Someone’s job title denotes their function and defines their identity. A teacher teaches, a doctor doctors. A prophet prophesies, that is, he or she tells the truth from God.
A teacher or a doctor may well see their job as a vocation, a calling from above, or they may see it as merely a way to pay the bills. A prophet has no choice in the matter—he is not, and cannot be, a prophet for profit. How successful prophets may be in terms of their message being received, or in earthly and monetary terms, is quite irrelevant.
In the first reading, Amos is annoying the powerful and the wealthy in Israel with his prophesying. Unlike other prophets who belonged to a guild and chose it as a career, Amos was a herdsman and dresser of sycamores when God called him. He challenged Israel to moral reform and was hated for it. The guild prophets preferred not to rock the boat. They lived a comfortable life uttering comfortable words, and avoiding controversy.
In fairness, Amos did not set out to court controversy. He set out to be faithful to the truth. That is sufficiently controversial in itself! The priest Amaziah accuses Amos of being a troublemaker and of plotting against the King, and urges him:
‘Go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there.’ (Amos 7:12)
Amaziah is certainly not interested in the truth. Notice how he sees prophesying in terms of its human gains: eat bread there, prophesy there. For Amaziah prophesying is making of living; it is not primarily about truth. Amaziah wants Amos to be a career prophet.
Like Amos’s time, today many want the Church to be silent about morality and ambivalent about doctrine. Christians are pushed out of the public square. We are accused of imposing our morality. We are portrayed as hate-filled bigots because we believe in divine revelation and right reason, and desire more love for the afflicted than the world does. Worst of all, we are continually betrayed by our own. For the wolves know they have free rein in God’s sheepfold when the shepherds have become sheep in sheep’s clothing. Or as Amaziah hoped for Amos, when shepherds become career prophets.
Career prophets have a comfortable life. To an unconverted world, they preach nothing which might convert it. In our own time we see such things as Catholic theologians (who are neither Catholic nor theologians in any true sense) promote lies and dissent; an ostensibly Catholic people voting for ‘gay marriage’ and abortion from a distorted understanding of ‘rights’.
Meanwhile we are told mercy is for everyone (which is true) but we are not about repentance as a prerequisite. The only gospel tolerated is ‘inclusivity’ and a token nod to eco-friendliness.
It’s easy to preach such a gospel, and easy to bask in the world’s version of love. There is a problem: career prophets are false prophets. Jesus says, ‘Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.’ (Luke 6:26).
Like Amos, the apostles did not choose Jesus, but He chose them (John 15:16). He gives them special instructions for a specific mission: they receive His authority over demons, they are to rely on divine providence and charity, their preaching will be a sign to those who reject it. In their pastoral ministry, they preach that men should repent (otherwise how could people receive Divine Mercy?), they cast out demons, and they anoint with oil and heal the sick.
This is what our baptism calls us to: we too are prophets (and priests and kings as well!), and are called to preach ‘the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15). The spiritual works of mercy include to instruct the ignorant, and to admonish sinners, but done with love and prudence. Through the power of Christ ‘now shall the ruler of this world be cast out’ (John 12:31). Both the message and the victory are Christ’s, and this is why He will win.
We all know the light of the sun in the daytime, and of the moon in the night. We know the useful light of a torch, the revealing light of a spotlight. We know the lights blazing down on the football field and the comforting lights in the dark street as we walk home at night.
But do we know the light of truth, the most splendid light of all? This is the light we should all be walking in because this light illuminates the path to heaven, the path to God. Without this light we are lost even more completely than the football players are lost when the lights unexpectedly go off in the middle of the game.
The light of truth is God’s light. It reveals to us who we are as humans; it tells us how to act, how to worship God, the meaning of our lives. God’s light is not a torch or a burning flame, it is a man – Jesus Christ. Yes, Jesus is the light of truth – the light that guides us to the kingdom of God. As he himself said (John 8:12): I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark; he will have the light of life.
We do not light a lamp to put it under a basket and neither does the Father. He puts it (Jesus) on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. (c.f. Mt 5:15) And where is that lamp stand? It is the Church. You are the light of the world. (Mt 5:14)
Of course, we do not all shine as brightly as we should – and from time to time in the world’s history – the light of truth in the world will grow perilously dim; man turns away from God and follows other paths. This, I believe, is very much the case today in the poor, affluent Western World. We are confused and scattered and tangled up in desires and ambitions which lead only to estrangement from God and disaster for ourselves.
In his untiring mercy, however, the good God sends holy men and prophets into the world to draw us back to adherence to the truth. If mankind refuses to listen to these it runs the risk that God will withdraw and simply leave it to experience the painful and destructive consequences of its own stubborn conceit. We remember how last week the Gospel told us that because the people of his home town rejected him: he could work no miracle there. Deprived of God’s help we are on our own.
Now let us go to today’s Gospel.
Jesus summoned the Twelve… .
Jesus stands conveniently at the head of this sentence as subject, which is precisely how he should stand in our lives like a lamp, the light of the world. As a priest I often say to myself, and occasionally to others, ‘How I wish more people would make more room in their lives for God and the things of God.’ So many of us just seem to ‘fit him in’ somewhere convenient, so that he doesn’t take up too much of the time we like to devote to our favorite preoccupations.
We note that Jesus summoned the Twelve. It basically means he brought them into his presence, he made them stand before him. Jesus summons us, too, in many ways. Most simply put he calls us to listen to, to believe, and then to live his word, to shine. If we do this we will find ourselves not only with him but in him (cf. John 14:17).
Jesus summoned the Twelve. These are the men he chose to draw close to him and become his special collaborators. They are not yet apostles. This will happen to them in the next few words when he begins to send them out. Jesus summons us so that he might make us apostles.
… and began to send them out in pairs…
The word began gives us the sense of the ongoing work of Jesus and of the training of his Twelve. He began to send them out. As far as his own ministry on earth was concerned Jesus had now reached that moment when he was able to involve others in his saving work. He was making progress. As for the Twelve, they had now reached the point where Jesus could begin to send them out because they were making progress.
The Lord is standing with the Twelve before him. The subject standing before the object. The light of the world illuminates them and says to them: I … send … you.
It is very easy to overlook the significance of this simple transaction. I recall the priest who disobeyed the instructions of the Church in various liturgical matters ‘out of loyalty to my people,’ as he put it. This priest, and there are many like him, had simply forgotten who it was who sent him, who it was to whom he owed his loyalty. He had not been sent by the people. It was to Christ in the Church to whom he owed his loyalty and his obedience.
And this reflects on every member of the Church involved in the Apostolate. We serve in the name of the Church and not in the name of the small group of people. We don’t create our own light, we share and give Christ’s. Any disobedience to the Church can never be justified out of ‘loyalty’ to the people.
Jesus sent them out in pairs… . The wisdom of this practice has been proven over the centuries. It gives courage to the apostles and in all sorts of ways tends to short circuit ministerial problems as well as promote ministerial growth.
As he sends them Jesus gives them a special gift which will ensure success in the mission. He gives them: authority over the unclean spirits, over the powers of darkness.
What a world of horrible meaning are contained in these two words. Every conceivable evil, every human weakness and failure, and crime – all woundedness and sin – and the spirits who foment it.
Many times over the last twenty eight years of my priesthood have I experienced this authority. It always leaves me a little speechless and greatly humbled. And you, too, every adult Catholic Christian is authorized to confront evil and to set people free in Christ’s light of Truth.
This is what we should be as Church. However we don’t always live up to being who we should be. So God may send us prophets, as he sent Amos and others, long ago. They may come from inside the Church community or from outside, and we will certainly feel uncomfortable with their message.
Uncomfortable because it rings true — it challenges us deeply. It calls us to self-examination and conversion of life.