Church of England Diocese of Manchester St. Gabriel Prestwich

Prayer and Readings for Today

Readings:  Amos 5.8-14   Psalm 70   1 Thessalonians 4.13-18   Matthew 25.1-13

Reflection - by Margaret

In Agatha Christie’s novel Nemesis, the redoubtable Miss Marple is despatched to clear the name of a man unjustly accused of murder and to root out the true culprit. Her commission is received in the form of a letter which quotes word for word those words we heard from the prophet Amos today: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream”. Nemesis was the Greek goddess of retribution so the word is generally used to describe the inescapable agent of someone’s downfall. Miss Marple was an unlikely avenging angel but she doggedly found the truth and justice was done to the accused.

Justice has often been associated with revenge and in some conflicts, such as when an oppressed minority is fighting for equal rights, justice is held out as a motive. However, its primary meaning is about fairness in dealing with others. God is described as just, commanding fair treatment for the needy. This is the context of today’s reading. The prophet Amos, called from his work in agriculture to proclaim God’s message, has observed all around him a culture of national prosperity and comfort. However, beneath the surface all is not well: the comfort of the rich has been at the expense of the poor. It is pointless to hold extravagant festivals to celebrate God if daily life does not reflect God’s concerns.

A commentator believes that the reference in the passage is to the Autumn Festival, which has turned into a great feast rather than a humble remembering of God’s bringing people to safety and security out of suffering roots. The festival includes prayers for rain but Amos declares: “No! What you should be demanding are torrents of justice and righteousness!” Worship and lifestyle must connect and be consistent.

During the first coronavirus lockdown, parallels were drawn with the spirit which was in evidence during the second world war. People were all in the national crisis together, supporting each other. Sadly, as the months have gone by the similarities have weakened. The consensus as to how to cope with the pandemic has slackened, and the divisions in the country between rich and poor, north and south, have become much more evident.

Those who have fought for this country have often done so out of a desire to serve and the hope for the building of a better nation. We honour and mourn them today. For them and for us, the question is: what sort of a nation do we want? How can we work towards it? There are few better starting points than “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream”. Now more than ever, what we believe about loving God and loving our neighbour is vital if those who have less are not going to grow even poorer. It is a huge challenge when much poverty and abuse is behind closed doors but we are, for good reasons, urged to keep apart from one another. Being aware of those who live near to us is a first step. Contributing to food banks as we are able is another. Keeping in touch is vital.

“Righteousness” is a similar word to “justice” and has the emphasis of “uprightness”. For us, I think it’s about holding on to what we believe, asking God to help us live as honourably as we can, not compromising our principles of love, justice and fairness. And in these times to cling on to hope.

The gospel reading urges us to be prepared and not to give up. The unprepared bridesmaids perhaps did not expect the Bridegroom to be as much delayed as turned out to be the case. Earlier this year we may well not have expected to be back in lockdown at this time. The prepared bridesmaids were ready to keep going as long as it took. It’s not just Covid for which we need patience, trust and hope. The world can seem an alarming place where justice and righteousness are in short supply. The reading is encouraging us to keep on trusting that ultimately in God all will be well. Holding on to that hope and trust is our best preparation. Amen.