He Rejects Their Offerings
Updated: Nov 17
Year A, Proper 27, RCL, Track 2 Amos 5:18-24, Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 25:1-13
The prophet Amos speaks to a faith community; a people who worship God just as they were taught as children. They say their prayers, they make their offerings, and they do exactly what is expected. The world around them, beyond the doors of the Temple, also seems pretty normal with their daily routines.
Like many large communities, there are those who have money, or property; those who hire and fire the laborers. On the other side are the people struggling to make a living; working hard for the minimum wage, a denarius. They often do the work that is backbreaking or dangerous and the people who hire them are not overly concerned about their welfare; for if they cannot work there are always others who can replace them. Though some in society may see this structure as unfair; society as a whole views it as normal. But God doesn’t.
At the end of Exodus, God brings the Israelites to a land of milk and honey. Over the years there were good times and bad; times of prosperity and war, times of captivity, and freedom. Today we find the Israelites in a time of prosperity; in the land given to them by God; in a place where everyone should have enough to thrive. Yet we find that there is a growing divide between the haves and have nots. And we hear that those with wealth take advantage of the poor; building their wealth on the back of the poor. God says, “They sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals;”[i]
All this history is the back story leading up to our passage today. It helps explain why God seems to be upset with the people. The Israelites do exactly what is expected of them in the Temple but once they are beyond those doors they do not follow the ways of the Lord any longer. They follow the ways of the world. These Israelites believe they are wise by following the religious laws closely. But God says they are fools, for they are only going through the motions of their faith and not truly taking their faith into their hearts as they practice life.
This imagery isn’t too far astray from what we find with the ten bridesmaids. I’d imagine that all ten of these young ladies were excited to be chosen for this position of honor. But not all of them realized that the night might last much longer than they expected. We are told that all ten of them fell asleep, a metaphor for dying. And when the bridegroom returns, not all of them were ready. For the five whose oil ran out it was too late.
This story is a parable. As in many of Jesus’ parables, he speaks hyperbolically, over the top, and often in black and white terms. In this case, you are in or you are out. But because of hyperbole, I’m not sure this is where we should focus our attention. The foolishness that is being represented here is that some people thought Jesus was coming soon while others seem to know that this could take a while. This is a similar theme that we see elsewhere in the New Testament. We can think of the thief who comes in the night but we do not know when. Or the caretaker who needs to be prepared for his master's return. The foolish are those who think they can kick back and relax until they see Christ coming instead of living the life that God has called them to do all along.
Through Christ we are offered this new life; not only when he returns but right now, here on earth. This new life in which we are helping God to bring in the new kingdom is full of challenges. The challenges come to us because what God desires for us is not what the world around us aspires to.
Now I’m not saying that the world around us is entirely bad; after all, we are called to be in the world but not of the world. Each day we are presented with choices and we decide, whether consciously or unconsciously, to help build the kingdom of God or to help build a life that follows the conventions of the world around us. I also believe our reading from Wisdom reinforces this idea. In this passage, I think it is fair to substitute the word God or Christ for wisdom. As such I will re-read this passage with the substitution of Christ.
“The beginning of Christ is the most sincere desire for instruction, and concern for instruction is love of him, and love of him is the keeping of his laws, and giving heed to his laws is assurance of immortality, and immortality brings one near to God; so the desire for Christ leads to a kingdom.”
This passage brings us full circle to Amos.
The reason God, in Amos says, he despises their festivals, he rejects their offerings, and he will not listen to their songs is not because these faith practices have no meaning. It is not that there is something inherently wrong with them. God is saying that these works of faith in and of themselves are not enough. God wants his people to have a change of heart in which we love and follow him, as much as we love our selves and one another.
[i] Amos 2:6b