Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

By Father Paul Nord, O.S.B.

Sunday Scripture

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

At the time of the prophet Amos, the 12 tribes of Israel had divided into two kingdoms. First, there was the kingdom of Judah in the south with its political capital and temple in Jerusalem. Second was the kingdom of the north, often simply called “Israel.” It consisted of the 10 northern tribes. This northern kingdom had two sanctuaries — one at Dan in the north and another at Bethel in the south. The Israelites of the northern kingdom were expected to worship at either Bethel or Dan. Worshipping in Jerusalem was seen as showing political loyalty to the southern kingdom, Judah.

Amos was originally from the southern kingdom — he is described as belonging to “the shepherds of Tekoa” in Amos 1:1. Tekoa was a town south of Jerusalem in Judah. Despite this, Amos was active as a prophet in the northern kingdom — “Israel.” In today’s reading, Amaziah, a priest of Bethel, is basically saying to Amos “Go home and leave us alone.” Amaziah’s actual words are: “Off with you, visionary, flee to the land of Judah!” Despite this, it appears that the remainder of Amos’ prophecy (Amos 8–9) was still proclaimed in the northern kingdom, Israel.

Note that Amaziah is “priest of Bethel” — one of the two sanctuaries of the northern kingdom. Thus his political and religious loyalties belong to “Israel” in the north — not to “Judah” in the south. In the previous verses, Amaziah had said to Jeroboam, king of Israel: “Amos has conspired against you ... For this is what Amos says: ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be exiled from its land’” (Amos 7:10-11).

Notice that Amaziah focuses on the danger to the king. Amaziah wants King Jeroboam to act against Amos the prophet. It seems that Amaziah is accurately reporting Amos’ message. For example, Amos prophesied that the people of Israel (northern kingdom) would be exiled from their land in Amos 4:2-3; Amos 5:5, 26-27, and elsewhere. Further, Amos had said in 7:9 that: “the sanctuaries of Israel [shall be] made desolate; and I will attack the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”

In the second half of our reading, Amos’ response would make a great dramatized speech. Like many languages, Hebrew often omits the personal pronouns — “I,” “you,” “we,” etc. But in verse 14, Amos uses the personal pronoun “I” (anoki) three times. This gives a strong emphasis. Imagine Amos’ hand on his upper chest pointing to himself: “No prophet was I. Not a prophet’s son was I. A shepherd, I was — and a dresser of sycamores.”

By contrast, the action of the Lord God is the focus of verse 15. Amos emphasizes: “The LORD took me from the flock. The LORD said to me: ‘Go! Prophesy to my people Israel!’” Imagine Amos pointing heavenward as he delivers these words to Amaziah. Amos’ message might be paraphrased as: “I was not born a prophet, nor did I seek this role. But the LORD God sent me to be a prophet — and so I obey and proclaim his message to you.”

Our second reading is from the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. He begins with a beautiful prayer of blessing: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul praises God for sending his Son, Jesus, as our savior. Paul describes how God “in love ... destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ.” Paul continues that, “In [Christ] we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions.” Paul explains that this was God’s “plan for the fullness of times” — that all creation would be redeemed in Christ.

Verses 11-12 describe Paul and his missionary companions: “we were also chosen ... so that we might exist for the praise of his glory, we who first hoped in Christ.” By contrast, verses 13-14 focus on Paul’s audience — the Ephesians: “In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit ... to the praise of his glory.” Paul is praising God that both he and the Ephesians have been saved by Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.

In today’s gospel (Mark 6), Jesus calls “the Twelve” — and then sends them out “two by two” to proclaim the gospel. These 12 apostles were named earlier in Mark 3:14-19 — where Jesus appointed them to preach and to cast out demons. Jesus is giving his disciples the authority to continue the mission that he has begun (see Mark 1–5).

Jesus commands his disciples to depend upon the hospitality of those to whom they proclaim the Gospel. Jesus tells them to take along “no food, no sack, no money.” It might be hard for us to imagine leaving for a journey like this. But Jesus wants his disciples to trust in God’s providence — as God works through the generosity of other people.

Jesus tells his disciples: “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.” Imagine that the disciples arrive in a new town and someone offers to host them as guests in their home. Some days later, another person also offers them hospitality — but with a bigger guest room, or nicer conditions. Accepting such an offer would likely insult the first person who had provided them hospitality. Jesus commands his disciples to resist such a temptation, and to humbly accept whatever they are offered — without desiring for more.

If anyone rejects the disciples’ gospel teaching, Jesus instructs them to “shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” Some commentators suggest that it was sometimes Jewish practice — when leaving Gentile territory — to shake the dust of Gentile lands off one’s feet as one arrived home in Jewish territory. Jesus’ imagery instructs the disciples to completely disassociate themselves from anyone who rejects the Gospel of Christ when it is proclaimed to them. Finally, note that the disciples “preached repentance” as an essential element of being freed from evil and being healed in Jesus’ name.