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Sunday 14 July 2024 Trinity 7, Fifteenth in Ordinary time, Proper 10

Choices

Amos 7:7-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-29

 

By Robin Gibbons

Greek-Catholic Melkite priest, Chaplain and Trustee of FACE (Fellowship and Aid to Eastern Churches) Chair of Living Stones of the Holy Land Trust

Context: a regular Sunday Mass with a mixed community of ordinary churchgoers, students and several members of men and women’s religious communities also present

Aim: to delineate the two difficulties all of us involved in active church life face in the task of preaching or teaching, and how we can reconcile and work with this as a creative tension of love in the service of each other

THE TWO CHOICES

Amos gives those of us who preach and teach a real challenge when he answers the concerns of the priest Amaziah: ‘Amos answered Amaziah, “I am not a prophet, nor do I belong to a company of prophets. I am a herdsman and a dresser of sycamores.”’ (Amos 7:14)

Simply put it is this: sometimes we are faced with two difficult choices when we preach, or deal with matters of our faith. Either we go the way of the prophet such as Amos does, that is not worried about our own position or social standing, but prepared to speak truth directly to power, or as with the priest Amaziah, learn to adjust this type of prophetic message in a pastoral way by discerning how it can be most effective in people lives, whilst also being very much aware of the nuances of culture and local situation. These are two very clear choices to opening out the word of the Lord, but they also contain clear challenges for us to remain open to the situations of our preaching, the contexts of the scriptural message, the background history, and the application of it in the present moment. These two choices are not mutually exclusive but are in constructive and healthy tension which we need to learn about and to deal with.

Situations require different approaches

Prophets have the luxury, if it may be called that, of standing outside the institution. They may belong to the Church, but somehow are called to step back from it, reveal what needs to be shown as God’s way in truth, and then challenge, call us back to the way of the Lord! The words of prophets can also be rather blunt and unequivocal, their message of truth is not necessarily to calm situations, but maybe provoke and unsettle, to stir us up again and again. Yet those of us who preach and teach may not have that freedom, being bound by sensitivities to situations that are not black and white, that requires compassion and discernment. Whilst Amos speaks from the heart of God across the religious establishment to the people, in a sense from outside; Amaziah is more concerned to temper the message to those characters and situations he knows well from the inside. In the Church that creative tension can be found between those who are concerned for truth in terms of doctrine and true faith, unchanged and stable, and those who see that in pastoral practice, new situations require different approaches towards a divine sense of justice, even perhaps the risk of stepping out into the unknown.

The tension of judgement and justice

The readings from Ephesians and Mark pick up these tensions and the interplay between those who want hard and fast answers, challenges to the sinfulness of our lives, both corporate and individual, who demand God’s judgement on the actions of certain situations, with those who seek mercy, the forgiveness of redemptive love, the application of Christ’s justice. These are not mutually exclusive! Who amongst us has not burned with some inner zeal for righting a wrong, wanting a criminal to get their just reward, or the victims of the arrogant and powerful to receive justice, do we not yearn for clear judgement? Yet sometimes, perhaps caught up in a mess of our own making, who amongst us has not desired loving forgiveness, the healing of the tears of God, that welcome seen in the parable of the merciful father and his two sons?

The lesson of Mark

The Gospel of Mark takes us to Amos’ prophetic stance to utter truth to power, and in a sense reminds us that this may not be our charism, not all can be prophets, even if we can be prophetic. Here Jesus sends his disciples out to proclaim the coming Kingdom, to heal by calling us to repentance, but also not wasting time in discussing issues; the image here is of necessity and speed: ‘He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there. 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. They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.’ (Mark 6:10-12)

Yet in verse 13 there is a hint of balance, healing is by anointing, anointing is with oil, the word for olive is a root word for one we use so often, eleison! There at the end of the prophet’s proclamation is the hint of mercy, of the Spirit at work.

Ephesians adds love to the mixture

Our second reading from Ephesians shows this transition of the message into reality, the application of the healing oil of the Spirit to the wounds and sins of humankind. This is where we can reconcile the two choices, for the judgement of God has already taken place in Christ, and the verdict is love. This is the charism that belongs to both prophet and pastor, without it we miss the point of our mission to be disciples of Christ: ‘In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favour of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved.’ (Ephesians 1:4b-5). If we start by reminding ourselves that to the Holy One we are all the beloved in Christ, then we can be both an Amos and an Amaziah!

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