As parents or grandparents we get what it means to be “prophets” who at least at times aren’t welcome in their home, let alone their hometown. We understand moving through our days with “only a walking stick” and we “preach repentance, drive out demons and cure the sick” on a daily basis. Such are the privileged and happy obligations of the everyday life of a parent and similarly for all Christians in ordinary times. Why “privileged and happy?” Because we love our children and we love and thrive as human beings in our relationships with God and others. Our Scripture readings for this Sunday remind us of who we have been, where we are now and how to move through life day by day.
The reading we hear for this Sunday from the book of Amos is situated near the end of a long indictment from God to the many neighbours of Judah and Israel and to Israel herself. The indictment Amos speaks on behalf of God tells of all of the violence, oppression, thievery, arrogance and self-indulgence going on between nations, and within the community of faith as well.
To Israel the Word cuts piercingly, “. . . because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes. They that trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and turn aside the way of the afflicted” (Am 2:6,7). Read through in one sitting, we hear God’s pathos, the tender call to return, and anger at the injustices being done constantly even as the so-called faithful make their offerings and pray their prayers.
Prayed with, we will hear echoes reverberate into our own times and into our own hearts. God will make distance in the relationship with a humankind that distances itself from a loving and faithful God, and the land, we are told, will tremble, burn down communities with fires and dry up with drought. Worst of all there will be a famine of hearing God’s Word, in other words of authentic loving relationship to be found overall (Am 8:11). At the end of the book, we hear the ultimate kindness of the whole of God’s word through Amos. In the end God will restore whatever is left of the land and the peoples after they have been purged of this indictment of evils.
All of this out of the mouth of a shepherd to the people of Judah in Israel! Is it any wonder the king’s servant, Amaziah, sends Amos away angrily? One wonders, would we hear him, or more pertinent, can we hear him today? The prophet’s words can sound harsh; the truth overwhelming and painful. But only this kind of truth saves and cures people and land in relationship with God. And, it appears, few are exempt from the indictment.
The psalm invites us to sing out to God that we may see God’s kindness and salvation. The psalmist tells us what we long to hear, that “kindness and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss.” After the purging comes a new, enlivened, fruitful relationship with God and the land for those who love God.
The reading from the letter to the Ephesians reads like a love poem to God, the Divine Trinity. Paul begins with expressing gratitude for the love of the Father/Mother that forgives and takes us in as children. Gratitude continues on with how we are held as one in union with Christ, carrying on the intentions of love relationships as friends, as beloveds. The journey for Paul is meant “to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth.”
And finally, we hear that we receive the Spirit as an inheritance to further love in the world. Not just in heaven, but on earth, now, we are invited to know and experience God’s extravagant love; to see with wonder the many gifts of our planet, to act with reverence for the common good of all.
Mark’s Gospel gives us some common sense wisdom for our journey. Go in pairs. Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs to do their work. Whether as couples or friends we need others to journey with and do good works. Together we keep each other real, humble, authentic, and honest in our energy and action. No secrets are kept hidden away in a fellowship of the common good. They are only kept in isolation.
Only take along a “walking stick” — no food, knapsack or extra clothes. The walking stick is for walking. Getting too comfortable in any one place is a clear sign it is time to move on. The movement and energies of love both inner and outer are to the places and people — inner and outer — who haven’t heard, who don’t know the good news. Without food or extra clothing you make room for intimacy and relationship with strangers and the “other” in your vulnerability. Your own need precedes anyone else’s! Only when we really understand and know this, when we ourselves are cleansed and humbled, confident and whole, can we speak to another the slivers they are in need of removing from their eyes to live whole, healthy lives, cured of disease and demons. In this way the disciples (ie. lifelong learners) are able to preach repentance, to cure dis-ease and cast out demons.
We live day by day to speak the truth with kindness so that justice and peace can kiss in our own lives and in the world. We live to make God’s glory and love known in ordinary as in extraordinary times.
Leduc is director for Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert, Alta.