Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 16, 2006
St. John Fisher Church, Cincinnati
(Based on Amos 7:12-15; Psalm 85; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13)
In today’s Gospel Mark introduces us to the instructions that Jesus and the early church would give to those who were called to carry on the mission of Jesus by proclaiming the good news of his Father’s will for humanity.
It’s sort of a handbook or their marching orders, responding to the kinds of questions they might have raised as they accepted their role. “Where are we supposed to stay? How long? What are we supposed to do if they accept our word? And what if they reject it? And what about our food?”
The physical conditions of that day differ very much from our times, of course. But the basic principles are still just as important as they were then:
1] Travel light; get rid of the excess baggage that could weigh you down and hinder your mission
2] Stay clear and focused know what is essential and what is only the external trappings; and
3] Don’t expect to be greeted with flowers! People are not going to be pleased with your message and they will attack you for it.
So with those guidelines on place we can turn our attention to that odd little first reading, the one from the prophet Amos. Who are these people? Amos and Amaziah and Jeroboam? We don’t get any context to help us see what’s really going on. And what does it have to do with the first reading, or with us in our present world?
As the story of Amos unfolds we find ourselves back in the 8th century before Christ. What’s going on then?
Things are going well for the Israelites. They are enjoying a booming economy. There is peace, with their neighbors and within the two kingdoms of the people. They are at the peak of their power.
Except for one thing: the whole system is in violation of their Covenant with the Lord. Because it’s all based on the plundering of the poor by the rich.
Just listen to some of the charges Amos levels against the people in the chapters before today’s reading:
. . . they sell the just man for silver,
and the poor man for a pair of sandals.
They trample the heads of the weak into the dust of the earth,
and force the lowly out of the way. [2:6-7]
. . . they know not how to do what is right,
says the Lord,
storing up in their cities
what they have extorted and robbed.
Therefore, thus says the Lord God:
An enemy shall surround the land,
and strip you of your strength,
and pillage your castles.
. . . the Israelites who dwell in Samaria shall escape
with the corner of a couch or a piece of a cot. [3:10-12]
On the day when I punish Israel for his crimes,
I will visit also the altars of Bethel;
The horns of the altar shall be broken off
and fall to the ground.
Then (see how rich they really were!) I will strike the winter house
and the summer house;
The ivory apartments shall be ruined,
and their many rooms shall be no more. [3:14-15]
In a covenanted people there was to be no disparity; all were equal before Yahweh. As one writer puts it: “A covenant faith in one God included the concept of the brotherhood of all Israel. A nation can have a true covenant relationship with God only when the people of that nation deal justly with one another. Social justice is an indispensable part pf covenant responsibility.”
And who is this fellow to dare to expose the sickness of their society?
Amos was a nobody, a hick from the country. The sycamore on that area produced a small, hard, bitter fruit that was the food of the poor. And tending to the trees was only a seasonal job. It turns out that in our contemporary language Amos would be described as a migrant farm-worker. He’s not from the clergy, the religious in-group. He didn’t hang around with the professional theologians’ club of that day.
But God had given him insight into what was going on. And even more dramatically, the courage to tell the world about it. Even at a most holy shrine. Bethel was the second most important holy place in all Israel, after the Temple at Jerusalem. It would be like the situation if a migrant farm worker were to stand, not on the steps of the Vatican but on the steps of our Cathedral of St. Peter in Chains, and say it’s all corrupt.
And how is he received?
Amaziah is the priest, the local religious bigwig responsible for order at the shrine. So we read: “[he] sent word to Jeroboam, the king of Israel: ‘Amos has conspired against you here within Israel; the country cannot endure his words. For this is what Amos says:
Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
and Israel shall surely be exiled from the land.”
He’s accusing Amos of being disloyal, of being a conspirator against God’s anointed. It’s upsetting the people. This is treason.
He’s unpatriotic. He must be driven out.
So what do these two readings have to do with each other – and to us today?
The other passage we read, from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, was part of a baptismal proclamation, the catechesis that would be given to those preparing to be joined to the Christian community. Through Baptism you and I are called to proclaim the mystery which was revealed in Jesus. The mystery was that the Father has had a plan from all eternity, and that plan is to bring everything and everyone on earth into unity. Whether slave or free, Greek or Roman, male or female; white or a person of color, Democrat or Republican. All are called to be treated with justice, as sisters and brothers. By our Baptism and our share in the prophetic ministry of Jesus we are called to speak out wherever anyone is being excluded from their share in the blessings of this earth – or the blessings of our church.
Amos is the model of the layperson of our future church and world.
Just consider the kind of future we are facing in our church. We will have fewer and fewer priests. God will still work God’s plan, but it will be in new ways, in ways that will call us to change. You, the laity, will be responsible for decisions and choices the priests used to make. There will be no room for consumer Christians, just going along for the ride.
Think of some of the issues we face in our country right now. What kind of a message are we proclaiming about the undocumented immigrants? Are they economic baggage or our brothers and sisters, simply trying to provide for their families under dire and hostile social arrangements? Or what about those who have been swept up in the dragnet of presumed terrorists but are deprived of basic human rights of self-defense? Do we as Christians have a responsibility to stand up to policies of our government that condone brutal treatment of these brothers and sisters?
Sharing in Christ’s prophetic mission can call for great courage and integrity.
As we receive that same Lord in the Eucharists let’s pray that we may grow into the full maturity and dignity promised us at our Baptism.
And then recall the three simple traveling rules. Get rid of the excess baggage and travel light. Focus on what is essential and let the trivia take care of itself. And be ready to be rejected.