The Personal Name was standing, plummet in hand, by a wall built with a grief/plumb line. The Divine Judge asked me, “What do you see, Amos?” I answered, “A plumb line/grief.” Then the Divine Judge said, “I lay grief in the midst of my people, those who struggle with God… The high places of the laughing will become waste, the dedicated places of Israel, desolate….
Amaziah the priest of Beth-el told Amos: Go seer, flee into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there; but do not prophesy more at Beth-el/house of God. It is the dedicated place of the king,a royal house, the Beth/house of the king.” Amos answered Amaziah: “I was no prophet, or a prophet’s son; I was a herdsman/distinguisher, one who makes indistinguishable those of Shechem/Sycamore/the established.”
We read this warning for the first reading in the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. There are puns through the passage. The Hebrew word for “Grief” is the same as for a plumb line. The plumb line is a string with a heavy weight that can fall upon a head, causing grief.
God tells Amos to tell the king, the high places, the places of the wealthy will become an indistinguishable waste. Amaziah the priest of Beth-el lays out the charges against the king far better than Amos could. He tells the prophet to flee and eat, not meat, but humble bread.
Beth-el means, “House of God.” For Amaziah it is not the house of God, but the place dedicated to the king. The high and mighty replaces God with king. Amaziah lays the same grief upon Amos that he lays upon the people. Amos is to eat bread, not meat. The Greek word for “Evil,” “πονηρός” means “Toilsome, Painful, Grievous.” Everyplace and time we see great wealth we also find great poverty, toil, pain, grief.
The Hebrew word used for a herdsman also means “Morning.” “Morning,” is the time of day things start to become distinguishable. The root idea is “to distinguish.” Shechem was Israel’s capital; Jerusalem the capital of Judah. Another important pun compares the high and mighty in Shehem with the Sycamore, known as the fruit tree of the poor, not native to the region, transplanted by the hated Egyptians. The tree grows as far north as northern Judah, not the northern kingdom of Israel.
Amos faithfully relates what God told him to tell the king. The established people will become like the sycamore, the fruit of the poor. It will become and indistinguishable clump. The first will be last and the last will be first. Amaziah is the wise sage of the king. Amos is the herdsman working with sycamores.
St. Paul warns about debates, “The message of the cross is foolish to the perishing; to the saved it is the power of God. “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; I set aside the learning of the learned. Where is the wise? Where is the grammarian? Where is the debater of this age? God made the wisdom of the cosmos foolish. The cosmos did not come to know God through wisdom. The will of God, through the foolishness of the proclamation, saves the faithful.”
The wise distinguish properly. God wants no part of that and no part of the great debaters of this age. He wants those who are, “United in the same mind and in the same purpose.” “Amos” means the one who stammers.” Our Blessed Virgin also warns us of Amaziah’s faults. “He shows might with his arm, dispersing the arrogant of mind and heart. He throws the rulers from their thrones but lifts the lowly. The hungry he fills with nobility; the rich he sends away empty.”
“Amos,” “Iah” and “Amos,” sound similar. On the other hand, “Amos” means the one who stammers.” “Amaziah,” sounding so much like “Amos,” means “the strong.” Like St. Paul, “Amos” was the man with the heavy tongue, not the great debater of the age. Amaziah was the strong man of God, in his own mind.
In Reno Nevada, there was a class at Our Lady of the Snows. One of the questions asked was, “Would we do differently than Amaziah?” All in the class but one gave all the reasons why they would repent and do things differently. When we hear the strong, established people attacked, do we feel threatened? We hear how 20% of the population bringing home 71% of the income while the poorest 50% of the population only bring home 19%.
We hear how this causes 5% of the population to account for 50% of healthcare costs.
They are mentally depressed because they do not have the funds to buy adequate food clothing, shelter, and transportation. They become chronically sick. We hear of the 45000 who die each year from a lack of healthcare. We hear of the 5,000 workers dying each year in preventable accidents. We hear of the 8,000 babies who die each year because their parents cannot afford adequate health care, nutrition, or housing. Do we become defensive like Amaziah, or do we repent? Be honest, when the charge is turned upon us, do we respond differently?