Ask your neighbor or coworker to list the “top ten” sins, and you will probably hear a version of the Ten Commandments. Murder, stealing, lying and adultery would probably head the list.
But when God revealed to Amos that he was about to bring judgment upon his people, he cited Israel’s treatment of the poor as cause for punishment. In startling imagery, God said Israel had “trampled” the needy and cheated the poor. The poor, the victims of Israel’s greed and exploitation, had no recourse but to appeal to God. And God listened.
In the New Testament, Jesus repeatedly takes up the often-overlooked cause of the poor. When Jesus preached in the synagogue in Luke 4:16–21, the prophecy he chose to read to reveal who he was came from Isaiah 61:1–2: “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” When Jesus described final judgment in Matthew 25:31–46, he evaluated how well people cared for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the needy and the imprisoned. Jesus so identifies with the poor in this passage that he says that the good deeds done to the “least of these” were counted as being done to him!
How does the way you live reveal your concern for the poor? Are the poor an afterthought? A nuisance? A perplexing problem you’ve quit trying to solve? For many of us, Amos’s message challenges us to serve the poverty stricken in ways besides simply giving money. Volunteering in a food pantry or rescue mission may be the first step to helping poor people with their immediate needs. Working directly with people who are poor helps us to put names and faces on poverty. When we do that, we can no longer objectify and ignore the needy. But are there ways to take our compassion one step further? How can we speak up to make sure the poor aren’t exploited? How can we work to make sure our institutions don’t make the problem worse? How can we vote for policies and practices that are equitable?
It is God’s desire that we be willing to share what we have with those in need and help the poor whenever we can. When we do, our hearts beat in time with his.
Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying, “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?”—skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales.