Prosperity and inequality are usually strange but common bedfellows

The First Reading for this Sunday, the Twentieth after Pentecost, (Amos 5:6-7, 10-15) speaks very eloquently to our society today. During Jeroboam II’s reign in Israel (the Northern Kingdom) from  788-747 BCE,  prosperity was unprecedented. The disparity between the wealthiest landowners and the peasant farmers was equally unprecedented.

In this economic climate, the wealthy managed to manipulate the lending and borrowing structure to their advantage while squeezing the poor out of their land.

The story of Wall Street, financial institutions, Occupy Movements, Pay Day Loans, the mushrooming billionaire’s and millionaire’s clubs and the equally mushrooming poor households is too familiar in our society today.

“Because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain”, the prophet Amos warned, “you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine”. Almost 30 years later, in 722 BCE, the Assyrians conquered Israel and settled foreigners there  and thereby fulfilled Amos’ prophecy.

The talk today is framed in “Are you better off?”. It is alright to be better off everyday. But the healthy question ought to be “Are we better off?” The common good should be the standard. In our individual quests to be better off the weak are often sacrificed.

In this Sunday’s Gospel Reading from Mark 10:17-31 a man asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Paraphrased, he asked, “What must I do to be better off?”. Jesus directed him to the common good:  “Sell what you own, and give the money to the poor”.

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