Bringing the Good News of salvation to a collapsed world

Father John A. Kiley

Readers of the Gospel accounts quickly realize that the early Christian saga occurs intermittently between Galilee on the north and Judea on the south of the Holy Land. Most of the action occurs in familiar Galilee in Nazareth, Capernaum, Cana and Bethsaida. Episodes in Judea almost always focus on Jerusalem and its temple and, sadly, the hostile religious leaders. This north/south breach greatly pre-dates Jesus and his colleagues. The once united twelve tribes under King David sadly split into the southern kingdom of Judea with its capital at Jerusalem and the northern kingdom of Israel whose capital was at Samaria. Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, was rightful heir to the throne and reigned after Solomon’s death. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained faithful to him and formed Judea. Jeroboam was a servant who rebelled against Solomon and, with the remaining ten tribes, formed the kingdom of Israel. Both nations fell on hard times. Babylonia pillaged Judea taking elite citizens off into exile. Assyria captured Israel and often intermarried with the Jewish population, especially around the capital city of Samaria.
The first reading this coming Sunday presents the warnings the prophet Amos presented to the northern king Jeroboam just before the Assyrian invasion. Amos, a shepherd and landscape gardener, preached his message from Bethel, a celebrated shrine. Amos denounces idolatry against the Lord God and injustices against citizens. The prophet sees the threat posed by a powerful Assyria as well as natural disasters and the warnings of prophets like himself as judgments upon Israel. The New American Bible pinpoints Amos’ woeful theme, “Israel’s rebelliousness has exhausted the divine patience and the destruction of Israel as a nation and as God’s people is inevitable.” As a result, “Amos’s message is one of almost unrelieved gloom.”
Yet commentators, with some relief, also point out that the final chapter 9 of Amos’ prophetic statements offer a bit of cheer: “On that day I will raise up the fallen hut of David; I will wall up its breaches, raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old.” (9:11) So all is not lost. God will rightly chastise his people but he will never abandon them.
In great contrast to the gloom of Amos’ oracles are the optimistic psalm, the confident reading from Ephesians, and the hopeful proclamation of the Gospel passage proclaimed this coming Sunday. “Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven,” (Ps 89:11) asserts the psalmist. St. Paul could not be more optimistic in writing to the Ephesians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.” (Eph 1:3) And the happy first exploits of the novice disciples bring much cheer, “The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” (Mt 6:13)
The prophet Amos and his ancient era have no monopoly on gloom. War in the Near East and war in Eastern Europe rightly disturb conscientious people everywhere. The injustices throughout the world that force people to flee their own nations and seek asylum elsewhere is tragic. The exploitation of young and old through drugs, kidnapping of children and women for abuse, and the tragedy of homelessness are daily lamented. Abortion, single parenthood, and divorce disturb the thoughtful. A twisted perception of sexuality gives many pause. Diminished religious observance in the western world is a rightful cause of grief.
Yet just as the psalmist and St. Paul and Christ and his disciples brought hope to their fallen world, the mission of today’s Church is to bring the Good News of salvation once again to a collapsed world. And this challenge might not be as formidable as believers might think. For most Christians, the given challenge is to take one’s own daily life very seriously. Pope Francis addressed these words to the crowds in St. Peter’s Square in 2019: “And for us Christians, this means that we are called to establish a true communion with Jesus, praying, going to church, approaching the Sacraments and nourishing ourselves on His Word. This keeps us in faith, nourishes our hope, and revives charity. And so, with the grace of God, we can and must spend our lives for the good of our brothers and sisters, struggling against all forms of evil and injustice.” Ponder the effects of every Catholic taking his or her religious life seriously. The raising up of the fallen and the rebuilding of a nation’s ruins predicted by Amos would indeed be realized.