Making The Ephah Small And The Shekel Great

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We had some very tough words from the Lord, delivered through the prophet Amos, in our First Lesson today: “The end has come upon my people…The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day…the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place…”

“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 make it like the mourning for an only son…” (Amos 8 passim) Tough words!

Clearly, the prophet is announcing a severe judgment that is coming upon his people. We often tremble at harsh judgments like those when we hear them read out in the Old Testament, or even in the New!  But it’s important for us to hear and understand who those judgments are being pronounced upon! The prophet also makes that clear:

“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 that we may offer wheat for sale?”

God’s judgment is coming on those Old Testament “corporate giants” who are taking advantage of the needy and the poor, and who cannot wait for another work week to begin so that they can continue to overcharge the people and cheat them out of their rightful earnings:

“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…”

You see, back then, the ephah was used to measure wheat, while the shekel was used to weigh coins.  The seller would measure the wheat by the ephah and receive in exchange silver weighted by the shekel. So, by making the ephah small and the shekel great, the merchant gives the buyer less wheat and receives in return a larger amount of silver.  In other words, the poor folks, trying to buy bread, were being cheated! Sound familiar? The system was just about as rigged in that day as it is in ours. But Amos is telling his people that the Lord is about to bring judgment on that kind of practice. And I believe the Lord is still standing in judgment on those who take advantage of the poor in our day!

“You tyrant,” sings the Psalmist this morning, “why do you boast of wickedness against the godly all day long? You plot ruin; your tongue is like a sharpened razor, O working of deception.  You love evil more than good and lying more than speaking the truth. You love all words that hurt…” Sound familiar? Have you watched the news lately?

You see, God expects the kings and presidents and rulers of this world – whether they be captains of industry or politicians – to govern justly, for the good of the people. Both the Old and New Testaments recognize that we have to live in systems where some people are placed in positions of authority over us.

In the Epistle to the Colossians this morning, St. Paul writes that, in Christ “all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1)

Now there was a time when the Church “spiritualized” the words “thrones and dominions and rulers and powers” and even said those things were the spiritual powers in heaven – like ranks of angels. That is not what St. Paul is talking about! When he says, “thrones and dominions and rulers and powers” that’s exactly what he means. The thrones of earthly kings.  Dominions like nation states. Rulers like those who lord it over people.  And the “powers that be” who seem to control everything in this world!

Paul says that those things exist, all right, and that God accepts that, but they are supposed to serve God for the benefit of the people! Not to oppress and take advantage of the people for their own well-being! When they do – in Old Testament times or today – they stand under the judgment of God!

So, how are our governors and rulers and fat cats supposed to behave? How are they supposed to know how to behave? Well, believe it or not, the simple Gospel story we had for today tells us how. They are to listen for the Word of God!

Once again, we often miss the point of the wonderful Mary and Martha story (Luke 10:38-42) we heard a few moments ago. It’s often interpreted as meaning “Well, some of us are Marthas and some of us are Marys.  Some of us are activists and others are more contemplative by nature.” But that’s not what the story says!

In this case, Jesus rebukes Martha for her busyness! Oh, it’s a gentle rebuke. He says, “Martha, Martha you are worried and distracted by many things: there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part…”  

Martha was not just taking care of business. She was distracted by her busyness and complaining about her sister for not helping her out! Maybe we can all sympathize with that, but the point of the story was that Mary was the one who recognized that she was in the presence of the very Word of God in Jesus, and nothing was going to keep her from paying attention to that Word.

Our busy lives can distract us too from hearing and paying attention to God’s Word. But if we miss hearing it, for most of us, the damage will be done primarily to ourselves, maybe our families. But when our leaders either refuse or forget to listen to God, the results can be devastating. People suffer. Some people die.

So, let’s never forget to pray for our leaders. But let us also never forget to call them to account, like the prophet Amos did in his day. For “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.”

Scary words.  Words that may describe our times! But there is still time for our leaders – and for us – to change.

 IF we take time to listen for the Word of the Lord!

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