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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

The Relevance of Amos

No prophet is more easily related to the modern world than Amos, for the social inequities that he denounced in eighth‐century BC Israel are still very much with us. The American bishops adopt a much milder tone than Amos in their pastoral letter on the economy, but their concerns are very much in line with his. The bishops insist that “government has a moral function: protecting human rights and securing justice for all members of the commonwealth” (Economic Justice for All, p. 35 ), and that “the fulfillment of the basic needs of the poor is of the highest priority” (p. 27 ). In the ancient world it was the role of the prophet to be the conscience of the nation and speak up for the powerless. In the modern world, that role falls to religious leaders, who are not themselves involved in the business of government and so can view it with some perspective.

The first lesson to be learned from Amos is that social justice is the business of religion. The test of piety is what happens in the marketplace rather than what happens in the church or temple.

A second lesson is less obvious at first, but bears some thought. Amos was convinced that there is an intrinsic connection between the justice of a society and its long‐term prosperity. This conviction arose from his radical monotheism. The God who gives prosperity is also the God of justice. In the modern world we are hesitant to see such an immediate connection between morality and success. Nonetheless it is probably true that the greed of the Israelite upper classes contributed to their own downfall. On the one hand their aspiration to power and independence brought them into conflict with Assyria. On the other hand the exploitation of the poor, and the individualism of the rich, weakened the society internally. The Assyrians might have rolled over Israel whether it was a just society or not, but the blow might not have been so severe if its leaders had been less concerned with political power and more concerned with equality and justice.

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