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JULY 15, 2012: FIFTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Amos 7:12-15
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:7-13

Last week's commentary on the powerlessness of God's disciples is again verified in today's Amos pericope.

But before we get into prophetic helplessness, there's something we must understand about a biblical prophet's ministry. Notice how often prophets operate in shrines or temples? Rarely does Yahweh send them to "bad" people. Normally they're commissioned to go to the "good folk:" to people who think they're already doing what God wants them to do, but in reality are far off the mark. Such people hang around shrines and temples, and like all good Jews, they presume prophets will inform them of God's will.
 
The only problem is that priests and kings have long ago figured out how to beat the prophetic system. They hired their own "prophets" to tell people what they wanted them to hear. Every palace, every shrine had its prophets, people eager (and paid) to deliver the party line. Those are the prophets Amos is referring to when he tells Amaziah, high priest of the Bethel shrine, "I am no prophet, nor do I belong to a company of prophets." In other words, "I'm not your prophet. You have no right to tell me what to say."
 
Of course, that means in the accepted hierarchical shrine system, Amos has no clout. No authority figure is going to back up his statements. He's totally on his own. Yet he's convinced Yahweh, not Amaziah, called him, and it's Yahweh who gives force to his words, even though most Bethel pilgrims simply regard them as the words of an uncouth, wilderness shepherd.
 
Remember, the scene in the movie O God! when John Denver asks George Burns (God) for a sign he's actually given him the message God wants him to proclaim. Burns assures him not to worry. "Just show them this," he says, and hands him a calling card with just one word on it: God. "They'll believe you when they see it." Poor Amos didn't even have one of Yahweh's calling cards to show Amaziah.
 
I presume the Twelve must have also felt powerless when Mark's Jesus sends them out on their own for the first time. This is an important gospel event, demonstrating that Jesus' ministry isn't just a one man show. What he does, he also empowers his followers to do. But notice what they're to do: they're to get rid of "unclean spirits."
 
As we saw back in chapter one, Jesus' first miracle was exorcizing a demoniac in the Capernaum synagogue. I mentioned then that the first miracle always sets the theme for the entire gospel. Since demons were regarded as causing all evil, not just moral evil, the gospel Jesus is telling his followers that their ministry should constantly revolve around eradicating as much evil in their world as possible. A powerful task for people as powerless as Jesus' followers.
 
Yet, just as Amos was convinced Yahweh called him, so Christians must always be aware of their God-given calling and dignity. The disciple of Paul responsible for writing Ephesians doesn't want his readers to forget that. He's convinced "God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing — As he chose us in him ... to be holy and without blemish before him.... He has made known to us the mystery of his will... that he set forth in him as a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth."
 
As Paul said in last week's II Corinthian passage, our weakness is a sign Jesus is working through us. Perhaps we could better deal with our weakness if, in our daily lives and ministries, we zeroed in on Jesus more than ourselves.