Fifteenth Sunday of the Year
15 July 2012
My brothers and sisters,
In today’s first reading we are introduced to Amos, farmer turned prophet, and one of the personalities of the Old Testament. Amos came from a small village in the hill country ofJudah, about five miles fromBethlehem. He experienced a call from God, which wrenched him away from his work on the land. Amos was a simple man but certainly not a simpleton. He was a critical observer of the social and religious scene in his day. He was the first prophet to commit his work to writing, a good communicator and was able to proclaim his message with clarity.
It was about the middle of the eighth century BC when Amos was sent to the Northern Kingdom,Israel. It was a prosperous kingdom and very powerful at this time. The land was full of plenty, the cities well built and adorned, the rich were able to afford fine houses. All was not well in the garden just the same; there was widespread corruption and immorality. The poor were exploited and often sold into slavery. There was an absence of justice and judges were corrupt.
People flocked to the shrines at festival time to practise elaborate ritual. Amos saw this as counterfeit, an enterprise abhorrent to God. He says to the people in the name of God :
I hate and despise your feasts,
I take no pleasure in your solemn festivals.
I reject your oblations,
and refuse to look at your sacrifices of fattened cattle.
Let me have no more of the dim of your chanting
But let justice flow like water,
and integrity like an unfailing stream. (5. 21-24).
You can see from this extract that Amos did not refrain from disturbing the peace. He went to the shrine at Bethel, which was the royal chapel, the sanctuary of the king. Here he came face to face with Amaziah the priest of Bethel. Amaziah accused Amos of disloyalty and contacted the king to tell him “Amos is plotting against you – The land is unable to endure all his words.” In today’s reading Amaziah tells Amos to go home and leave the royal sanctuary in peace.
Amos replied that he did not belong to the official prophets trade union. He was a shepherd and experienced a call from God. He says he did not become a prophet by self-appointment or by royal appointment. He was called by God for the declared purpose of announcing his message. So his loyalty to the Word of God has clear priority over anything in his life including his own personal safety.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus summons the twelve apostles and sends them out on mission. Like the prophet Amos, the chosen co-workers of Jesus have to carry the Word of God as a challenge to others. In that mission they have the authority and the power of Jesus. They travel on that. They are not to rely on their own resources but on the authority that has been given to them and the hospitality that will be offered to them. They are to trust in the kindness of others for bread and money.
The message that they carry and offer to people is their real resource. If they have bread to eat, it means that people are not only supportive of them but of the word they preach. If they are not accepted, they have no option but to move on. When a town rejects their message, the apostles are instructed to shake the dust from their feet (this was a symbolic act performed by strict Jews returning to Palestine after journeying abroad). Both the prophets and the apostles have to rely on the authority and power of the word given to them. In their work on the road they will meet with lots of challenges including disapproval and rejection. Not only will the message be tested; the messenger will too. The process continues every day in the life of the Church and the world – every time a preacher braces himself to declare the word of God, or indeed every time a Christian goes public on the values of the Gospel.
In today’s Scripture readings we see that the Lord called a rather simple and insignificant man called Amos to confront the king of Israel, Jeroboam and his priest Amaziah. Likewise we saw that Jesus called the twelve from surprising and unusual backgrounds – fishermen mending their nets, a tax collector, and gave them a new task. At the end of Mass we are all sent out to make the good news come alive for others by the way we live. We may wonder why priests and preachers have been given a special responsibility to do this. Remember Amos the farmer and the fishermen apostles. Whatever power and authority they had belonged not to them but to the word they carried, and whatever treasures of living and loving were offered to others through them – this was done through the power of God’s Spirit working in them and working through relatively weak human vessels.
+Liam S. MacDaid