Sunday, July 15, is the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B, Cycle II).
Amos 7:12-15, Psalms 85:9-14, Ephesians 1:3-14 or 1:3-10, Mark 6:7-13
Several modern movies were considered cutting edge in their time because they were all about people becoming wealthy — or at least comfortable — and losing their souls: American Beauty, Wall Street and There Will Be Blood. But most people know that riches often make people unhappy.
The Church has been “cutting edge” in this respect for a long time. The Catechism goes so far as to say: “The Lord grieves over the rich, because they find their consolation in the abundance of goods.”
The Church’s history shows the grandeur of simplicity and the greatness of poverty, from Jesus’ birth in the stable to St. Francis of Assisi and Blessed Mother Teresa.
In fact, since the Old Testament, God has associated heavenly blessing with material lacking.
In the first reading, we meet the prophet Amos, who explains that he is no great man. Before he was a prophet, he was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. Shepherding was a low-level job, and a dresser of sycamores was no better.
Sycamores produce a poor man’s fig. At a certain stage in their development, sycamore figs need to be punctured to make them grow bigger. So Amos’ job was to walk among the sycamores and puncture each fruit. From these humble beginnings Amos became a prophet so effective that Amaziah finds him a nuisance and exiles him.
Amos had no royal lineage or extensive education (he points out that he has never been part of a “company of prophets). He became great simply by insisting on God’s will and speaking the truth. In his poverty and simplicity, God found something extraordinary.
Likewise, in today’s Gospel, Christ sends his disciples out in pairs with directions to be simple.
They didn’t bring food. They didn’t bring extra clothes. They just went out, trusting in the mercy of people. They became beggars for God. They were rewarded by being given such an abundance of spiritual power that these beggars became benefactors of grace. “The Twelve drove out demons and anointed them with oil many who were sick and cured them,” the Gospel says.
When they relinquished their own power, God’s power could work through them with great results. “Let the proud seek and love earthly kingdoms,” says the Catechism, “but blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”
Thus, we show how detachment from material things can attach us to God. As the Catechism adds: “Trust in God is a preparation for the blessedness of the poor. They shall see God.”
Today’s second reading goes into even more detail about that relationship a Christian has with God. The grand beginning of the Letter to the Ephesians spells out the way grace works in us. Those virtues have nothing to do with our wonderfulness and everything to do with God’s ability to work with our littleness.
The Father has blessed us with “every spiritual blessing.” He chose us “before the foundation of the world.” He chose us before we had a chance to impress him; he chose us when we were literally nothing. The more “nothing” we remain, the more he blesses us. “He destined us for adoption through Christ Jesus,” says the reading. “He lavished upon us … the riches of his grace.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, in his commentary on Ephesians, points out that God’s choice of us “neither has nor can have any cause but the will of God alone.” God's only motive for choosing us is simply because he wants “to communicate the divine goodness to others.” Thus, God associates divine majesty with earthly poverty.
When the president of the United States chooses someone for a special position, the appointee does what is necessary to make himself available for that job, making arrangements to be able to live in Washington, etc.
God has chosen us exactly that way — for a place in his family with a particular job to do. We need to make arrangements to live where and how he wants us to: in the Kingdom of heaven, with its material detachment from things.
The more our heart is “poor," the more we throw ourselves into the arms of God and the community, the more we will be “lavished” with “the riches of grace” that Christ has to offer.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.