Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, "When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the Sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat."
On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.
The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.
Happy are they who do hiw will,
who seek him with all their heart.
With all my heart I seek you;
let me not stray from your commands. (R./)
My soul is consumed with longing
for your decrees at all times.
The way of truth I have chosen;
I have set your decrees before me. (R./)
Behold, I long for your precepts;
in your justice give me life.
I open my mouth and I sigh
in my yearning for your commands. (R./)
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" But when he heard this, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."
Amos, zealous prophet that he was, declared that if the society of his time did not radically change, it had no future but destruction. Because of their obstinate clinging to an unjust social order they will suffer a complete spiritual famine and no longer hear God's inspiring word. In the gospel Jesus gives one of the first signals that God's kingdom will reach beyond Palestine and extend to distant lands all over the earth. Jesus calls a non-observant Jew, the tax-collector, Matthew, to be an apostle. Everyone, even foreigners, can be saved. Instead of detailed directives on points of conduct, the Scriptures provide the basis for all moral choices: changes such as these are within the providence of God. The purpose of religion is to unite us with God continually during all the events and transitions of our lives.
Amos announces a looming crisis for Israel: for their lack of social justice, the people will be driven from the land of promise. Active compassion is also the heart of how a despised tax collector, Matthew, is called to be one of Jesus' inner circle. Jesus does not draw the application, yet his eating with those who disregarded the law provides a reason for the later church to reach out beyond Judaism and the narrow circle of those who know and keep the law. To paraphrase Amos, the gospel was to move "from sea to sea.. from the north to the east in search of the word of the Lord."
How can we best deal with change in our lives? First, by accepting it as the will of God and not demanding to go back; and then by relating it to the needs of others, with a sense of justice towards the needy and those less fortunate than ourselves.
In his book The God of Surprises Gerald Hughes wrote of how God can surprise us human beings in so many ways. After all, as the prophet Isaiah said, "God's ways are not our ways." Jesus, as the revelation of God, was also full of surprises. The gospels record people being amazed at what he said and did. He didn't behave as the religious leaders of the time normally behaved. Something of his surprising ways is evident when Jesus calls Matthew, a tax collector, to follow him and proceeds to share a meal with the other tax collectors.
Matthew and people like him would have been regarded by religious people of the time as a sinner, someone who did not keep God's law. Such people were avoided for fear of contamination. Jesus was not afraid of being contaminated by others. On the contrary, he knew that his own goodness had the power to transform others for the better. When Jesus went on to say in the gospel, "what I want is mercy not sacrifice," he was declaring that he wants his own merciful way of behaving to find expression in the lives of his followers. We too are called to transform others by our own goodness. We are all to be agents of the Lord's transforming love and mercy.