CHALLENGES AND CHANCES OF THE PROPHETIC VOCATION: HOMILY FOR THE 15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B)- REV. FR. BONNIE ANUSIEM PH.D
From a very tender age as junior seminarian, I became accustomed to the saying: “Many are called but few are chosen”. Back then I wondered in my little mind if I will be among those that will be chosen. Then I will start counting the big boys in my class as those who will be chosen first because of their sizes. I would often tell myself that I had to buckle up and grow fast (I was small then) to be among the “big ones” to be chosen. It was later that I learnt that it was not all about size or even personal effort; but the grace of God understandable as unmerited favour.
Today we have interesting prophetic episodes both in the first reading and in the gospel. In the first reading from the prophecy of Amos, we are presented with the verbal attack on Amos by the priest at Bethel called Amaziah. Amos’ oracle indicated an impending disaster that will befall the King and the people in form of exile due to their dissociation from God. Amaziah who was more of a political priest accosted the prophet Amos and asked him to leave the land of Israel to Judah and earn his bread as a prophet there.
From the scenario it is clear to us that religion at that moment was a commercially political. Amaziah’s position as the (chief) priest at Bethel could have been at the instance of the political scheme of king Jeroboam who must have brought in people who will tell him what he wants to hear. One can then imagine what the prophecy of Amos portends. From Amaziah we understand that Bethel (house of God; the site of Jacob’s dream (Gen.28:18-19)) was now seen as royal sanctuary and national temple. The people at the time were seeing the worship of God as a mere religious observance not as a spiritual activity. There is a difference between religious observance and spiritual practice. It is in this sense that one can be religious without being spiritual. Religious observance includes, though not restricted to conventions like strict attention to time, context, rubrics, and other religious rituals that are external to the religion in question. On the other hand worship as a spiritual activity has to do with an inner disposition which connects the worshipper with the object of worship (Jn. 4:24). In spiritual worship of God we talk about faith, hope and love (1 Cor. 13:13; Heb.11:6).
Israel during the time of Jeroboam and Amaziah was deeply concerned with religious observances and not spiritual practice of their religion. Their worship was based on the external ritual obligations without a corresponding internal spiritual interface. Worship for them was at the service of royalty not divinity. It was more of a national affair than personal commitment. This is still very valid in our contemporary human society where people go to Church because it is Sunday and they have to carry out that religious obligation. People go to Church because others are going; some go to Church because they don’t want to be alone in the house. The question is how many are motivated by faith, love and their hope in God?
From the point of view of Amaziah the priest the prophetic ministry ought to be a commercial activity. That was why he asked Amos to leave the land of Israel to Judah and earn his living as a prophet from that region. From the words of Amaziah, he was not concerned about the prophetic message. He was more concerned about how Amos and his message would affect his business in Bethel. We see this happening in or day with so much commercialization going on with the message of God. People are asked to pay consultation fee before they could see a man of God. They are still required to pay sometimes heavily before they can be prayed for. These are the Amaziahs of our time. And they can go to any length to fight a perceived competitor or rival. Amos was of a different stock. He was called from the work of shepherding to become a mouthpiece of God. He had the mission of delivering the word of God as it is.
In the gospel today, Jesus SUMMONED the Twelve and began to send them out in PAIRS. He gave them AUTHORITY over unclean spirits. He further instructed them to take NOTHING for the journey except a STAFF, no BREAD, no HAVERSACK. They were to wear SANDALS but no spare TUNIC. They should stay wherever they are welcomed. They should preach REPENTANCE, cast out devils and anoint the SICK.
Before going into the explications I wish to call back what happened to me as a seminarian; I true confession really. I was posted on apostolic work to a certain popular town. My mates congratulated me on what everyone perceived to be a good posting. I was convinced that I was going to have a good time so I got a big bag and packed all the things I felt I would need: electric iron, electric boiler, clippers, a transistor radio and other things. After packing, I had a big bag and another hand luggage. On reaching the parish I met other seminarians posted to the same parish, we were five in number. I also saw people from the out stations that came along to pick us. Some of them came with cars, others with motorcycles and one person with a bicycle. The Parish priest wanted to be fair enough so he asked us to pick from folded papers where each will be going. I was the last to pick and opening the paper I saw myself picking the least out station and being carried by the man with the bicycle to a remote village without signs of civilization. Consequently my electrical and electronic appliances became useless. They actually occupied spaces for nothing.
Let us go back to the gospel. We are told that Jesus SUMMONED the Twelve. This means that he called them out from the rest of the disciples for a brief apostolic work. They were chosen from the lot to set afire what they had learned from the master so far. It is actually the Lord who calls, he also chooses. The letter to the Hebrew says that no one takes the honour upon oneself each is called as Aaron was called ( Heb.5:4). From our contemporary day and age we experience a situation wherein we make a harvest of apostles, pastors, evangelists, prophets, prophetesses etc. We see such people claiming to have heard God calling and sending them to some mission. Of course for most people like Amaziah it is all about earning bread!
The Lord sent them out in PAIRS. This has a physical and spiritual denotation. Physically there is need for fellowship in the ministry. This later turned into the concept of community in the early Church. Spiritually it assures us of God’s abiding presence; hence we are not alone. Our Lord did say when two or more are gathered in my name, I am in their midst (Matt. 18:20 ).They were given AUTHORITY not just power. Authority is not something that anybody can get anyhow. People acquire powers in various ways but authority is far-fetched. Powers fail and fade but authority subsists and even survives one who holds it for instance the authority of the papacy. A further instruction was for them to take a Staff which ascertains the fact that they have authority given to them.
They were asked to take NOTHING for the journey! Why? The simple answer is that they have EVERYTHING. Yes whoever has God has everything. God is not only their provider He is also their provision. God will definitely orchestrate assistance for them wherever they go often God plants Samaritans for us in the various routes we go. We remember that God asked ravens to feed Elijah during the famine in the land of Israel (1ST king 17:4). For the journey they were asked to wear Sandals. This needs to be understood as standing for the spreading goodnews of peace (Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:15 & Eph.6:15). Furthermore they were asked not to be moving around in search of comfort. This means that they should accept any situation that presents itself as part of their mission. This has been overlooked in our day wherein some people are looking for financially greener pastures overlooking the spiritually needful pastures.
Finally they were asked to preach REPENTANCE. Repentance here entails denouncing evil and sin and accepting God. Accepting God also entails knowing Him. This knowledge leads us to faith, love and hope. In our day the preaching is overly based on prosperity. Some preachers paint the picture of a world without the poor or needy. A world where you get whatever you want and anytime; indeed an Eldorado! Our Lord actually said that the poor will be with us always.
Today we are called upon receive the word of truth in our lives and not to replicate Amaziah. We are called upon to worship God in spirit and not like a mere religious obligation. We are called upon to reflect the missionary script given by our Lord Jesus to the apostles. Among other things we should know that if God has called, chosen and sent us, He will also provide for us. Thus there will be no need for struggling over material remunerations; they are distractions from the main purpose of our ministry as ordained priests and our vocation generally as Christians. There is also need to fight the Amaziah in us. This Amaziah comes in various shapes and shades. It stands for jealousy which is one of the viral attacks we face in our vocation. We should recognize that we are differently gifted and appreciate and encourage one another. Amaziah also stands for materialism that is rocking the foundation of our ministry.
Have a wonderful Sunday and a blessed week ahead.