Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Amos is the source of this weekend’s first reading. Amos is one of the relatively few prophets of whom something is known. Many prophets give some details about themselves, but not many give more than a few details.
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 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 B.C. and 742 B.C. It was a time of prosperity and national security.
Even so, as often has been the case in history, the poor still were in want. The gap between the rich and the less fortunate was quite evident.
Amos saw himself as an authentic prophet. The other “prophets” of his time, he thought, were hired by the king to strengthen the king’s rule over the people. Under such arrangements, these other “prophets” could not trusted to preach the undefiled word of God. 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 A.D., Ephesus was a major commercial center in the Roman Empire, being an important port on the Mediterranean Sea. (Shifts in the soil and collections of sediment along the coast have left the ruins of Ephesus, in present-day Turkey, a distance from the seashore.)
Ephesus also was a center for the vices and fast business usually associated with major ports.
In addition, it was one of the most popular religious shrines in the empire. Its great temple, dedicated to Diana, the goddess of the moon, was an architectural marvel 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 Christian commitment of the followers of Christ in the city. This reading serves this purpose by reminding the Christian Ephesians that Jesus died for them, and that in faith they are one with the Lord.
St. Mark’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. In this reading, Jesus summons the Twelve, the Apostles whom the Lord called by name. Jesus sends them out into the highways and byways. He tells them not to burden themselves with supplies or provisions. God will supply.
They obediently went out into the countryside, preaching 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.
The reading from the Epistle to the Ephesians is key to understanding this weekend’s Liturgy of the Word. Originally it was written for a group of believers surrounded on all sides by paganism, hostility and sin.
The epistle reassured them, and this weekend, through the readings, it reassures us. We have been redeemed. Our knowledge of Christ is neither accidental nor coincidental. God has chosen us individually. Christ is with us.
Still, we need nourishment and guidance as we continue to live on earth. God did not abandon the Chosen People in ancient times. He sent prophets to them.
This divine concern endures. God sent messengers, in the persons of the Twelve, and the messengers now are the bishops in the Church who bring us the words of the Gospels even now.
Through the Apostles, and their successors, God heals us, in Christ. Healed and renewed, we move forward to eternal life. We will never die.
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