15th Sunday Year B 2018
Deacon Les Ruhrmund
The prophet Amos lived close on 2800 years ago in a village about 10km south of Bethlehem in the southern Hebrew kingdom of Judah but when called by God to be his prophet he moved across the border to Bethel in the northern kingdom of Israel; a travel distance of about 40km.
For the Hebrew kingdoms, this was a time of relative peace and prosperity but beneath its affluence, the nation was rotten: luxury and excess for the rich, exploitation of the poor, loose moral standards, corruption in public life, and religious observance based on ritual rather than piety.
It was against these abuses that God called Amos to preach and he didn’t mince his words. His criticism is fierce and damning and it’s hardly surprising that the authorities disliked him. He was accused of treason and conspiring against the king and as we heard in today’s reading, was told to pack his bags and go home. The voice of truth is seldom welcome in the courtyards of the powerful.
On the world stage today, Pope Francis is a very strong voice speaking out about the abuses of power and wealth at the expense of the poor and we are encouraged to do the same.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus sends the twelve disciples out to be the voice of truth. And he forewarns them that they may not always receive a warm welcome and that where they are rejected they should walk away and “shake off the dust that’s on your feet”; implying that those who will not receive them are unclean and unworthy.
Jesus sent them out on their mission with nothing except his authority; no food, no money, no spare clothes. This stands in stark contrast to some of the prosperity evangelists professing to proclaim God’s message today. A few weeks ago an American televangelist Jesse Duplantis, who claims to have 130m followers worldwide, appealed to his audience to buy him a new private jet worth $54m because God had told him that he needs it and he deserves it. He says the plane gets him closer to God and in his video explained that he needs a private plane because there are demons on airlines, and also because fans come up to him and agitate his spirit. He actuals uses a quote from the prophet Amos to justify his message.
There’s no shortage of charlatans purporting to be messengers of Christ. A pastor in Nigeria at the start of the World Cup urged his followers to pay him $2 000 to unleash a squadron of “prayer warriors” to help the country’s footballers secure a World Cup win. I doubt he’s refunded their money.
The message of the twelve that Jesus sent out is simple: “Repent!”
Repentance means a change of heart and a change of action. It’s painful. It means facing up to the unpleasant reality that the way we are living may be wrong. We may not be committing diabolical sins like theft, murder or adultery but we may be living lives that are centred primarily on ourselves; our comfort, our desires, our bubble of self-contentment. A change to a God-centred life is very difficult and perhaps that’s why so few truly repent.
But the twelve also brought healing; the mercy of God.
Mark tells us that the disciples drove out demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. The anointing of the sick is still a very powerful and wonderful sacrament available to all of us today through the ministry of the Church and is perhaps the most misunderstood and most underutilised of the seven sacraments often seen as the “last rites”, or Extreme Unction, of the dying. Small wonder that some may want to avoid being on the receiving end. The anointing is a sacrament, not of death, but of life. There is no sacrament that can save us from death.
The healing power of the sacrament is often clouded with the desire for physical healing but the encounter with Christ through the sacrament attends to our spiritual health and well-being as well as our physical sickness.
Often when people are sick, they get discouraged, depressed, angry and afraid. The sacrament offers the grace to calm the soul and strengthen the spirit bringing peace and courage in the face of pain, anxiety and fear. If physical recovery is God’s will, so be it; but our calling and our mission aren’t dependent on good physical health. The intention of the sacrament isn’t the extension of life on earth nor does it negate the need for medical care. The sacrament provides God’s grace and supernatural assistance to coincide with the miracles of modern medicine.
And the anointing brings forgiveness in the absolution of sins; forgiveness and mercy from God and the grace to forgive ourselves for the many ways in which we have failed to love.
We are able to receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick as often as we may need it. The elderly, the serious ill, those with life threatening diseases, chronic pain or recurring illness, can and should be anointed regularly.
While the sacrament of healing can only be administered by a priest or bishop, we are all called and able to offer healing. Often suffering and pain is more emotional than physical and we could look into our hearts and perhaps hear there the voice of Jesus sending us out to bring healing into the lives of those we may have hurt with our words or actions, or lack of words and actions.
Let’s pray that the call of the Holy Spirit to bring healing into our broken world will find a secure place in our hearts; if not it will shake off the dust and move on.