This Side of Jesus:
Let’s start with the way the early Church made use of today’s Amos passage.
The early Church was trying to figure out how to manage the care of the hundreds of people who were deciding to keep faith with Jesus, and the chose servants–a word, “deacon,” that became a title–to help. Stephen, a man “full of faith and the Holy Spirit…full of God’s grace and power,” was one of these deacons. Some angry synagogue members outside Jerusalem paid some people to lie about Stephen to the Sanhedrin, the priestly court that judged any violation against Torah, who were centered in Jerusalem at the Temple.
Stephen is charged, basically with following Jesus, but he’s really on trial for what Jesus said about the how he’d “tear down the Temple and rebuild it in three days.” Stephen is invited to speak in his own defense. His face literally glows, shines, in a way that reminds people of Moses’ and points to the Spirit’s activity in that moment, and Stephen gives this crazy impressive speech in Acts 7, summarizing the entire Israelite history and how it leads up to Jesus. Along the way, he makes the same point that Amos makes today, in chapter 5:25-27. He quotes form the Greek version of Amos, saying,
Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
You have taken up the tabernacle of Molek
and the star of your god Rephan,
the idols you made to worship.
Therefore I will send you into exile’ beyond Babylon.
And Stephen is stoned, because by the time he’s done, he lambastes the entire Sanhedrin, saying, in part, “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” He condemns them as murderers, and as utterly disobedient to Torah. They kill him; Saul holds the cloaks of those who stone him. Later, Saul will be renamed Paul, and called by Christ as an Apostle to the Gentiles.
Why Stephen Chose Amos:
Stephen lifts up Amos’ words to point out how off-the-mark the religious leaders of Israel have become. And this is exactly what Amos was trying to do when he first said this to the Israelites…