Our prophet this week is a man called Amos. We have a passage from him (Amos 7:12-15) because it links to our Gospel (Mark 6:7-13) where we are reminded that we do not have to be special or clever people in order to share our faith with others. Indeed Jesus makes the point that his disciples are not to be fussed with a lot of clothing and clutter when they go around telling people about God. I am glad that we are not meant to take this too literally, because whenever I go anywhere I always seem to take an enormous amount of luggage with me – just in case – as I say. No, we needn’t be literalists, and wander round getting smellier and smellier because we have no clean clothes, but we do need to accept the spirit of what Jesus is saying, that is, that we do not need lots of “things” in life in order to serve God.
Think of another saying from Jesus that backs this up “Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass which is alive in the field today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O men of little faith!” (Luke 12:27-28) Again we do not have to take this literally, or we would all be wandering around stark naked, but we do need to avoid getting obsessed with these kinds of things.
Our passage from Amos however, is more about who we think we are, than what we wear. Some people can think that they are not good enough or clever enough to do this or that. Maybe they have been put down by over-strict parents or teachers, and have convinced themselves that they are stupid or clumsy – or to use a modern expression they lack self-esteem. I have often found myself trying to help older people who have been oppressed like this as children, and are still living with the harm this has caused them. Those who, in the past, turned the Christian faith into a way of oppressing children, of making them behave, were actually not behaving as Christians at all!
Back in the time of Amos, over 700 years before the birth of Jesus, prophets were basically official political advisers to the kings of the time. They mainly told kings what they wanted to hear, and thus continued to be paid – perhaps like some modern civil servants?? You can hear from the tone of Amos’s reply that he didn’t think much of prophets like that. “I was not a prophet, neither did I belong to any of the brotherhoods of prophets” he exclaims. “I was a shepherd..” He is also being told off for being in the wrong court, as he comes from the southern part of Israel called Judah, and the northern part of Israel wants to send him packing, as an interfering foreigner. People will use any excuse to get rid of someone whose advice they do not like, and one of the classic ploys is to say “You are from somewhere else and cannot possibly understand.” Maybe we have done that sometimes?
The main message of Amos is the same wherever he happens to be. He points out throughout his short book that those who make war on others and thus destroy the livelihood of others will have to answer for it one day before God. The northern king has been doing precisely this, taking advantage of a time when there is a power vacuum in the Middle East to conquer more land. Sounds familiar perhaps? Listen to this passage where Amos warns him and his advisers. He begins with familiar words “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” and then reminds them exactly who God is,
“He who forms the mountains, and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought; who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth—the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!” (Amos 4:13)
Amos is particularly concerned that those who make war, are also the rich who oppress the poor. So one of his most famous passages is this one
“Hear this, you who trample upon the needy, and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain?
And the sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale,
….. and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals.” (Amos 8:4-6)
Yes, we all know from our news daily that when people make war, it is the poor who suffer most, and that is surely why the Catholic Church spends so much of its energy helping the poor and starving. as we do in Eynsham by supporting various projects.
Pope Francis is not the first Pope to take up this theme from Amos where the rich are attacked for oppressing the poor, and where we are all called to live more responsibly and care for the world God has given us. He makes lots of suggestions in his latest Encyclical from proper recycling to making sure we do not use more electricity than necessary. I need to heed this when I forget to turn lights off in the house! But back in the 19thC, the rise of industrialisation led Pope Leo XIII to condemn this kind of thing in his famous Encyclical of 1892 “Rerum Novarum”, and Popes since then have returned again and again to this theme. Pope, now Saint, John Paul II is praised by some for helping to destroy oppressive Communism, which he did, but he also attacked oppressive Capitalism which these same people sometimes conveniently forget; and this is surely an aspect of the faith that must continue to be stressed, as the rich of the world seems to get richer whilst even more people live in poverty.
So there is our message for today. To live simply, to realise that we do not need lots of things in order to serve God, and to be aware that when we relatively rich people waste the resources of the world we are not just being wasteful and lazy, but are actually failing God