Sunday, July 12, 2009

Go Prophesy To My People.

In today’s first reading, we hear the adventures of Amos, a shepherd and tree-trimmer who was called by God to be a prophet. Amos was gifted with some troubling visions, first, in early chapters, warnings to the rich and self-righteous leaders of Israel that they ran the risk of God’s wrath if they did not change their attitudes, and later for the unjust and oppressive King Jeroboam of Judah, who had conquered Israel in fulfillment of the earlier prophesy.

Earlier in the chapter from which our first reading is taken, Amos sees three visions of what is going to happen. The first is a swarm of locusts which will eat up the early sprouts of grain, including the King’s Portion. The shepherd-prophet pleads that this not happen, and his prayer is answered favorably. The second is a drought that will ravage the crops of grain and the herds of cattle. Once again, Amos pleads with the Lord and the Lord relents.

The third vision is of a man with a plumb line. When I was in my teens, I spent the summer with my father, a plumber. I didn’t learn much about pipe fitting, but I did learn the use of a plumb line. He used it to ensure that the supply pipes that brought water to the fixtures in the kitchen, the laundry room and the privy chamber were perpendicular to the ground, so that the fresh water would rise, and the waste water would fall, without creating air pockets – which made their presence known by a phenomenon known as “water hammer”.

The same technique is used by stonemasons to make sure that the walls they build are not out of line. In today’s reading, Israel is the wall, which is leaning badly out of plumb, and is about to crumble. The Lord tells Amos that he is about to destroy everything that Israel holds dear and in which they have placed their confidence. This time, Amos does not intervene, but instead warns the leaders of Israel of the forthcoming disaster.

Amaziah, a confidant of Jeroboam, sends word to the King that Amos must be silenced, since he is predicting disaster. Then, he warns Amos that he should stop prophesying, or, better still, that he should go south, and issue warnings to the King of Judah. Amos’ response is a model of both humility and confidence: I am just a shepherd and a tree-trimmer. It was God who called me to bring these warnings to the King and to the people. If I refuse, not only will the Lord choose someone else to bring these warnings, but I’m going to be in deep trouble for refusing to do what God wants me to do.

Today’s gospel is Mark’s account of the mission of the disciples of Jesus. That word “mission” comes from the Latin “mittere”, which means “to send’. Jesus sends his disciples forth with a set of directives on what to say, who to say it to, and how they are to comport themselves on their mission. Like Amos in the Old Testament readings, they are not only going to “test their wings”, but also test their own fidelity to Jesus’ word. Take no food for the journey, and no money to buy food on the way. They drove out many demons, and cured many who were sick. Apparently, they were fairly successful, since the gospel doesn’t tell us that they ever went hungry or lacked for whatever they needed.

Jesus did advise them not to imagine that everyone would accept them, simply because they did good things for some people. In fact, he warned them that they would sometimes be rejected, and when that happened, they were simply to shake the dust from their sandals and move on.

Last week, we read that Jesus went back to Nazareth, and was rejected in his own hometown, and had to move on. This week, we hear that the apostles and disciples of the infant church were given the same directives by Jesus. Now, it is my turn to be reminded, and to remind you, that we have received the same general orders. When you attempt to bring a word of comfort and consolation to others who are in pain or sorrow, don’t expect an open-arm welcome every time. Give thanks to God when it happens, but if it doesn’t smile and move on. Amos announced God’s word, and he got kicked out. Jesus taught the Word of God and cured the sick, but that got people angry – and got him crucified. In every age of the Church –even in our own times, people witness to the Good News, and offer comfort and consolation to those in need, and for their efforts, they give a new mean to the Greek word for “witness” --- “martyr”.

No matter what your view might be of the United States presence in the Middle East and Afghanistan, while our military are trying to reestablish normalcy, extend health care to the sick and wounded, and assist the leaders of these nations to establish peace, they are, on a daily basis, subjected to enemy fire, to car bombs, that is, to injury and death.

No matter how steadfastly you might disagree with the views of the President of the United States on the civil right of a pregnant woman to obtain an abortion, take careful note of the cordial welcome he received from our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, earlier this week. Many, if not most, and perhaps all of the people listening to me – or reading this reflection on line – believe that a new life begins at the moment a cell produced in a man’s body meets a cell produced in a woman’s body . And that is true, whether the conjunction of those two cells occurs within a woman’s body, or in a Petri dish. Another significant number of people believe that a pregnant woman has a right to abort the fetus if her own life is in serious jeopardy, whether in the first or the first two, or even in the third trimester of pregnancy.

Since sincere people on both sides of this issue have the protection of human life as their fundamental goal, would it not be reasonable to work together in an effort to reduce the number of abortions – or, better stated, to increase the number of life births – rather than to allow the present status quo to persist, on a matter of principle – or it is a matter of stubborn self-righteousness? If no effort is made to find a middle ground on which the proponents of both sides can meet, and the number of dead babies continues to increase, who, in the final analysis, is responsible?

We, as Church, and as individual witnesses, go forth from the Lord’s Day liturgy and strive to live the Good News in our daily lives. We carry on, whether or not we see our victories. We continue to reach out, to comfort, to challenge, to meet the needs of others, realizing that our efforts will sometimes be rejected and our extended hands slapped away.

Our fidelity is our revelation of God’s presence in our lives. The early disciples trusted in his word; we later disciples are called to go and do likewise. Has your helping hand been slapped away recently? Praise the Lord, and keep on keeping on!

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