Twenty-Fifth Sunday In Ordinary Time, Year C
Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8; 1 Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13
The first reading is from the prophet Amos. The date of his ministry as a prophet was sometime in the 740s B.C. The collection of his oracles constitutes the oldest of the prophetic books. He was from the Kingdom of Judah in the south, but his work as prophet was in the north, in the kingdom of Israel. He was a rancher, (sheep or cattle), and an orchardist. In this latter profession his specialty was “a tender of mulberry figs.” This entailed puncturing immature fruit of these trees to make them turn sweeter as they ripened. His message was a message of doom for the kingdom of Israel. Among other reasons for the Lord’s anger against Israel was the cold-hearted treatment of the poor and the powerless by the rich and powerful. The section of Amos we have as our first reading can be entitled, “Against Swindlers and Exploiters.”
Amos begins, “Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land.” Valid still are the oracles of this prophet of social justice. He accuses the merchants who impatiently wait until the feast of the New Moon is over so they can sell grain with cheating scales. Same with the Sabbath. Work was forbidden on the feast of the New Moon, Leviticus 23:24, just as it was on the Sabbath. The merchants respected religion but disrespected the poor. Amos quotes the merchants, “We will measure (the grain) with a small container, then weigh it with a heavier weight.” Deuteronomy 25:13-16 forbids exactly these practices. See also Proverbs 20:10 and Leviticus 19:35-36. “Acquiring a man for silver” means taking over his property for debts. The same was done over a pair of sandals for which the poor could not pay. They were reduced to debt slavery. The “refuse of the wheat” is the chaff and trash left over after winnowing the grain. This they sold as wheat. Amos has a sentence of doom for them, “The Lord has sworn . . . , ‘Never will I forget a thing they have done.’” Within 20 years, 721 B.C., the kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrian army. The social imbalance was too heavy for the nation to survive.
The Responsorial Psalm, 113, is a song of praise for a merciful God. An amusing verse, “Who is like the Lord our God? Enthroned so high, that he needs to stoop down to see the sky and the earth.” The reason for selecting Psalm 113 as a response to Amos’ scathing denunciations is in these words, “He raises the poor from the dust. From the dunghill he lifts up the poor.” The first part of this verse finds echoes in Amos, the second part in Mary’s Hymn, the Magnificat.
The second reading continues the series of readings from the Letters to Timothy. As noted in last week’s column, these letters are called Pastoral Letters. This is obvious from today’s reading —an assembly of admonitions for the men of Timothy’s churches. Advice for women will follow immediately after this in the letter, but the assemblers of the Lectionary wisely omitted that part, thus keeping their lives more pleasant. (One is reminded of several attempts of the American bishops some years ago to write a pastoral letter to and for women. They finally gave up.) The author of the letter asks for prayers for all, beginning with those in government. Then a statement that negates the strange theology that God created some people to be condemned, “God wishes all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” What’s the proof? “Christ Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all.” Another theological principle: “There is one God, also one mediator between God and humankind, the man Jesus Christ . . . .” The author, speaking as Paul, gives his credentials. “I was appointed preacher and apostle — I am speaking the truth, I am not lying — teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.”