15th Sunday – The Prophet’s Burden

Amos 7:12-15

It is great to continue on this theme of prophecy this week, as we hear from Amos. It is a short book, very poetic, a work of great literary artistry. Amos is the prophet of social justice par excellence. If this is something you are passionate about, you should immerse yourself in this book and let it form your imagination. And if you’re not really concerned about social justice, then you should immerse yourself in this book and let it form your imagination. Amos’ message is true for us today, as it was, almost three thousand years ago.

Amos’ call to prophesy comes somewhere in the eighth century BC. Israel was now split into two: the northern kingdom was called Israel, and the southern, Judah. And there was no love lost between them, just like any country which splits. Think Ireland, Korea, India and Pakistan. Both kingdoms had become prosperous at this time, due to a temporary time of peace in the region. People assumed this prosperity was because of God’s blessing on them. But in reality, there was huge economic exploitation. Institutional corruption was rampant. The judges and priests were failing the people, especially the poor. There were some who lived lavishly while many of the poor were being oppressed and even sold into slavery. Amos was tasked with breaking the news to them that their prosperity was not due to God’s blessing and that their time of peace was going to be rudely brought to an end. God’s judgment was about to visit them.

Naturally, Amos’ message wasn’t warmly received. Amos’ call was all the more difficult because he was a man from Judah called to prophesy God’s judgment on the North. As we meet him today, Amos is getting a frosty reception from the temple priest, Amaziah. Amaziah tells him to prophesy and make his money in the south. Maybe this was how he viewed his priesthood, a way of making money. But Amos remarks that he had never been part of any group of prophets – he had never been ‘professionally’ religious in other words. He was a lay-person. But God had called him and given him his Word. And this calling meant giving up a comfortable living, to do a very uncomfortable job. Speaking God’s word was a vocation, not a job. 

The prophet has to stand in the gap, between God and man, similar to a priest. While the priest offers sacrifice, the prophet receives God’s word and conveys it to God’s people. We often think of prophecy as foretelling the future and prophets like Amos did do that. But primarily, the prophet was one who saw the present with God’s eyes. Which is part of the reason prophets were also called “seer’s”. What are routine, familiar things, are now shown up for what they are, things which we normalise but are actually terribly wrong.

Amos comes from Tekoa (Ams 1:2) in Judah. Amos’ name means ‘burden-bearer’ and Tekoa means, the ‘place of pitching tents’. All prophecy arises because the Word of God pitched his tent among us, as the gospel says. Prophecy is nothing but God’s word clothed in human language. Standing in God’s presence, the prophet bears the burden of God’s own love and pain for his people. It is what a Jewish theologian called, the pathos of God. God never takes delight in punishing his people. Amos might not have had great love for the North, but as he received God’s word, he also received this pathos. It is what causes him to desperately call the people to repentance while at the same time and plead with God on their behalf even when they rejected him. Amos and the prophets foreshadowed the One to come, Christ himself, the Word made flesh, who doesn’t simply stand between God and man, but is both God and man. And he would bear the whole burden of the world’s pain and God’s judgment on it, upon himself, on the Cross. His rising from the dead means that what was given before to only a few prophets, has now been given to the whole Church.

In our baptism, we were baptised into the prophetic office of Christ; we have been made prophets in our own right. And it is our duty, our vocation, to firstly listen, and then to speak this prophetic Word where God calls us to do so. So, what does prophesying look like in everyday life for the Christian? 

At its most basic, prophesy is simply to sharing your faith with others. If even that sounds too daunting, think, how has God touched my life, maybe in a small way? Has God done something for me, for which I am thankful this week? If God is a reality in our lives, we don’t need to be afraid to share his love, as the opportunity presents itself, just as easily as we would talk about an interesting TV show we’ve seen or something exciting that happened in the week.  God is always acting in our lives. But we have to take the time to be aware of it, thank Him for it and be willing to share it. When you do, you’ll usually find that your conversations go deeper with friends. Ultimately, it is about glorifying God. It is only awkward when we artificially separate our faith lives from our secular lives. We only have one life. It is just about being who we are, the same person, everywhere. And it is for lay-people, like Amos, with regular jobs. This is evangelisation, which Pope Francis keeps calling for, rather than proselytising. Are there people in our families who don’t know Jesus? Friends? Those at work? Are we praying for them? Who else will? That is part of our priestly ministry. But to share our faith, as God opens doors, is our prophetic calling. It is equally important. And God is the one who works within all of it. Maybe, pray today for the right opportunity to share your faith this week. God will provide it and you will be surprised by just how beautifully blessed it is. 

Sometimes, this might mean taking a stand which is unpopular, as we ‘see’ things which are not right. I have a friend who kept losing his job, because he had to take a stand on things which were wrong. He was asked to fudge the accounts sometimes; once he spoke out when he found his boss bullying a fellow employee, and others who would not speak up. He simply would trust God would provide for him. And God did. This is not being difficult for the sake of being difficult. It is to simply be who one is. And who one is, is informed by standing in God’s presence. People might not immediately appreciate what you have to say, always but they’ll know you are right. And that prophetic word, your presence, will be like a light in a dark place (2 Pt 1:19). It will bring clarity to people. It will show them the way forward, even if they don’t always have the courage to take the next step. And if all God’s people took their rightful place as prophets, they will set the world on fire.

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