Abuse of the mot vulnerable has a biblical ring to it
The problem is as at least old as the Prophet Amos’ generation
About 700 years before the birth of Jesus, the kingdom of Israel was divided into two parts. The Northern Kingdom — Israel — was made up of ten tribes; the Southern Kingdom — Judah — included two tribes. The two kingdoms were governed separately.
The Northern Kingdom was made up of the very wealthy and the very poor, the “haves” and the “have nots.” In Judah, the Southern Kingdom, a farmer and skilled laborer named Amos, began to feel compelled to go to the Northern Kingdom. People of faith believe that God stirred his heart.
Amos knew there was something wrong in the North. The rich who had summer homes, who had ivory beds and great leisure, had not a care about the poor.
The “haves” were doing nothing for the “have nots” — except cheating them. Yet they were a very “religious” people. Their liturgies were exemplary, their temple was exquisite, and their sacrificial rites were focused and extensive.
That did not impress their Creator, nor Amos. As God’s ambassador, the prophet was stirred against the status quo. An “invasion of one” into the Northern Kingdom occurred. This skilled laborer went to their temple, stood outside and then spoke as the worshippers emerged.
Amos warned these good, pious folk that, unless they changed their behavior and attitudes, unless they reached out to the “have nots” and helped them to be full partners in their society, their kingdom was at risk of disappearing.
“Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them loaves of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted vineyards; but you shall not drink their wine … Hear this word, [those of you] who oppress the poor, who crush the needy.”
Amos is not simply an archaic messenger with an old-fashioned name from an irrelevant time. He also is our prophet, charged with telling the truth to “modern” people. We need to listen with great care.
We have an opportunity to step forward and to welcome all people toward a full share in our society. Let us make sure that a middle class is expanded through living wages. This will not only help the economy to grow; it will encourage education, moving from subsistence and dependency to interdependence and hope.
[As leaders of the Minneapolis Area Synod], we have asked that the government of the City of Minneapolis send a message that we as a city believe that the people in our metropolitan area deserve a living wage and that we want to do business with people and companies that hold that same value. The city council has agreed and we rejoice.
Johnson is Bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod, ELCA