Readings for July 15, Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Amos 7:12-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13
Todays’ first reading is from one of the earliest of the prophetic books, the Book of Amos. Dating from the 8th century B.C., the book of Amos concerns the era when the Jewish kingdom of King David is divided into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom called Israel, and the southern kingdom called Judah.
Amos is from Judah, the southern kingdom, but is sent by God to preach in the northern kingdom, Israel. This explains why Amaziah, priest of the north’s holiest place in Bethel, demands that Amos go back where he came from. Amaziah detests the content of Amos’ prophesies; Amos condemns in no uncertain terms Israel’s religious infidelity and social injustice. Specifically, Amos accuses the Israelites of abandoning authentic worship of the Lord because they have set up their own temple in Bethel, which is in Israel, and no longer worship in the Temple in Jerusalem. And even worse, the Israelites have enthroned an idol in the form of a golden calf in their temple in Bethel, thus violating the First Commandment, “Thou shall have no foreign gods among you.”
Amos warns the Israelites that such blatant violations of their covenant with the Lord will lead to certain and swift punishment. Amaziah, whose livelihood is bound up with the illicit worship in the temple in Bethel, tries to silence Amos by accusing him of prophesying for hire, being a false prophet. Amos responds that he has never profited from being a prophet, being by trade a shepherd and dresser of sycamores. Amos became a prophet because God called him to the work; his motivation is service of the Lord and not personal gain.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus Christ orders the Apostles to take nothing with them on their preaching mission, no food, no sack, and no money. The Lord does so not to inflict unnecessary suffering on them; they are not to be poor for poverty’s sake. Rather, their self-inflicted poverty makes them radically dependant on God’s providence for all of their needs. And their simplicity of life makes clear that they are not to profiting from the Gospel, and this adds credibility to their message. They are not to starve, for a laborer is entitled to his wage, but they must never compromise the credibility of their ministry for the sake of money. By living simply they, like Amos before them, show that their ministry is motivated by a desire to do God’s will, and not for love of money.
I remember in the Eighties, when televangelists were always in the news, and thousands of Americans seemed to be flocking to them, even Catholics. I asked an elderly nun friend of mine what she thought of it. She said something very wise: “I don’t trust anyone who gets rich off the Gospel.” The message of today’s Gospel is, I believe, being in the Lord’s service is for the spiritual enrichment of the people, and secondarily for the minister, and not for the material enrichment of either.
In the 13th century, a heretical group called the Albigensians was converting thousands of Catholics to their religion. The church tried all means to try to stop the spread of this noxious heresy, which taught that the body and all bodily pleasure, including procreation within marriage, were evil. But it wasn’t until St. Dominic and his Order of Preachers began their ministry of preaching that things turned around. Why? Because the Dominicans kept the vow of poverty very strictly, they would not even ride horses or in wagons, but walked everywhere in sandals and simple habits. Their simplicity of life added credibility to their preaching, and the people’s hearts were turned back to the Catholic faith.
The church asks all Catholics to be witnesses to the truth of the Gospel. Thus we should all try to live with a simplicity of life and with restraint as regards material possessions. It is OK to like nice things, but we must be careful where our hearts lie, seeking what the spiritual writers call detachment from material possessions. This is what St. Paul means when he tells us to think on the things of heaven, not the things of earth.
As Christians we must remember that we are disciples of the poor and humble Jesus of Nazareth, who had nowhere to lay his head, and thus try to resist the evils of materialism. We should share our bounty with the poor, and not allow ourselves to be ensnared by all the things available to us in our society, which is the richest in human history. By living simple lives, we have greater peace of mind; I have found that wealthy people are constantly dealing with hassles involved with buying, owning and maintaining this luxury or that.
By simplifying our lives and not being caught up in unnecessary material possessions, we can be more occupied with what really matters in life: loving God; spending time with and helping our family and friends; and aiding those less fortunate than ourselves. By reordering our lives in such a way, we free ourselves from anxiety, and thus can live more in accord with the Spirit —the spirit of lasting joy and peace.
The saint whose name is synonymous with holy poverty, St. Francis of Assisi, liked to say that by having very little, the friars would always be sure to depend on God’s providence and not money for their sense of security. We should all ask ourselves: what do I rely on for my sense of security, the providence of my heavenly Father or my money and possessions?