Many would have thought of Amos as a fairly uneducated peasant farmer, but it was this man who was called to go into the cities and reprimand the people for their lifestyle. In the book of his name he seems to have done this in a very skillful way; he felt called by God but was also drawing upon his natural dislike for their fancy way of living in the city. At the time of our reading he was preaching in Bethel in the northern kingdom of Israel; he has heard threats from God of a plague of locusts to punish them, then of a fire burning up the land; but Amos begs God and He relents, but then God has had enough of people failing His expectations and Amos has to convey this message – the king will die, the people will go into exile. At this point the priest addresses Amos in our reading for today (Amos 7:12-15); he tells him he is not a real prophet and should leave them alone and go back to where he came from; but Amos retorts that it is not by choice that he does this but is impelled by a command from God Himself. In the words of the responsorial psalm (Psalm 85: 8-14) we seem to overlook any message Amos might have for us, expecting rather God’s mercy and forgiveness.
The second reading is from Ephesians 1:3-14. This passage is just after the usual Christian opening to a letter. This is a letter that was intended to be passed around the different churches that Paul had established, like an encyclical nowadays; we have the copy that had the Ephesians as its addressees, but in some of the oldest manuscripts no addressee is named. After the introduction there is a grand accolade in the style of Jewish hymns of praise to God for all the blessings received. It is positive like the Psalm read before it, and we praise God for it tells us of the remarkable privilege it is to be who we are – children of God. The eleven verses in our translation are just one sentence in the original Greek and it details the believers’ great benefits within the overall scheme and process of God’s creating, leading eventually to His final and glorious kingdom for all, and the hymn praises God for it all. Notice the strength and positivity of the words used: by the Father we are blest, chosen, destined and graced; through the Son we have adoption, forgiveness, revelation and vocation; and we have heard and believed and are guaranteed our redemption through the Spirit of Christ and God.
In Mark’s gospel there are accounts of two pairs of followers called by Jesus (1:16ff) then the twelve appointed (3:13ff) followed by accounts of Jesus’ parables (chapter 4), miracles (chapter 5) and rejection in His home village, and now we read, this Sunday, in Mark 6:7-13 of Jesus sending out the twelve on a mission. However, were you to read the rest of the gospel you would realise that they knew very little about Jesus and never really grasped what he was about – until perhaps after the resurrection. This circumstance is a reminder to us that a gospel is neither history nor biography that we are reading, but it is good news for the readers and for us. The original recipients lived in the late part of the first century when the church was expanding through the work of what we might call today, missionaries. The instructions about what to take and even what to wear on this mission are in some places the opposite of how this is told in Matthew (10:5-15) and Luke (9:1-6); the reason for this is the different intentions and primary recipients from those of Mark’s gospel. Now we live in a quite different setting and even with more developed understanding of Jesus and God’s intentions for His creation, intentions which as a community we have to try to grasp and fulfill.