15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Amos provides of this weekend’s first reading. Amos is one of the relatively few prophets of whom some personal details are known. Many prophets give some information about themselves, but most give little or none.
By contrast, it is known that Amos was from Tekoa, a small village about 10 miles south of Jerusalem in Judea. He herded sheep, and he tended fig trees. He obviously was intelligent, and he knew the traditions of his ancestors.
He wrote during the reign of King Uzziah of Judah, or between the years of 783 and 742 B.C.
Amos saw himself as an authentic prophet. The other so-called prophets of his time, he thought, were hired by the king ultimately to validate the king’s rule over the people. Under such arrangements, the other prophets could not be trusted to preach the undefiled word of God. Amos had no use for these imposters. They were not God’s servants, not sent by God.
So, this weekend’s reading reports a clash between Amos and a priest in the Jerusalem temple. Amos reasserts his role, insisting that he was called by God to be a prophet.
The Epistle to the Ephesians provides the second reading. In the first century, Ephesus was a major commercial center in the Roman Empire, an important port on the Mediterranean Sea. (Only ruins remain today.)
Ephesus hosted a fast traffic in vice usually associated with major ports. In addition, it was one of the most popular pagan religious shrines in the empire. Its great temple, dedicated to Diana, the goddess of the moon, was one of the marvels of the ancient world. Pilgrims came from everywhere in the empire to venerate the goddess.
Accommodating these pilgrims was itself a big business in Ephesus. The epistle sought to reinforce the commitment of the Christians in the city. This reading serves this purpose by reminding them that Jesus died for them, and that in faith they are one with the Lord, their Redeemer.
St. Mark’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. In this reading, Jesus summons the “Twelve,” the Apostles whom the Lord had deliberately called by name to the Apostolic vocation. Jesus sends them out into the highways and byways. He instructs them. He tells them not to burden themselves with supplies or provisions. God will supply.
They were obedient. They were the Lord’s representatives and spokesmen. They went out into the countryside. They preached what Jesus had taught them. They possessed the Lord’s power. They drove devils away. They anointed the sick, using that ancient gesture of healing and strengthening mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, and they cured the sick.
Jesus warned the Apostles that they would not be welcomed everywhere. In actual fact, according to tradition, only John did not die as a martyr.
The reading from Amos sets the stage this weekend. God communicates with us and guides, but only through those persons whom God expressly commissions. The reading from Mark validates the role and identity of the Apostles. No upstart can claim to equal any genuine prophet or Apostle.
The Epistle to the Ephesians was written for believers beseiged on all sides by paganism and by hostility. The epistle reassured them. It reassures us. We have been redeemed. God has chosen us. Christ is with us.
We find God, and we hear the Lord, not by coincidence or luck. God sends the Good News of salvation to us through the very Son of God, through the Twelve to whom the Lord commissioned the continuing work of mercy and salvation.
Quite simply, these Twelve live, and still act, in and through the Church. Imposters will challenge them and attempt to usurp their role, and maybe the imposter is the tendency within ourselves to sin.
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