Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Father Donald Dilger

Sunday Scripture

First Reading: Amos 7:12-15; Response: Psalm 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14; Second Reading: Ephesians 1:3-14; Gospel: Mark 6:7-13

Amos is the first prophet whose oracles have been handed down in written form. We speak of the Book of Amos, but more accurately it is the Scroll of Amos. His prophetic ministry took place circa 745 B.C. The empire of King David had extended from the boundary of Egypt to the Euphrates River, also known as ‘the Great River.’ Under King Solomon, David’s son and successor, the empire began to show cracks. Solomon died in 922 B.C. He was succeeded by his son Rehoboam. The kingdom split into the Kingdom of Israel in the north and the Kingdom of Judah in the south. Since the temple was at Jerusalem in the southern kingdom, King Jeroboam in the north had a problem. His people would still be drawn to the temple in Jerusalem to worship God. So he built two temples, one at the northern end of his kingdom at the city of Dan, the other at Bethel in the south. Amos was from the Kingdom of Judah. He was a herder of livestock and an orchardist, a ‘dresser of sycamores.’ This involved puncturing the unripe fruit of mulberry fig trees to make them turn sweet. We might expect that this farmer, if at all called to be the Lord’s prophet, would be sent to his own people. Instead Amos was sent to proclaim the word of the Lord in the northern kingdom. 

He may have proclaimed throughout the kingdom but the setting of today’s reading is in the temple at Bethel. A reading of his oracles reveals that the content of his message put him in danger of his life. He came into a foreign country, denounced social injustice, and proclaimed the doom of the country. Not well received! The priest in charge at Bethel was Amaziah. Our first reading is Amaziah’s warning to Amos and Amos’ response. The warning is loaded with contempt and ridicule. “Be gone, Seer, (obsolete term for a prophet). Flee to the land of Judah. Eat your bread there. Prophesy there. Never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the sanctuary of the king and a temple of the kingdom.” Amos was guilty of lese majesty, an offense against the king. Amos responds, “I am no prophet, nor the son (disciple) of a prophet, but a herdsman and dresser of sycamores. The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” Amos’ personal verbal attack on Amaziah is not material for a Sermon on the Mount. “Your wife will be a prostitute in the city, and you yourself will die in an unclean land.” In less than three decades, 722 B.C., the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom, exiled its people, and imported other tribes who brought their gods with them.

Psalm 85 has no obvious connection with the reading from Amos. It is a song of praise or flattery of God with the expected gratitude from God voiced in the eople’s response, “Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.” There is however a verse that connects with Amos as a preacher of social justice, though not a theme included in our first reading. “Kindness and truth shall meet. Justice and peace shall kiss.” In other words, there is no peace without justice.”

The reading from Ephesians is a doxology, a hymn of praise. One is reminded of the great doxology of our Mass — the Gloria in excelsis Deo. Like the Gloria, it praises Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Like our creeds, it notes the work or operations of each of the Divine Persons. The Father destined us for adoption. The adoptive process was accomplished through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ cooperating with the Father. Redemption brings with it the forgiveness of sins through the blood of Jesus. Our adoption was sealed through the Holy Spirit, (a reference to baptism), as the “first installment of our inheritance.”

Jesus had just paid a visit to Nazareth, his hometown. He found no acceptance there, just con-tempt and rejection. At the end of the visit to Nazareth Mark inserted a devastating remark about Jesus’ fellow townsmen, “Because of their lack of faith, he was unable to do any mighty deed there, except healing a few sick people.” Rejection at home leads to outreach beyond. In the next episode, today’s gospel, Jesus sends his disciples on their first mission without chaperoning them. Earlier in the gospel, when Jesus chose the Twelve, Mark stated the purpose, “to be with him, to be sent out to preach, and to cast out demons.” Up to this point they had fulfilled “to be with him.” Time now to do the rest of their job description – preaching and casting out demons. A new ministry is added, “to anoint the sick with oil and cure them.” Jesus sends them two by two, perhaps a reflection of Torah law requiring two witnesses to substantiate serious matter. Their personal equipment was limited, “Take nothing for the journey except a walking stick.” Sandals were permitted, but no change of clothing. No bread! Their food was to be provided by those to whom they preached. No sack? Not needed if one can take no supplies. No money either. Long before Mark wrote his gospel, Paul laid down the rule in 1 Corinthians 9:9, “Thou shalt not put a muzzle on an ox that treads out the grain,” quoting Deuteronomy 25:4.

In whatever home they were first welcomed, that became their headquarters. This prevented the human inclination to seek out wealthier clients with the best accommodations. Did these rules work? Perhaps in the beginning, but by the end of the century a guidebook, the Didache, had to make new rules. A prophet (a Christian missionary) who stayed more than two days was a fake, a moocher. If he went into a trance and ordered food for himself — again a moocher. Mark adds a puzzling regulation: “Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust from your feet as a witness against them.” Was this a curse? Paul and Silas used this practice to symbolize a curse. See Acts 13:51 and a similar action in Acts 18:6. Mark closes the episode, “So they went out and preached repentance.” What may have been the content of their preaching? Perhaps similar to the message of Jesus in Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”