Psalm 90: 12 – 17
Amos 5:6 – 15
Hebrews 4: 12 -- 16
Mark 10: 17 – 31
For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel: ...
Therefore because you trample on the poor
and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your transgressions,
and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous,
who take a bribe,
and push aside the needy in the gate. ...
Hate evil and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
- Amos 5: 4, 11-12, 15
Amos left his home in the Kingdom of Judah, which was the southern part of ancient Israel, and went to prophesy against the lifestyles of the upper classes in the northern kingdom, which went by the name Israel, or more poetically, “Joseph” or “Ephraim.” He prophesied during a time of relative peace and prosperity there. But the upper classes did many things that denied prosperity to their working poor neighbors. Amos warned them that the armies of the Assyrian Empire were on their way to end their lives of ease coupled with injustice.
A couple of notes on the passages reprinted above:
levies of grain – the poor had to pay significant taxes out of their meager living, which took a far bigger bite out of their well-being than did the taxes on the well-off.
the needy in the gate – In ancient Israel, the gateway of the city was where the city elders sat in judgment of everyone’s legal matters. Amos noted that the comfortable classes prevented the poor from obtaining justice. In modern language, “the color of justice was green.” (“Money talks.”)
Many US citizens describe themselves as “middle class.” But that phrase is almost meaningless today. On the upper end, people whose income in is the millions claim “middle class” status as they struggle to avoid taxes and beggars. On the lower end, people trying to hang onto a little dignity in the midst of social and financial chaos claim “middle class” status, despite barely being able to keep a roof overhead and food on the table.
In 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined the Poor People’s Campaign and went to Memphis, Tennessee in support of sanitation workers struggling for decent pay and working conditions. He was assassinated there, then.
I am happy to report that this week, the Rev. Dr. William Barber II has been named a recipient of the MacArthur “genius” Grant. Rev. Barber is pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Along with many others, he has launched a revival of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign that was originally led by Dr. King.
Here are the first five of the Fundamental Principles of the current Poor People’s Campaign:
1. We are rooted in a moral analysis based on our deepest religious and constitutional values that demand justice for all. Moral revival is necessary to save the heart and soul of our democracy.
2. We are committed to lifting up and deepening the leadership of those most affected by systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and ecological devastation and to building unity across lines of division.
3. We believe in the dismantling of unjust criminalization systems that exploit poor communities and communities of color and the transformation of the “War Economy” into a “Peace Economy” that values all humanity.
4. We believe that equal protection under the law is non-negotiable.
5. We believe that people should not live in or die from poverty in the richest nation ever to exist. Blaming the poor and claiming that the United States does not have an abundance of resources to overcome poverty are false narratives used to perpetuate economic exploitation, exclusion, and deep inequality.
[I hope you will give some attention to the entire program of the Poor People’s Campaign. There are seven other items in this list, but the final principle is this: ]
12. The Campaign and all its Participants and Endorsers embrace nonviolence. Violent tactics or actions will not be tolerated.