JULY 15TH, 2018: FIFTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Amaziah, priest of Bethel, said to Amos,
“Off with you, visionary, flee to the land of Judah!
There earn your bread by prophesying,
but never again prophesy in Bethel;
for it is the king’s sanctuary and a royal temple.”
Amos answered Amaziah, “I was no prophet,
nor have I belonged to a company of prophets;
I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores.
The LORD took me from following the flock, and said to me,
Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavens,
as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world,
to be holy and without blemish before him.
In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ,
in accord with the favor of his will,
for the praise of the glory of his grace
that he granted us in the beloved.
In him we have redemption by his blood,
the forgiveness of transgressions,
in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us.
In all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us
the mystery of his will in accord with his favor
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.
In him we were also chosen,
destined in accord with the purpose of the One
who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will,
so that we might exist for the praise of his glory,
we who first hoped in Christ.
In him you also, who have heard the word of truth,
the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him,
were sealed with the promised holy Spirit,
which is the first installment of our inheritance
toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory.
Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two
and gave them authority over unclean spirits.
He instructed them to take nothing for the journey
but a walking stick—
no food, no sack, no money in their belts.
They were, however, to wear sandals
but not a second tunic.
He said to them,
“Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.
Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet
in testimony against them.”
So they went off and preached repentance.
The Twelve drove out many demons,
and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
The historical Jesus wasn’t a one man show, literally. One of the reasons our evangelists composed their gospels was to demonstrate how the individuals this Galilean carpenter inspired were to work together in expanding his ministry. From the beginning, he shares his dream and his ministry with his followers. Today’s gospel pericope is classic. “Jesus summoned the Twelve,” Mark writes, “and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.”
It’s essential to remember that, according to Mark, the most important ministry for Jesus’ followers is to engage in eradicating evil. That’s why the first miracle his Jesus works is to exorcize a demoniac. In 1st century CE Palestine, demons were responsible for all sorts of evil; moral, physical, psychological. You name an evil, a demon caused it. So when Jesus gives some of his followers the power to eradicate demons, he’s actually giving them the power to eradicate evil, wherever and in whomever it’s found.
It’s also important that the Twelve are mentioned in this context. Flying in the face of our grade school catechisms, they’re not the first bishops or priests. They’re simply symbolic of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. (That’s why no women are included in their number. These Twelve Tribes began with Jacob’s twelve sons. You throw one woman in with them and the symbolism the historical Jesus tries to convey will be destroyed.)
According to modern scholars, the historical Jesus had no intention of founding a church as we know it; he simply wanted to reform Judaism – all of Judaism, not just the two preeminent tribes of Judah and Benjamin. In his plan, minor tribes like Dan and Naphtali were to play just as much a role in that reform as the two major tribes. It was a wide open reform; all are empowered to eradicate evil, not just the “privileged.” In this passage, Jesus intentionally sends out representatives of all, to all.
We smile at some of the practical helps Mark’s Jesus gives his disciples to aid in carrying out their ministry: where to stay, what to wear, how much money to take along, even what to do when rejected. Yet, no matter the obstacles they encountered, they “drove out many demons.” They wiped out evil.
Yet, as the author of Ephesians writes, no matter the results, they should simply be grateful they, of all people, were chosen for this life and world-changing work. For some reason, they “heard the word of truth, the good news of salvation, and have believed in him (Jesus).” No one can argue with God’s choice.
This is especially true when we cross paths with the earliest “book prophet:” Amos. As a wilderness shepherd he’s most unlikely to be chosen one of Yahweh’s prophets. I wish we had a snapshot of his encounter with Amaziah, or just a whiff of the smell emanating from the prophet. The contrast between the two was memorable. Carroll Stuhlmueller once commented, “If Amos took a bath once a year, he’d have been filthy clean. Besides, can you picture him ever using a handkerchief to blow his nose?” Yet, “Yahweh took (him) from following the flock, and said to (him), ‘Go prophesy to my people Israel.’” The word of Yahweh he proclaimed was infinitely more powerful than Amaziah’s priestly robes and the office he held. Which of the two eradicated more evil?
My oncologist recently inquired about our acute priest shortage. “It’s easy to understand,” I replied. “Can you imagine how many oncologists we’d have if we limited them to male celibates?”
I’d really be careful about who we, the church, refuses to call for ministry. If we’re not imitating Jesus’ openness, we’ll have to answer for a lot of the evil we encounter.