A basket of fruit and hospitality sounds like good stuff, right? Maybe Martha had a basket of fruit she was preparing for her guests. I wondered how a basket of fruit could go so wrong in Amos’ vision--and I also wonder how hospitality can go so wrong in the story of Jesus’ visit to the home of Martha and Mary.
Lance Ousley notes in his reflection on these passages that if we are good stewards of our time, we will have time for prayer and discernment in our lives. If we are constantly doing we won’t leave ourselves the silence to hear the still small voice of God. Mary was open to that voice and so was Amos.
In Hebrew, the word for summer fruit is “quayits” and the word for end is “qets” so Amos was using a word pun--or maybe God was, since Amos is relaying a vision he had. And I read that first line of Amos 8 and thought of all the lovely fresh fruit that is available right now--the 6 mangoes I bought at Costco the past week and the wonderful lahsis I have had from them, picking fresh blueberries at an organic farm, and the blackberries I have been eating right off the vine from the back yard. What an absolutely delicious image: a basket of summer fruit. And Martha making goodies in the pantry of her home: fresh hummus, pita bread, olive oil, dates and maybe some lamb--yum, yum!
But, wait, there’s more. Amos tells the businessmen to quit shorting people on volumes and weights, to quit overcharging, to stop selling the poor into slavery, and to stop selling chaff for wheat. And they don’t hear the voice of God because they spend holy days wishing they could get back to business instead of praying and reconnecting to God. And Jesus tells Martha all that yummy food isn’t important, that she needs to be more like Mary and sit down to hear the word of God.
Suddenly the fruit doesn’t look that great--it is fermenting, rotting and moldy. Now I feel I must replace that piece of pita bread I just dipped into the hummus and stop chewing--pretend I have nothing in my mouth and listen. Put the date down! Quit munching blueberries and listen up folks!
God is going to stop passing by here and you won’t be able to find God or connect with God--you will be on your own. Just the way you like it! But you will wish you hadn’t done the things you have done.
Amos’ world sounds so much like our own. People profit from the misery of others. A while back I saw a real estate ad for a horrible apartment building in Hoquiam, and it was advertised as a “cash cow”—literally! I have been in a couple of the one-bedroom apartments in that building; they both needed thousands of dollars of repairs--and that is only two apartments. The carpet in the hallway was so dirty I wanted to wash the bottoms of my shoes when I left. Cash cow, indeed!
When the feds investigated Ferguson, MO’s criminal justice system and found that most fines were issued in the African American neighborhoods with the most poverty, we nodded our heads because we experience this in Grays Harbor with the populations living in poverty here. The fines mount up and there is no way to pay them--to even make payments. It is why so many ride bicycles or walk or ride the bus. A car is impounded because it is parked too long in one spot and it sat there because it was the person’s only home or because they couldn’t afford insurance or gasoline or a new tire and the apartment building doesn’t have enough parking spaces for its tenants. And life is a continual notice of bench warrants. The jail has empty space so the police go out and take names and IDs and find folks who owe money to the courts and put them in jail. And how does one work while they are in jail? It is a vicious cycle. And the rest of us benefit because those fines, when paid, help support the police so OUR neighborhood is safe.
So, we might not be corrupt businessmen and we might not own slaves but we benefit from a society like Amos describes. We benefit from low wages on the other side of the world when we buy inexpensive products. We benefit from pollution when we drive our gasoline-powered vehicles around with some of the cheapest gasoline in the world. We benefit when we are treated with respect because we are clean, drive vehicles, and wear nice clothing. We do not feel the need to stay hidden--we walk around quite naturally full of ourselves and what we have accomplished. Prosperity. Prosperity for those who deserve it.
Amos is calling out his people. Judah has experienced prosperity during the reign of Jeroboam II. Come and make time for God. Come and stop trampling the poor. And Jesus calls Martha from the pantry, “Come and sit like Mary, the food is not important but listening to the word of God--leaving space for the still small voice is important.”
Lance also wrote, “As baptized Christians we do ministry not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because of our abiding relationship with Jesus… without prayer it is difficult for us to discern what our God-given ministry is at any time. … Prayer and worship are more about listening for God’s call to us than about our speaking to God.”
We are people who care about the plight of the poor. We are trying to help as best as we can with direction from Sarah who knew how to begin. And she takes time to listen to God and to those we want to serve to find out what they need from us. What we have found is that they appreciate being fed, but they LOVE a visit to jail, in the hospital, and they love being seen and heard especially when it is done without judgment.
Jesus wants us to take time to feed our souls, to listen for God’s voice and Amos is calling us out-to stop focusing all our time on what we have and what we can get. We live in a prosperous land and we must leave space and time for God to lead us to those who are not living in prosperity. They can see prosperity on the television, they can see prosperity over or through the fence, and they SEE us. How can we help them into our land? What is God calling us to do?