Building on last week’s readings about prophets in a way unusual and interesting, we now get additional insight from Amos and Mark. The Amos narrative looms oddly in a book where otherwise the prophet is a speaker rather than spoken about, and it comes too abruptly since the lectionary shears away what context is available. We can surmise that the prophet has come to the northern shrine at Bethel to utter words of disaster about Israel’s king (Jeroboam II), promising him exile or worse. The shrine priest, Amaziah, tells him that he cannot say those words in that place: cannot threaten harm to the king in the royal shrine. The priest runs him off the property, though (offstage), Amos declines to go quietly.
In the gospel reading Jesus says something similar—and different—to his disciples: Don’t bother to preach if they don’t want to listen. Move on. And related: Eat their food while you are preaching to them. Several good points to ponder, as we consider not only Amos and Jesus (and last week’s Ezekiel and Mark) but other prophetic voices as well: To have no credibility gives a preacher no base; preaching (and prophesying) are relational is some way. But too much familiarity is a problem as well: if the preacher can be slotted as ordinary, it is more difficult to listen. But too much relationship is also risky: Don’t table-hop, Jesus advises, lest you appear to be in business for the perqs and thus reduce your status. And don’t waste your pearls pointlessly if the resistance is too dug in. In our day (and perhaps in biblical times) prophetic words don’t lack. But credible preachers, or responsive hearers, are more difficult to find. How can our words nest in our lives so that we appear to be, and are, people of integrity, of credibility? How do we work for sufficient relationship to be trusted but not so little respect that we are easily dismissed? Where do we find the courage to say bold words and also the compassion to care about their effect on our hearers?
Barbara Green, O.P.