From a homily given last July 14, 2012
by Fr. Jet Villarin, SJ
When the false priest Amaziah expels the prophet Amos from Bethel, his reason is that he Amos has no right and authority to prophesy in the national temple, the royal sanctuary. If he wishes to earn his bread by prophesying, he can do it elsewhere. Amaziah is probably unsettled more by the prophet’s cutting into his share of the bread (market share) than by the prophet’s message. (The message probably warned about Israel’s pending ruin, complete with drought and locusts, unless the people surrendered themselves to conversion.)
Moreover, Amos did not have the credentials. He was not a prophet and he was never a card-carrying member of that elite fraternity of prophets. He was a small, rural player in the big league with the big guys who roamed the national center, the king’s sanctuary.
Amos replies that first of all he did not choose this for himself and that he could very well feed himself thank you. Secondly, he was a shepherd and a “dresser of sycamores” in a previous life. It was the Lord who took him off the farm and sent him to prophesy to Israel.
This is not the first time ordinary people are asked to do extraordinary things. This is not the only time we hear of someone who was used to tending sheep and trees being sent to tend people instead.
Which gives you no excuse (however small or ordinary or unworthy you think you are) to suppose that God does not have you in mind to speak his mind to others, even to those in the national sanctuary.
Speaking of his mind, we now have a better idea of how God looks at us. When he sends us, he trusts us. He has enough faith in us to enlist us in the work of creating and re-creating the world. He looks to our participation and defers to our stewardship in shaping and saving the world.
This commissioning (or entrusting) is never a unilateral thing, just as any meaningful relationship is never a one-way encounter. Covenants are decidedly two-way promises. Grace labors with human freedom to work the earth to fruition. Love initiates and anticipates love. Love awakens and returns love.
It is this awakening, this prodding, this rage (if you wish), this quickening inside that is the prophet’s chronic condition. And lest you think only elite card-carrying members suffer this fate, you only need to look deeply into your own longing or the hollowness inside to know that the prophetic unease (or dis-ease) is endemic to us all.
In other words, the prophetic calling is more generic than exclusive. In baptism, we are ordained not only priest and king (or shepherd), but prophet as well. From within and from without, prophetic voices can be heard in sensurround. Whether we hear them as subtle whispers or as thunderous threats, they only quicken us to the truth about ourselves.
There are consequences of course when God chooses to speak the truth to us through us. The risk of dissonance and delusion, of heartache is all too real. After all, the human sensory system is not a hifi system (hifi or high fidelity, for those of you who only know wifi). For all the triumphs and acts of transcendence we see in human history, that history is also scarred with deafening violence and unspeakable heartbreak. For all the trophies and toys we’ve taken throughout our personal history, that same history is littered with bits of broken words and aborted dreams.
Yet in spite of our mixed record, God continues to speak to us through us. Radio silence could have been imposed on us ages ago, but through Jesus Christ, God continues to believe in us, in our capacity to listen and act on the holy voices (santong boses) that speak to us.
Such is his faith in us that when Jesus in the Gospel sends the Twelve on mission, he tells them to bring no sack or coin or extra tunic. He tells them only to be their own person. Such is his hope in our humanity that when he sends us, he tells us to be just ourselves, without help of hifi amplifiers or noise-cancelling earphones or any of those devices we are wont to carry to repel the noise or insecurity or uncertainty.
Such is his love for us that he can find us wanting and still call for us. When he sends us, he tells us only to walk with the lightness of faith, to listen for him in the silence, and to speak truthfully from the hollow inside us.
After all, he assures us, that hollow inside us is found in him as well, and has never really been ours alone to bear.
ABOUT FR. JET VILLARIN, SJ
Fr. Jet is a Filipino Jesuit priest and scientist, who just finished his term as the university president of Ateneo de Manila University. He received the National Outstanding Young Scientist award in 2000, and the Outstanding Book Award for “Disturbing Climate” in 2002. He is also an active member of several local and international environment and climate committees, such as the United Nations’ Consultative Group of Experts for Developing Countries, and the Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change, among others.
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