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Ordinary Time 15 (B)
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Readings for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

 

1. Amos 7, 12-15

  • The first time through, I hear the surface dispute about property and privilege.  Never again prophesy in Beth-El.  It reminds me of the signs in our private spaces that tell the world:  ‘No soliciting allowed.’  It also reminds me of politicians who keep a safe distance from citizens who protest their policies.  It is the king’s sanctuary and a royal temple.
  • Off with you, visionary!  On one level the priest Amaziah is ridiculing him, and I will look for that condescending touch in my voice.  But I hear a warning, too.  Flee to the land of Judah.  There earn your bread by prophesying.  He has broken a gentlemen’s agreement by which prophets keep their distance from priests and kings.  And those in power don’t like what he is saying. 
  • I hear another subtle debate in the short passage.  Amos answered, I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets.  What is the difference between the official and the unofficial messengers of God’s word?  In our case we make it official through public reception of the sacraments and election.  But there is another way, an individual calling directly from God.  Listen: The Lord took me and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people.
  • How would God speak to reclaim his people Israel from their temporal leaders?  I can make the closing words of the reading more deliberate, more authoritative, and more decisive.  In my interpretation all the human players will be shown up as stand-ins for God and possibly impostors if they stand in God’s way.
  • That raises another question: Do human beings ever mediate the will of God on earth, or does God always speak directly to us?  The answer is: Both of the above!  The church has known a fitful co-existence between the institution and its charismatic renovators.  Our government consists also of a sharing of powers rather than a separation of powers.  Amos did not deny the right of the king and the priest, but he took on himself the power to judge their actions.  Read his short book.  He is a kind of judiciary, a supreme court.  So he will not go into exile, but remain in his homeland and suffer the consequences.
  • Climax: The Lord took me. 
  • Message for our assembly: We have heard the voices of prophets in our own time.  How do we know that they are speaking for God?  We must continue to pray for ‘wisdom to know the difference.’ 
  • I will challenge myself: To rehearse until I find the antagonism in this exchange between priest and prophet that finds echoes in our own day.

 

2. Ephesians 1, 3-14

  • I hear today a wonderful lyrical summary of good news from the later work of the apostle, or perhaps of his more erudite disciples.  It deserves to be chanted, and I will rehearse it until I have captured the joyful rhythm of this milieu of grace.
  • It begins with a prayer of thanksgiving that sounds very much like the Eucharistic prayer we repeat in every liturgy: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Unless I am thoroughly prepared, the reading will sound rather long and repetitive.  So I search for key words or impressions with which I want to leave the church today.  Hammer away on the theme: God is with us, God is for us.  Repeat the action words.  God has blessed us, chosen us, destined us, granted us, made known to us.  And listen to the drumbeat of communion: through Christ, in him (five times), with the holy Spirit.  A number of words describe the life of grace in Jesus: spiritual blessing, adoption, redemption. 
  • So many phrases embody our active response to God’s work in us.  It’s the second rhythm I want to catch and string.  Here it is: Be holy and without blemish, praise of the glory (three times), heard the word and believed.
  • Christ does not seem to be coming immediately; no mention of that.  The apostle refers to a more ambiguous point beyond history, the fullness of times.  I think that our assembly can identify with that, because we also struggle to achieve God’s purpose at some such remote point.  Note that God’s purpose exists from a point outside our history, before the foundation of the world.
  • Climax: The plan to sum up all things in Christ. 
  • The message for our assembly: How do events in a remote corner of the ancient Middle East have repercussions in every nation and tongue?  This ‘summing up’ is made evident in the lives of us Christians.  Will we take up the call?
  • I will challenge myself: To awaken my listeners, with my own alertness to the clarion call to bring to fulfillment the reality that is already at work in Christ.

 

Gospel. Mark 6, 7-13

  • Whether or not Jesus intended to found a church, he clearly started a movement.  All the Gospels bear witness to this, beginning with Mark.  Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority.  He shared his ministry with them, and the tradition continues as strong as ever.  We are also very much aware that the summoning is directed to every member of the church, to every baptized person.
  • What do I hear about the mission?  The only charge mentioned by Mark is one of healing, authority over unclean spirits.  At the end Mark also mentions that the Twelve preached repentance, drove off many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. 
  • I note that no mention is made of where they are to go.  But there are strict details about how are they to go: only a walking stick and sandals, no food, no sack, no money in their belt.  They are also to stay in a house until you leave. 
  • Central point: The disciples act with the authority given them by Christ.  Like the prophet Amos, they have no career as such, nor do they belong to a guild.
  • Message for our assembly: These words are directed to every Christian.
  • I will challenge myself: To emphasize the calling and charge of Jesus in the disciples’ actions.

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