Amos 5:6-7; 10-15
Seek the Lord and live. Seek good and not evil. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate (Amos 5:6; 14-15).
There is a group of people that believe we all come to church at appointed times in order to get ourselves a bargain with God, and to pay the premium of a supernatural insurance, just in case heaven and hell really exist. There is also another group that consider the practice of religion a simple superstition to ward off anything bad that could happen to us.
Yet, probably most of us know by now that being a Christian and practising religion could leave us with the same odds in life as the rest. By no means can religion shield us from pain, from grief, and from hardships. Indeed, look at Our Lord Jesus and recall to mind the many examples of Christian courage left to us by the countless host of saints.
Then again, the predominant motivation for practicing religion in ancient Israel seem to have been precisely this idea of worshipping God in order to get something tangible out of it, whether it be a long or a pain-free life.
The prophet Amos knows this. When he says, Seek the Lord and live (5:6) at the very beginning our first reading, he knows that for his listeners seeking God meant physically looking for his shrines, entreating his favour by travelling to places of worship to receive a blessing that may gain them better life conditions. Amos says Seek the Lord and live (5:6) but he wants to take this concept a step further for his listeners adding later on Seek good and not evil (5:14) Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate (5:15).
The commandment of practicing religion as a form of corporate worship is good and wholesome, but it is not enough if left to stand on its own. Therefore, Amos invites ancient Israel to add to their practice by restoring care for those at the margin of society, and a true love for justice. He appeals to his listeners, to those faithful ones who were still seeking God, to be a force for change in a society where judicial and political systems were seriously compromised by corruption and contempt for those in need.
The words of the prophet Amos are still alive today and they invite the Church, as the New Israel community, to seek God (Amos 5:6) firstly in the worship and the sacrifice we offer, and secondly in the task of seeking good, loving good in all that we do. For Amos the charge of pursuing good is a continuation, an extension of the first one as we cannot expect to fulfil our commitment to the Christian life simply by attending church services; we have to employ our sense of worship in every action and habit which forms our daily living. Only in this two-fold way which encompasses every human action God is properly worshipped. Only this two-fold way of life could bring the blessing of God over his people.
In the words of our bishop, we have to have the courage to stand up and be counted for what we are. That is, a community that belongs both to earth and to heaven, and a community that strives for the establishment of justice in a society all too often absorbed by its own self-centredness.
Not accidentally this is also the key to growing the Church as a wholly Christian way of life would be a faithful act of witness and it could not be mistaken as redundant superstition.