by Father Mike Stubbs
Do you anticipate that someday you will be replaced by a robot?
More and more frequently, businesses are employing robots to carry out tasks once performed by human beings. It means a huge change for the economy.
Something similar happened with the Industrial Revolution, when machines took over work previously done by hand. It meant a massive disruption for society.
Thousands of years ago, Israel experienced a similar disruption when it adopted the monarchy. The tribal system was largely replaced by a feudal system.
Instead of family farmers working the fields that they owned, they became serfs working for large landowners. The gap widened between the haves and the have nots. The wealthy and powerful took advantage of the poor.
The prophet Amos addresses these injustices in Sunday’s first reading, Am 8:4-7.
He focuses upon the merchants who have preyed upon the poor: “Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!”
By placing their desire to sell their goods above their religious obligation to keep the Sabbath and the new moon, the merchants have sinned against God. Those days were observed by abstaining from manual labor:
‘“When will the new moon be over,” you ask, “that we may sell our grain, and the Sabbath, that we may display the wheat?”’
The merchants have also sinned against their customers by cheating them. They plot among themselves and say: “We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating!”
The misdeeds of the merchants hit the poor the hardest. Those who could not pay their debts were sold into slavery.
The cruel merchants eagerly looked forward to that prospect: “We will buy the lowly for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals.”
The words of Samuel, who had warned the Israelites what would happen if they established a monarchy, came true:
“The rights of the king who will rule you will be as follows: He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot. He will also appoint from among them his commanders of groups of a thousand and of a hundred soldiers. He will set them to do his plowing and his harvesting, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will use your daughters as ointment-makers, as cooks, and as bakers. He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his officials. He will tithe your crops and your vineyards, and give the revenue to his eunuchs and his slaves. He will take your male and female servants, as well as your best oxen and your asses, and use them to do his work. He will tithe your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves.“ (1 Sm 8:10-17).