15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B
Amos 7:12-15 Ephesians 1:3-14 Mark 6:7-13
The Old Testament prophets were extraordinary disciples of the God of Israel. They stood out from the general population. They trusted in and depended upon God’s protection, sustenance, and insight more overtly than did anyone else. On the one hand, a prophet’s presence in the community was a sign that God was interested in that community, and that God’s power was at work among this people. On the other hand, having a prophet close by often contrasted with what passed for the ordinary and culturally acceptable. Sometimes the ordinary culture was the target of the prophet’s critique. New Testament disciples are the heirs to the Old Testament prophets in that both groups claim to pay close attention respectively to God and the Messiah.
The prophet Amos was the first of the book prophets, i.e., those who’s preaching and teaching have found their ways into the canon of scripture in books bearing their names. He flourished in the 8th Century BC and ministered during the middle of that century. While born in the southern Kingdom of Judah, he began his ministry in the northern Kingdom of Israel, which is where today’s first reading is set. He is considered a foreigner to the priest who scolds him for prophesying against the corruption which was rather rampant in the northern kingdom at the time. Amos was not a professional prophet as he points out. It was God who called him to and authorized him in the office of free-agent prophet. He preached, but was in no one’s pay, neither the king’s nor the priests of the shrine at Bethel. It was God who put the harsh prophetic (and well-deserved!) criticism in his mouth. Indeed, within a few decades, in 722 BC, the Kingdom of Israel would fall to the Assyrian Empire. Amos was arguably the harshest of all the classical or book prophets. He saw no real alternative than that God would revoke the covenant of Moses and justly punish Israel with destruction through the Gentiles. In any event, even being scolded by Amaziah the priest after having been reported by him of treason against the king of the day (Jeroboam II), he would not abandon the divine charge and continued his prophetic work. He was faithful to God’s word rather than to common public opinion.
In the Gospel narrative, Jesus authorized the Twelve as missionaries of the Gospel message and instructed them on how they ought to conduct themselves. The details may strike us as rather quirky, but in ancient times, particular behaviors and qualities gave itinerant religious personalities their credentials as genuine and authoritative. The point, from our modern perspective, is that Jesus did then and still does call and send his disciples to do the work of announcing the Gospel message. Still today, our task is to be disciples effectively engaged in our own time and culture. We must speak the language of the people and translate the Gospel into terms meaningful and insightful to them. No artificially elevated language is effective. No shallow formal equivalency should be used because it makes both the speaker and the hearers pretend to be in a time and place and perspective not their own. The Gospel message must always be grounded in healthy reality. It is the clarity of the profound truth which sets us free from the slavery of the world’s dark side of superficiality and foolishness, pretense and abstruseness. When we preach by humble, prayerful, and loving word and example, the Gospel is inviting, freeing, edifying, joy-filled, wise, and intelligent.
The fairly lengthy passage from the beginning of the letter to the Ephesians is a combination of a blessing prayer for the recipients and an extended exhortation to them to keep their vocation to Gospel discipleship active in their lives. The normal human tendency is, of course, to allow even those most important and intense moments and realities of life to become routine. When routine sets in, the dynamism can diminish and the original enthusiasm wanes. Hence, friendship, marriage, occupation, mission, and the like, each risks becoming somewhat dull and even burdensome. Discipleship is a relationship with Christ, his Gospel, and his Church which is subject to the same risk of routine dullness. Some scholars sense that the letter to the Ephesians might be addressed to recently baptized Christians who’s original enthusiasm is in fact cooling down and losing its original enthusiasm. This long introduction to the letter is couched in phrases and terms, while a bit tedious to us moderns, which likely reminded those first century disciples of why they came to the Gospel fellowship in the first place.
This week’s word is aimed directly at normal Christians (us) who are busy with life and all that goes with it. The only real antidote to being too busy is to make time and take time to be reflective, to see, and to appreciate those blessings to which the letter to the Ephesians refers. Quite often, we hear the fundamental description of those baptized as “royal, priestly, and prophetic” or other versions of those adjectives. Each baptized individual must wrestle with being prophetic in Gospel life. And as the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) asserts about the liturgy itself, “full, conscious, and active participation” is the tone and attitude which each and all disciples should implement, preserve, and conserve in each and every aspect of Church life.
Come, Holy Spirit! Fill the hearts and minds of your faithful! Enkindle in us the fire of your Divine Love!