15TH SUNDAY (B) JULY 14, 2024

Amos 7: 12-15; Psalm 85: 9-14;
Ephesians 1: 3-14; Mark 6: 7-13

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

Amos sounds like a reluctant prophet in today’s first reading. And who can blame him? Being a prophet, even on a small scale, is a challenging profession. Have you ever tried telling someone sitting across the dinner table, or at the next desk in your office, or on your softball team, that their actions are unjust? If you have then you have an insight into Amos’ situation today.

Amos lived in the eighth century BCE. He was from Judah, the “southern kingdom.” He challenged the religious and political rulers in Israel, the “northern kingdom.” Judah was being taxed with heavy burdens by Israel. So Amos, a shepherd in Judah, was called by God to go north to Bethel, an important place of worship and prophesy against Israel’s abuses of the poor. This shepherd became a fiery preacher who predicted the destruction of Bethel. Obviously, God was at work in this shepherd, now prophet, from the hill country.

Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, challenges Amos telling him he is not welcome in Israel suggesting that Amos was a traitor. The prophet had preached against Israel’s injustices against the poor. He also challenged Israel’s empty worship practices. Amos warned that the whole nation would be destroyed. He called the people to acknowledge the rule of God in their lives. His preaching anticipates the reign of God Jesus proclaimed in his healings and his message. In today’s gospel Jesus commissions his disciples to be prophets and anticipates that, like Amos, they will be rejected because of their message – his message.

We people of faith need to attend to the voice of the prophets, even when, as with Amos, they confront us on our worship of false gods: wealth, militarism, power, oppression, etc. Prophets speak a word from God, not only challenging our idolatry, but also promising a security based on divine justice, that leads to showing mercy to all.

The Responsorial Psalm prays to hear what God has to say. The people seem to be in distress and have already made an appeal to God. They are now doing what we do when we have laid out our case to God; they are waiting for a response. If that describes our current situation, praying the Psalm will help us as we wait with our questions, doubt, or inpatience. The Psalm expresses trust that God will respond to us: “The Lord will give his benefits, our land shall yield its increase.”

Speaking of prophets: the gospel narrates Jesus sending his disciples on a missionary journey. They have followed him up to this point and this will be their first preaching mission. Relying on their own powers and abilities will only end in failure. They are simple farmers, fishers, tradespeople – hardly gifted preachers. Jesus tells them to put aside the “essentials” such a task would ordinarily require.

These missionaries are going to deal with “unclean spirits.” Fill in the blanks: what unclean spirits do we face living our Christian lives: speaking the truth to power; defending the rights of the poor and displaced; befriending the imprisoned; feeding the stranger, etc.? The only way the apostles and we can fulfill our assigned prophetic calling is through the authority of Jesus. We are not on our own, we have Jesus as our guide and presence as we fulfill the tasks he has given us.

Jesus is realistic. He doesn’t want to set up his apostles for failure. But they will be rejected; but shouldn’t get discouraged. or downcast when that happens. These prophets – we prophets – are to pick up and move on “…shake the dust off your feet." It was a symbolic gesture the Israelites did when they returned from a pagan land.)

Note that the mission the apostles were to do took two shapes: words and deeds. They were to have authority over unclean spirits and to preach repentance. This would be a visible fulfillment of what Jesus said in the beginning of Mark’s gospel: “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (1:15). Jesus now has coworkers, partners, in his mission to fulfill God’s saving plan for all. These workers are given the very power Jesus had over all kinds of evil. It might be the personal sins we encounter in our own lives or the immediate world or, like Amos, we may have to challenge local and national government, even our own church, when they do not live up to Jesus’ teaching.

Jesus is no longer with us in his flesh. But we are his flesh and blood in our present time. The readings show today God has chosen ordinary people like us and given us extraordinary powers. Every day we have opportunities to touch the minds and hearts of those around us at home, school, work, or recreation. By our words and the example of our lives, we announce the nearness of God: “The kingdom of God is at hand.”

Amos was what we would call an “ordinary guy.” Jesus’ first disciples were also ordinary men and women. God doesn’t seem to have any qualifications for higher education, influence, or talent. It’s just us ordinary folk here. But that means we have no excuse when God calls us to do a chosen task, big or small, in words or actions. God has a habit of calling plain folk to proclaim Jesus’ message but always equips them with what they need to fulfill their mission.

That being true, we don’t have to worry if we have all the “baggage” to perform our tasks. As we heard in the readings today, we are the ones sent by the Lord and given authority over unclean spirits. So, we ask for the guidance to learn from the Spirit what is our inspired and directed task. Then we set about to fulfill it.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings: