On August 28, 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed more than 250,000 people from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. “I have a dream,” he intoned, calling on the crowd to imagine an America where racial injustice no longer oppressed people. Part of his text that day was taken from Amos 5:24: “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” Indeed, the Reverend King and many proponents of civil rights legislation at the time used the Bible to support their campaign for racial justice.
Some mistakenly believe that the Bible is simply a book with rules to govern our Sunday affairs and that the rest of the week is ours to do with as we please. But to follow Christ does not permit us to divide between the religious and the secular—between Sunday and the six days that follow. Every minute of our lives belongs to God, and pleasing Him is more than a matter of performing religious duties. In fact, Amos makes clear that in the midst of her oppression of the poor, even her idolatrous worship practices, Israel maintained the façade of religious observance. She was observing the proper feast days, convening regularly for worship and its sacrificial rituals. She sang enthusiastic praise songs to God, played musical instruments with zeal. But none of this pleased God: He longed for the practice of justice instead.
We have a picture in our reading today of what true repentance is and is not. Repentance is not just adding extra Bible reading and prayer to our day. Repentance is not just committing to more regular church attendance. These spiritual disciplines are important, but God also wants us to seek justice in the world: protection for the poor, freedom for the oppressed, help for the marginalized.
Repentance is a turning to the Lord, but it also involves a turning from sin. In Matthew 19:16–22, the rich young man was asked to turn from his love of money and turn toward God; his unwillingness to do the former prevented him from doing the latter. To turn toward God, what must you turn from?