May Justice Roll Blog

 

by Crystal Easom

Dusk falls and the Sabbath HaGadol begins – it is the Sabbath before Passover. The last remaining activity in the streets of Israel fades into the night as man and wife return to their family home to partake of the ’erev shabat meal. It was a long week but the family came out ahead. Their neighbor had brought a case against them, but at the gate some money quietly changed hands and this neighbor’s new found poverty was judged to be the result of God’s judgment rather than any fault of their family. Without a thought to how their neighbor would eat tonight, they put aside the week to remember the God who took their fathers out of Egypt while clay Asherah statues looked on from the household shrine with unseeing eyes.

A week of heightened expectation passes and at last the Passover has arrived. God commanded that this feast be celebrated together in the place of God’s choosing so the people of Israel travel to the convenient shrines established by Jeroboam at Bethel and Dan. At the shrine, a priest preforms the Passover sacrifice of a lamb before the statue of a golden calf. The worshippers trickle away and begin to return towards home and, with the bulk of the barley harvest coming up shortly, perhaps some men stop along the way to worship a fertility goddess at an Asherah pole in the hope that she might bless them with a bountiful harvest.

Disturbed by the behavior of God’s people, Amos vehemently decries these empty and conflicting practices. The people of Israel were celebrating their covenant relationship with God while breaking that very covenant by their dealings with one another. They emulated the lives of the pagans around them, offering sacrifices as if to a distant and unseeing god whose favor can be manipulated; their worship was foul to God and thus Amos relays the Lord’s disgust:

“I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them…
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
(Amos 5:21-22, 24)

Each Sunday, men and women file into the church foyer in bright colors. Dividing into groups, the women exclaim to see one another in an affectedly high tone and cultivate their image through the information they share from the week. The doors to the sanctuary begin to close as the music begins and the laughter fades as the groups disperse into their separate pews. Families stand together yet worship alone, facing a spotlit stage and raising their hands in piety. In a coordinated movement, the congregation sits and they open their Bibles to the passage indicated by the pastor and then snap them shut again. The pastor expounds upon those words from his soapbox until at last he tucks his soapbox under his arm and gives a brief benediction in dismissal, leaving his Bible forgotten upon the pulpit.

In a corner of the sanctuary, a small group of men gathers and one bemoans the great necessity of such a message in this sliding world as his grandchild tugs on his knee. Wearily, a workman leaves the group and heads for the door, too tired to be able to say whether he heard the message or dreamed it. He passes a group of sharing prayer requests from their week that sounds suspiciously like information that is not theirs to share. The door falls shut behind him and he reenters the world indistinguishable from those around him.

We declare that God saved us by his work on the cross and we fulfill the demands of outward religious practice: we make our regular prayers, we open our Bible and read our devotional verses, we meet for our Bible study and discuss the passage of the week. Though our theology is carefully cultivated, might Amos’ words still be spoken to our churches today?

“Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
(Amos 5:23-24)

Religious knowledge unmatched by faithful practice is less than worthless (James 2:18-19). In our faithful study, do we remember that God demands a life of whole-hearted obedience, to emulate him as well as know him (1 John 2:6)?  Do we remember to care for the least of these (Matt 25:40), to live with radical generosity (Luke 6:29), to love all our neighbors (Luke 10:25-37)?

Do you live a life that overflows with justice?

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