Readings for 15th Sunday in ordinary time: Am. 7:12-15; Ps. 85:9-10, 11-2, 13-14; Eph. 1:3-14; Mk. 6:7-13
Do any of you remember the HBO series "Newsroom?" It lasted only a couple of seasons. However, I found it interesting and watched it faithfully.
As far as I'm concerned, the series' highlight came when lead actor, Jeff Daniels, delivered a speech about then-current dismal state of our country. I'm sure many of you have seen it. It seems more relevant today than it did in 2012.
As a news anchorman of the stature and credibility of Walter Cronkite, Daniels' character is badgered into answering the question "Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?" Here's how he answered:
Whew! That's hard for most of us to hear, isn't it? It's almost as if the speaker were viewing the United States the way foreigners often do -- or at least as someone highly sympathetic to the uneducated, infants, the poor, sick, imprisoned, and the victims of imperialistic wars. He seems to be saying that the experience of such people represents the measure of greatness.
I raise the "Newsroom" speech today because of today's first reading from the Book of Amos. He was a prophet whose most famous speech was very like the one we just saw.
I mean his words were similar in that they were offensive to patriotic ears and centralized the experience of the poor. And they were delivered by an outsider. As we saw in today's first reading, Amos' words also evoked such negative response that they led the chief priest of Israel to lobby for the deportation of the prophet.
And what did Amos say?
Well, he was a very clever speaker. He did his prophetic work towards the end of the 8th century B.C.E. That was after the death of Solomon, when the Hebrew people had split into two kingdoms. The northern one was "Israel;" the southern one was "Judah." Often the two were at war with one another. Yes, the "People of God" were that deeply divided even then.
Amos came from Judah, the southern kingdom. He went up north, to Israel, and confronted the people there. And he tricked his audience into agreeing with him that all their official enemies were really bad -- the Aramites, Philistines, Moabites, and especially Judah, that kingdom to the south. God is extremely angry with these people, Amos promised. They would all be soundly thrashed.
"And they all deserve it!" his audience would have agreed.
And then the prophet turned the tables on his listeners. "But you know the nation that will be punished more harshly than all of them put together, don't you? You know who the worst of all is, I'm sure." (By now he now had his audience in the palm of his hand.)