July 11, 2021, Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
In the northern kingdom of Israel, Amaziah was a corrupt priest with a cushy job in a royal sanctuary. The prophet Amos has criticized him, the king and other leaders for their neglect of the poor. Amaziah tries to banish Amos to the southern kingdom, Judah. Amos defends himself.
We begin today a seven-week survey of the Letter to Ephesians. Its main themes are that God had always been planning to spread favor not just to Jews but to the Gentiles, that this long-concealed plan has now been revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and that Jews and Gentiles are to be reconciled.
In the first half of Mark's gospel, Jesus' reputation has grown because of his teaching and miracles. He has started some controversies. His disciples have accompanied him closely. Now Jesus sends them out to spread his message and works further.
Our Liturgical Setting: In our Sunday-by-Sunday journey through Saint Mark's gospel this year, we're at the point where Jesus sends his disciples out to preach and heal. He prepares them for rejection ("If a place won't hear you, shake its dust from your feet.") This first reading is about the rejection of an Old Testament prophet.
The Historical Situation: For a long time, the territory we call the Holy Land was divided between a northern kingdom called Israel and a southern kingdom known as Judah. The city Jerusalem was in Judah. In the northern kingdom, at Bethel (Hebrew for "House of God") there was a very ancient shrine. Its priesthood was older than that established by Moses' brother Aaron. Israel was prosperous, at least for the upper classes, in the 8th century B.C.E., and the Bethel priests were comfortable cronies of the king.
In this milieu lived a man named Amos, street-smart and a savvy observer of the human condition. He knew his tradition. Amos remembered how his people's God had chosen a rag-tag band of slaves in Egypt, made them his own, and led them to freedom. Amos knew that this God of the poor was not happy with the current neglect and exploitation of the poor by the powerful. So he spoke up. As prophets do, he predicted the overthrow of throne and shrine by the hand of God. And as the reactionary do, the priest of Bethel told Amos to get out. That's what Amaziah is doing when he urges Amos to go south to Judah.
Proclaiming It: In your proclamation, try to capture the drama here. The priest is angry, or perhaps weary, and wants the prophet to leave his turf. The prophet (use a different tone of voice) is defensive. He protests that he didn't appoint himself prophet; only God did that.
The Theological Background: There are two elements of this reading that you should keep at the forefront, and not let get lost in the long sentences:
This prospect excited the author of Ephesians, (See how Paul expressed it in Romans 9-11) and makes this passage quite dramatic.
Proclaiming It: To convey that excitement to your congregation, emphasize the mystery which we now have the wisdom to understand, and the plan to bring all things into one under Christ.
Then in the final paragraph make sure your congregation hears the contrasts between "you" and "us" so they'll get a feel for the great reconciliation described here.
I once heard an excellent homily based on today's gospel. Building on Jesus' injunction that his missionaries travel light, the preacher asked us about the baggage we carry through life, baggage in the sense of our dispositions, expectations, fears and the like.
I would amplify that with these links to the first and second readings. The priest Amaziah had grown comfortable with his baggage, his cozy position in the Bethel sanctuary, and that institution's alliance with the institution of kingship. This prevented him from hearing the prophecy of Amos. And in Ephesus, Jews and Gentiles had, like Jews and Gentiles elsewhere, carried baggage in the form of prejudice about each other. Saint Paul blesses God for letting both groups shed these burdens, embrace each other, and reveal God's long-hidden plan. What prejudices burden us, keeping us from cooperating in God's universal plan of salvation? To what comforts are we so loyal that we are deaf to the Word of God?
The book of the prophet Amos begins: "The words of Amos, who was one of the sheepbreeders from Tekoa, which he received in a vision concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah, king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam, son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake."
This miniature depicting the call of Amos is borrowed from Rorate Coeli, the international traditional Catholic web blog. (I found it first, in 2015, at Art & Bible, a website offline in 2018, and in 2021, online and selling skin-care products.) Both sites have said this work is by the unknown Illustrator of Petrus Comestor's 'Bible Historiale', France, 1372, which is kept in the Museum Meermanno Westreenianum, The Hague, (manuscript "Den Haag, MMW, 10 B 23").
The expression Rorate Coeli is Latin for "Drop down dew, you heavens," the first phrase of Isaiah 45:8.
Lector's Notes displays this artwork despite the risk that it will direct the reader to the call of Amos rather than to his message.
This page updated June 29, 2021