. These conditions are an affront to all that we know about the value and wonder of each life.

The call for compassion—and for action—is inescapable. The need for a response is incumbent on each of us. As the prophet Amos said, “Who can but prophesy?”

Art credit: Nicole Gordon

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This essay appears in issue 19 of The Point (Socialism in Our Time).
If you enjoyed reading it, you’ll love reading the rest of the new issue.
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    Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. See J. de Waard, “The Chiastic Structure of Amos V. 1-17,” in Vetus Testamentum (April 1977).
  2. The appearance of Pleiades and Orion were considered signs of spring and winter.
  3. From this point, Amos continues—as dictated by the chiastic structure—a parallel litany of the concepts that lead up the central element. To read the full chiasmus, see Amos 5:1-5:17.
  4. I am drawing here on Jules Francis Gomes’s The Sanctuary of Bethel and the Configuration of Israelite Identity.
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