The first Reading was taken from the book of Prophet Amos, (Am 7:12-15). Amos who hailed from Southern Israel was an ordinary citizen – a sheep-breeder before he was chosen by God to go and prophesy to the people of Northern Israel. During the time of Amos, Israel was divided into two kingdoms. The southern Kingdom of Judah was ruled by King Uzziah, and King Jeroboam reigned over the Northern Kingdom.
Amos went to the Northern Kingdom to prophesy against the excessive amassing of wealth by the rich which had led to a huge chasm between the rich and the poor and the exploitation of the poor by the rich. Amos believed that such excessive acquisition of wealth, which had pushed the masses to destitution, was evident in the palace of the king and in the national temple. Hence, for Prophet Amos, if there was to be a redress to this extreme capitalism, which was inimical to integral progress, the change must start from the country’s leadership. This conviction led him to go and preach at the national temple which was the king’s place of worship.
Amaziah, the priest of the Temple, (king’s sanctuary), who receives his maintenance from the king’s treasury, was hostile to Prophet Amos because he was attacking the source of his sustenance. He accused Amos of not being a true prophet like Isaiah and Elijah who were called by God, but only a seer who earned his living by giving advice to people. He then instructed Amos thus, “’Go away, seer; get back to the land of Judah; earn your bread there, do your prophesying there’”. Amaziah had become complacent with the social milieu and had turned a blind eye to the exploitation of the poor which was pushing more people to the fringe of the society. Amos insisted to Amaziah that he did not belong to the band of prophets, (seers); he was a farmer, breeding sheep before he received a call from God like other Old Testament prophets and was entrusted with a mission to Northern Israel.
The questions that arise from the first Reading include, do I compromise my values because of the people I associate with? Do I compromise my values for material gain? Am I materialistic? Do I turn a blind eye to the marginalisation and victimisation of the vulnerable people in our society? Do I take positive steps toward righting a wrong which I have done? Am I accommodative to constructive criticisms?
In the Gospel of today, (Mk 6:7-13), Jesus sent out his apostles in pairs on a missionary journey. His disciples were to follow the footsteps of the genuine prophets like Amos, (first Reading). He instructed them, “to take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no haversack, no coppers for their purses.” They were to wear sandals, but, he added, ‘Do not take a spare tunic.’” The staff was needed as a prop because of the long distance the disciples would be travelling and also as a weapon to ward-off dangerous animals. The disciples were not to be encumbered by their possessions as they engaged in missionary activities. They were to trust in providence and rely on people’s generosity and hospitality for their upkeep.
Jesus’ insistence that his disciples should travel light on their missionary journey is a reminder to the Church that she must never rest on her ‘oars’. She must resist the temptation of being satisfied with the status quo. She should always look for new avenues to disseminate the Good News. We recall that Jesus during his earthly ministry was always going beyond frontiers. For instance, after healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of fever and curing other sick people of their ailments, he secretly went to a lonely place to pray. When his disciples finally found where he was and informed him that everyone was looking for him, he said to them that they had to go and minister to other villages and towns that had not yet heard the Good News, (Mk 1:29-39). Everyone is being invited to be a missionary in little or big ways.
The Church should be on the watch that she does not become materialistic and that her wealth does not become an obstacle to the spreading of the Good News. She must always be conscious of the criticisms of Prophet Amos on the Northern Kingdom and Jesus’ insistence that the missionaries should not be bogged down by materialism.
The disciples of Jesus were able to bring the Good News of reconciliation and healing to those who were hungry to hear it. May this Good News of God’s reconciliation and healing continue to spread today through our hands, Amen!
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp