Hey You, Listen Up!

Let me tell you about a society of peace and prosperity that existed long ago. In this society, many people had much more than they needed. The construction business was experiencing an unprecedented boom; elaborate wine cellars and even personal vineyards were in vogue. All the markets were buzzing; the communications, entertainment, and travel industries had never enjoyed such escalating profits.

The men and women of this society—at least the ones who luxuriated properly—would have been shocked to hear that there were some in their midst who enjoyed none of these pleasures, people leading lives of quiet desperation. The people on the hilltops would have been greatly offended had anyone dared suggest that the dispossessed were their responsibility—that, in fact, it was their uncaring wealth that was responsible for the plight of the invisible poor.

The scene I have set is not in the Hamptons or Marin County, but in Samaria in the Kingdom of Israel in the eighth century B.C. The prophet Amos was so shocked by conspicuous consumption on such a grand scale that he realized that this was a novel form of social injustice:

They hate those who teach justice at the city gate
and detest anyone who declares the truth.
For trampling on the poor
and for extorting taxes on their wheat:
although you have built houses of dressed stone,
you will never live in them;
although you have planted pleasant vineyards,
you will not drink wine from them:
for I know how many your crimes are
and how outrageous your sins,
you oppressors of the upright,
who hold people to ransom
and thrust the poor aside at the gates

—Amos 5:10-12

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2003
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