15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
If there were such a thing as a Prophets-of-the-Bible awards ceremony, our prophet today, Amos, would surely take home two of them. Hands down he would win the “doom and gloom” award for the harsh manner in which he told the Israelite people that God rejected their luxury lifestyle, their burnt offerings, and that their infidelities would lead to their destruction.
Amos would also likely win the “justice” award for his bravery in calling people to task about the gaps he saw between the luxurious lives of the rich, and the heavy taxes on the poor.
Martin Luther King Jr., a prophet of justice in our own age, quoted Amos directly in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech:
. . . we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
So, in our reading today, Amaziah, priest of the royal establishment, confronted Amos and told him to leave. No more prophesying here. Your doom and gloom is not welcome because it makes the king and the rich people uncomfortable.
But Amos simply said no: I was a shepherd, but then God called me to prophesy to the people of Israel. And, in the lines immediately following our reading, he casts some rather severe doom and gloom on Amaziah, his family, and Israel as a whole. Look it up. You’ll cringe when you read it.
There’s a common theme in our readings today: call and response. God called Amos to proclaim a tough message. Amos responded. Paul reminded the Christians in Ephesus that God had blessed them and called them to holy lives. The Ephesians responded by building up the body of Christ among the Gentiles (non-Jews). And, as we just heard in our gospel, the twelve were called and sent. They each responded and healed many.
Let’s try to get a handle on this notion of God’s call and our response. What does it mean for us? Is it different for us today than it was in biblical times? Not really. Three thoughts.
First, God’s call is not restricted to the religious professionals. I think each of us can relate to Amos, an ordinary poor shepherd who spoke out against injustice; or to any one of the disciples whom Jesus called forth from very ordinary lives. Quite simply, God calls each of us to align the things we do in the world with the things God is doing in the world.
Second, God calls us in the particularity of our lives, as opposed to calling us out of our particular life. 30 some years ago, as she was nearing the end of her formation, Sister Mary Johnice said she felt the call to serve the destitute and dying of India, much like Mother Teresa. So, she traveled to Calcutta, where Mother Teresa changed her life . . .
By saying, 'No, I want you to go back to your neighborhood, find the poor, find your own Calcutta,'" Sister Mary said, “Mother, how do you do that?” She said, “You look at the people, look into their eyes and find Jesus. Those will be the poor."
Only seldom, it seems, does God’s call lift someone out of their life, their world altogether, and drop them into a whole new life. Much more likely, God is nudging and nurturing you and me to be the best expression of the gospel right here, right where you and I are, right now.
Third, God never tires of calling, and throughout your life, you will surely receive multiple calls from God. We have this mistaken notion that God has one particular mission for us and we must stay awake, be attentive, remain patient for the moment when the call comes through. And, at certain later points in our lives, we panic thinking perhaps we dozed off and missed the call.
When in reality, God calls multiple times throughout our lives with many different invitations, from childhood to older age. God’s calls are a gift of abundance, and there are always new ways to answer.
To understand the mysterious ways God calls us in our lives, Kathleen Cahalan in her book, The Stories We Live, offers three experiences or images of call: the plan, the pilgrimage, and the surprise. Throughout your life, you have likely experienced all three.
The Plan. In the big picture, God’s plan is the same for all of us: to live and work for the sake of God’s mission in the world. But inside that mission, there is infinite room to explore. God’s plan is about “creating, making, restoring, mending, uniting, connecting, healing, and correcting all that stands opposed to God’s ways and purposes” (p.5).
Cahalan writes, “Perhaps a more helpful way is to say that God does not create you with a vocation (one single plan that God has made), but with the capacity for vocations (the ability to engage in dialogue with God and others to create a plan for your life). The plan, the response to God’s call, becomes, then, a creative act, something we create with God and others, unique to each of our lives” (p. 5).
The Pilgrimage. Many people experience their calling as a journey of discovery while walking with others and with God. They must walk to figure it out, to learn along the way, to struggle under difficulty and even failure. And as they journey, like the disciples in our gospel story, they discover hospitality, the need to lighten their bag, and to be open to the unexpected.
As pilgrims, we put our gifts, talents, passions, and resources at God’s disposal, and through sincere prayer with an open heart, we discover just how to put them all to work for the sake of God’s mission.
The pilgrimage may take a year, or a whole period of your life, or even an entire lifetime.
The Surprise. Aha! Every so often God breaks into our lives and reveals a passion and path that is so compelling we cannot do anything other than jump in wholeheartedly. We are awakened to a gift that causes us to fall in love, find a purpose, give us a mission that simply will not leave us alone. There really is no choice, but to say yes and go.
These three images tell us that calling is “something we make with God, who can be known and named as planner, walking companion, and surprise gift-giver” (p. 9).
In what ways do you hear God calling you today?