Why does the first leg of our journey in search of “the better part” take us back to the earliest minor prophet of Israel? Most people today recognize Amos’s words because of Martin Luther King Jr.’s oft-repeated call to “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). We’ve heard Jesus and Martin Luther King; what can Amos still say to us?
After offering numerous unheeded admonitions throughout the first seven chapters to “seek good and not evil, that you may live” (5:14) and having described prophetic visions through which God has urged the people to turn from their ways, Amos now seems to envision a picnic, perfect for a July day in the United States! But why does the association of “summer fruit” with the “end” sound like bad news? The New International Version translates these two Hebrew words in a way that helps us recognize the wordplay. The Lord shows Amos a basket of ripe fruit, then tells him that “the time is ripe for my people.” God is fed up—not with summer fruit but with the empty worship eked out impatiently by God’s people as they long to get back to business and calculate the greatest possible gain at the expense of those who have the least.
Amos’s words expose our hypocrisy. How easily we forget that King’s prophetic cause at the time of his death was the Poor People’s Campaign, seeking not mere handouts but the end of systemic poverty. How often do we eke out our worship “hour” and rush back to earning and spending? Even our innocent efforts at bargains on purchases often exploit the poor and unwittingly feed corporate greed. Perhaps God’s command to “be silent!” will offer us time for contemplative reflection.

God of justice, I confess that my bargaining ends cannot justify unholy means. Do not pass me by, but give me a hunger for justice that transforms my appetite. Amen.

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