Scriptural Manna: Let justice and fairness flow

Bread Blog is exploring passages from The Poverty & Justice Bible. Photo: Joe Molieri / Bread for the World

Editor’s note: Bread Blog is running a year-long series exploring passages from The Poverty & Justice Bible published by the American Bible Society (Contemporary English Version). The intent is a theological exploration at the intersection of social justice and religion. The blog posts will be written by members of the church relations staff at Bread for the World.

“I, the Lord, hate and despise your religious celebrations and your times of worship. I won’t accept your offerings or animal sacrifices – not even your very best. No more of your noisy songs! I won’t listen when you play your harps. But let justice and fairness flow like a river that never runs dry.” (Amos 5:21-24)

By Rev. Nancy Neal

While living in Washington, D.C., I have had many opportunities to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. It sits just on the edge of the Tidal Basin, where the cherry trees blossom in the spring. The memorial’s centerpiece is a huge statue of King carved out of granite. Behind the statue is a wall that forms an arc around the statue. Carved into the wall are quotes from King. Having studied King and the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. James Cone, a professor of systematic theology at Union Theological Seminary, I am brought to tears each time I read the quotes.

One of King’s more famous quotes comes from Amos 5, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Throughout chapter 5, God, through Amos, rails against Israel for exploiting those who are vulnerable, and for working the law against the poor, the widow, and the immigrant. In the chapter’s final section, God dashes the hope of the Israelites, who believe God will one day come to rescue them. Instead, God says that the day of the Lord will be dark upon them. God goes on to say that he hates and despises their worship and their offerings because they are hollow; they give beautiful offerings to God while exploiting their neighbors. 

But then out of nowhere, the chapter includes a sentence telling them what to do – to “let justice and fairness flow like a river that never runs dry.” Imagine if justice came with ease like the flow of water finding its way through rocks and sand, pulled by gravity. Water seems to always find a way to keep moving. In fact, it takes a decent amount of effort to stop water. Dams on rivers, clogs in kitchen sinks, calk in a bathtub, roofs on houses. Water is powerful.  

King used this text in his “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech he gave in Memphis, Tenn. He was talking about economic injustice exacerbated by racism. Our hope at Bread for the World is to work for justice along with an end to hunger. We too are working for justice as we seek to end hunger by 2030.

And so we continue to pray for our movement, that we will know justice and that it will flow through our work with righteousness and the fluidity of water flowing in a stream. 

Rev. Nancy Neal is the deputy director of church relations at Bread for the World.

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