Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sending Prophets

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1. When God asks someone to be a prophet, the primary message is the need for repentance. For example, God sent Amos to prophesy to the Israelites in the Northern Kingdom. In those days the Chosen People the Israelites were divided into two kingdoms, North with its temple in Bethel and the South with the Temple of Jerusalem. Anyway, the Lord sent Amos to the Northern Kingdom to warn them to repent. The people had slipped in their worship of God. They were not being just in their business dealings. They were imitating the pagans who lived around them, eagerly committing any sort of sin instead of being holy.
2. When Amos preached, they did not want to hear what he had to say. So they told him to go to Jerusalem, where maybe someone would be interested in hearing what Amos had to say. They even accused Amos of preaching in order to gain money, which he was not. Because they refused to listen to Amos and the others God had sent, their kingdom was destroyed. The people who lived there were killed, sold into slavery, or sent into exile, although not all. God did not send Amos in order to condemn the people of the Northern Kingdom, but rather to save them.
3. Likewise, when Jesus began His public ministry, He preached The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the Gospel (Mark 1:15). It is this same message that our Lord sent His apostles out to proclaim- a call to repent and believe. Just like in the time of Amos, some of the people listened to the apostles and some did not. The stakes were higher with the apostles. To believe means everlasting life and to disbelieve means eternal punishment.
4. There was a difference in the sending of the apostles, however. Jesus shared with them His divine authority and power. They were given the authority over unclean spirits and the power to heal the sick. Although we may see the exorcism of demons as being more “powerful”, the healing of the sick implies the power to forgive sins, which in those days at least was considered the root cause of illness and disease. To put things right with health was a sign of putting things right with God.
5. Of course, to get healed of sin and its effects, or to be freed from the oppression of the demons without an interior change and desire for holiness does not solve any problem. It is hard enough to avoid sin when you want to, but without repentance, there is no freedom from the ravages of sin nor a share in Christ’s victory over the evil one.
6. Although the primary message of prophecy is repentance, it is not the only one. The other message is that God loves us and wants us to be with Him. That is reason we ought to repent. As creatures, we ought to conform ourselves to the Creator. But the Lord wants us to be more than creatures. God has destined us to be His Children. As Saint Paul told the Ephesians, God has destined us in love for adoption through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:6). God does not intend to condemn people. Neither is God interested in turning us into unthinking robots. He desires our love. Jesus said that it is enough that a disciple should become like his teacher (Matthew 10:25). In Jesus, God has chosen us to be His beloved children- to be like His Son in every respect and to be received into His presence forever in heaven.
7. Because we have been chosen since before God created the world to be in the likeness of Christ His Son, we have to do what Jesus did. Therefore, as part of our baptismal call we are also prophets, not unlike Amos or the apostles. Through the way we live and how we speak, we must announce the Good News that God wants everyone to be a member of His family. But we also have to announce the need for repentance. If we do not encourage people to turn from sin, they might miss the chance to change.
8. With the mission to prophecy comes both the prophet’s reward and the prophet’s problems. Amos was told to mind his own business and go preach elsewhere. In time, the apostles were killed or exiled in an effort to keep them quiet about Jesus Christ. There will be those who try to silence us- through unjust laws or through violence or intimidation. But if we are faithful and persevere, when we enter into our reward, all those troubles will seem as nothing compared to the Glory that God will bestow on us.

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