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Weekly worship: Sunday 21 July

What are the unjust practices that go unchallenged today?


Amos 8: 1-12

The Amos reading is in two parts: the first is that of a vision (1-3) and the second is a poetic proclamation of judgement (4-12).

Like the plumbline in last week’s reading, God uses another visual aid. This time, it is a basket of summer fruit. Summer fruit nearing ripeness, nearing its end. Amos describes what the people of Israel have been doing wrong (vs 4-6). Those who sell grain are exposed for their hypocrisy (v 5) by their complaint of losing profits because they have to close up shop for religious festivals (“new moon” and “sabbath”). 

Amos also describes their intention to use three crooked methods with their customers. They were going to make the ‘Ephah’ small, that is to use a smaller container than the 15-20 litres that it is supposed to measure. To ‘make the shekel great’ was to use a heavy weight on the measuring scales, meaning the customers were overcharged for their grain. They also intended to mix in chaff, the sweepings of wheat, therefore diluting or bulking up the grain. 

Verse 6 tells us that the target of all these fraudulent techniques is the poor and needy – they did not have the resources or resilience to stand up to challenge them, even if they knew they were being cheated. Amos makes clear that God sees and knows their deceptive ways. And it is not only the deceptive merchants who are going to face the punishing judgment of God: the destruction that Amos prophesies is going to be wrought on all of Israel.

It is likely that these practices were known about but not challenged or changed by wider society. Either way, the judgement prophesied is not specific to the grain sellers' oppression of the poor and marginalised, but is wrought on Israel as a whole - because, as a society, they have failed to care for and protect the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. 

This Amos prophecy is a challenge to us now to advocate with those who are being fleeced and cheated out of what they are entitled to. Not because we fear or might warrant the wrath of God if we were not to do so but because it is the right and just thing to do. Because what breaks God’s heart might break ours too when we draw close. 

What are the unjust practices that go on today that go unchallenged, even if they are widely known about? Tax avoidance is one example that has come under the spotlight in recent years. In part, this is because of organisations like the Tax Justice Campaign and Christian Aid calling out companies that have been complicit, and governments that have chosen to look away and not challenge practices that have been denying some of the poorest countries in the world the tax they were due. 

One inspirational example of a prophetic voice speaking out against tax avoidance is the Rev Suzanne Matale, General Secretary of the Zambian Council of Churches, a tax justice activist and a member of the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation. She describes how ‘over 30% of African wealth is held offshore while over $50 billion is estimated to leave Africa illicitly every year.’ But, for her, the real story 'is the story of the system that enables all of this to happen. A system for which we are responsible, and yet most of us do nothing about.’ 

Amos and Suzanne challenge us all to raise our prophetic voice against those accepted but unjust practices that keep people living in poverty.

Luke 10:38-42

The passage makes clear that it was Martha who had invited and received Jesus and his disciples into her house. Martha was clearly the host from the outset and as such was working to fulfil the hospitality code of her day. 

She had issue with Mary: not just that she was not helping with preparing for the guests, but that she was breaking the rules. The rules of providing hospitality and that she had taken the place of a man, that is sitting at the feet of and listening to the teaching of the Rabbi. 

According to the custom of the day, Martha was in the right, and her plea to Jesus was why he, as a rabbi, was not rebuking Mary and putting her in her rightful place? Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to his teaching was as scandalous as the Samaritan being the one who showed mercy in the story that precedes this exchange.

Jesus’s response to Martha can be read as one of gentle correction rather than harsh rebuke. 

Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.The one thing needed is for Martha to receive the gracious presence of Jesus, to listen to his words, to know that she is valued not for what she does or how well she does it, but for who she is as a child of God.

Jesus invites us all to take the place of Mary. And particularly in our congregations - where often the few take on the tasks that need many - Jesus invites all of who are worried and distracted by many things to sit and rest in his presence. To know that we are loved and valued first and foremost as children of God, rather than perhaps finding our purpose or identity in what it is we make ourselves busy with. Yes, the food still needs prepared, the work needs to be attended to, but this exchange challenges and inspires us to serve from the place of sitting at the feet rather than coming to rest after all our energy is spent. Our action comes from our contemplation.

‘You are worried and distracted by many things.’
Luke 10:41

Lord Christ,

When we are driven and relentless<
with ourselves and with others,
tied up with pressures of time,
and the demand to do what is urgent
rather than what is important,
speak to us with kindness,
as you did to Martha,
putting all things in proportion,
and releasing us into finding our worth in your love,
not in our busyness, or our desire to fix things.
So may your living Word at the centre of our being
claim and command all that we do
and all that we are.

Points for prayer

Yet there is that all-important stillness, and listening to God, which seems to be inertia, and yet is the highest action.’ Thomas Merton

Pray that the summer holidays would be a time for rest, reflection and re-galvanizing focus for another possible world. 

Find more points for prayer in our weekly prayer diary

Published on 05 July 2019

Resource language
Themes – Areas of work
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