Our first scripture for this morning’s Mass is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Amos, who spoke the Lord’s word of truth to the Israelites, during the reign of King Jeroboam II, around the year 750 BC.
King Jeroboam II was, in a worldly sense, one of the greatest of the Israelite rulers. During his reign the Israelites experienced economic prosperity and were esteemed among the nations as one of the world’s great powers. Wealth, and all the pleasure, power and honors that money can buy, poured into the coffers of the Israelites. In terms of the world, Jeroboam was a great success.
In terms of the spiritual life he was a disaster.
Jeroboam was an idolater, a worshipper of false gods, and he made sure that the principle beneficiaries of his policies were the elites of Israel. While an elite few enjoyed the benefits of prosperity, the poor languished in suffering.
The word of truth spoken by the prophet Amos was God’s word of judgment upon King Jeroboam and the elites among the Israelites.
Thus, when God sends Amos to the Israelites as his prophet, he sends him, not as a purveyor of spiritualized self help, but with a warning from God that now is the time to set right things that have gone so desperately wrong.
This text from the prophet Amos might be the occasion to give us pause to consider the reality of what biblical prophecy is all about. Biblical prophecy is not simply about predictions concerning the future, but a call to repentance in the midst of present circumstances. In most of these circumstances, God has called forth the prophet because idolatry, the worship of false gods, has led, as it inevitably does, to terrible kinds of oppression- with the poor being the recipients of the worst kinds of injustice.
Idolatry is, and was not, simply the worship of mythological beings. It was the elevation of materialism to ultimate concern, with the pursuit of wealth, pleasure, power and honors as trumping anything and everything else. Idolatry makes success, rather than sanctity, the highest good to which we should aspire.
In all this, the judgment of God is provoked, as is his wrath.
The warnings of the prophets in regards to idolatry usually fell upon deaf ears. People would rather be ruined than changed, and not many are willing to choose less, rather than keep more for themselves. The prophets demonstrate in their tenacity to speak the truth that few want to hear the persistence of God’s efforts to save us from the idols, the false gods, which we create and serve.
So many of us would rather be ruined than changed. God would rather that we be changed rather than ruined.
Hearing the biblical prophets, our consciences should be provoked to consider the kinds of false gods that we worship- the false gods that lurk in our own desires for wealth, pleasure, power and honors and how our own decisions implicate us in domination systems of politics, economics and celebrity, systems like those ruled by cultural elites, men and women like King Jeroboam.
The warnings of the prophets are for us.
Ask yourself- would you rather be ruined than changed? Or will you heed the call of the biblical prophets and be changed rather than ruined?
Our second scripture for today is an excerpt from Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is an elegantly crafted treatise that explores the relationship of Christ to the Church and the relationship of the Christian to both. You heard the beautiful opening lines of this essay and in this section Saint Paul testifies as to what precisely we have received from God in Christ. Jesus Christ has showered great gifts upon those who place their trust in him, but what are these gifts?
Saint Paul tells us that the gifts are first, that in Christ we have been adopted by God, that is, accepted by him as his very own children. Second, that we have been redeemed by Christ, which means that we have been rescued from dark powers, powers called sin, death and the devil, that captivate us with idols, frustrate us with false promises, threaten us with destruction, and enslave us to our desires. Christ has proven himself victorious over these powers and delivers us from them.
Third, we have been elected by Christ, which means that he has chosen us. Chosen us for what? He has chosen us for a special mission, a mission that will give meaning and purpose to our lives.
And finally, he has given to us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not just some un-seeable divine force. The Holy Spirit is the love of God, it is the relationship Jesus Christ shares with his Heavenly Father. It is this relationship to God, in Christ, that is given to us.
In Christ we have been adopted, becoming the children of God; we have been redeemed, rescued from the dark powers of sin, death and the devil; elected, which means given a mission that gives meaning and purpose to our lives, and we have received the Holy Spirit, which means we have in Christ, his own relationship with God.
The Gospel of Mark testifies that Christ the Lord summoned twelve men and sends them out on mission. This is signaling the re-founding of Israel- the twelve men Christ summons corresponding to the twelve sons of the patriarch Jacob (Jacob’s sons are the progenitors of the 12 tribes of Israel).
The twelve sons of Jacob give rise to the twelve tribes of the Israelites that are united by David to be God’s Kingdom on earth.
The Lord Jesus is indicating in the twelve that he is gathering the Israelites into new tribes, who will be united by him into a new Kingdom of God, a new kind of Israel, which is what we experience as the Church.
This new Kingdom of God, this new Israel, this Church, will have a particular mission, which is signaled to us in the mission that the twelve undertake- to liberate people in the thrall of demons and to proclaim the necessity of repentance.
Being in the thrall of demons means that your life has been given over to serve false gods. These false gods are usually created out of our desire for wealth, pleasure, power and honors or are invited into our lives because of our desire for these things. Once we are in the control of these false gods or demons, we wreak havoc in the lives of other people and set ourselves down a path towards self-destruction. False gods make us soul-sick, and soul-sickness can be fatal. Breaking the hold of false gods over our lives is difficult and Christ offers to bring down upon those dark powers the force of his divine power- and his divine power can set us free.
The apostles bring this power of Christ out into the world and offer it to those imprisoned by their desires for false gods, their desires for wealth, pleasure, power and honors.
But the apostles also proclaim the necessity of repentance- that means the willingness to change one’s life so that one can be a disciple of the Lord Jesus.
In order to live in the Kingdom of God in Christ we can’t be the servants of kings other than Christ the King. We can’t do the work of the Kingdom of God in Christ if we are longing for a kingdom other than Christ’s kingdom. The change Christ wants from us is not just for the sake of change into itself, but so that we might accept that he is our King and his Kingdom will be our way of life. This is why if we are truly going to be Christ’s disciples, we must repent. We must be willing to change. Christ is clear that our willingness to repent, to change is a non-negotiable necessity of being his disciple.
And thus do we return to the lesson of the biblical prophets:
Most would rather be ruined than changed. God in Christ would rather that we be changed than ruined.
But, what do we want? Ruin or change? Christ the King or some other king? The Kingdom of God or the kingdoms of wealth, pleasure, power and honors?
Whom will we serve?
We all have to decide.
We all have to repent.