by Father Mark Stubbs
We often associate poverty with the inner city. Detroit offers the perfect example. We visualize abandoned buildings, overgrown yards, alleys filled with trash.
On the other hand, poverty is also a problem in rural areas. It thrives like a weed amid the abundant crops of the countryside. In such isolated areas, it remains hidden. It is easy to ignore.
That was also true cen- turies ago, during the time of the Old Testament. In Sunday’s first reading —
Am 6:1a, 4-7 — the prophet strongly criticizes the wealthy who have ignored the poor in their midst. In his view, these members of the wealthy class look greedy, idle and self-indulgent. Amos describes them as “lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches.” They do not lift a finger to help those in need, but instead lounge around, enjoying themselves.
Even the beds decorated with ivory that they are lying on are not ordinary beds, but rather luxury items. The ivory would have been extremely expensive, imported from Africa. It would have formed part of the international trade made possible through the export of wine and oil, items that the wealthy living in Israel also indulged in: “They drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the best oils.”
The wealthy have pressured the tenant farmers to grow these luxury items, rather than the crops the poor need to live on. The wealthy whom Amos criticizes belong to a powerful elite that had devel- oped around the monarchy. They lived in the cities, as opposed to the countryside where the majority of people, the farmers, lived. This wealthy class had learned how to manipulate the economic and political system, in order to profit from it. A small minority prospered at the expense of the much larger rural population.
Unfortunately, that is the situation in which many Third World countries find themselves in our own time. The economic injustices that Amos prophesied against continue on. We still need to hear his words.
The leaders of the Catholic Church echo Amos when they declare: “It is necessary to reform international economic and financial institutions so that they will better promote equitable relationships with less advanced countries. The efforts of poor countries working for growth and liberation must be supported. This doctrine must be applied especially in the area of agricultural labor. Peasants, especially in the Third World, form the overwhelming majority of the poor” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2440).
Some things never change.