Amos is an unusual prophet in that his origins lie outside the so called “school of prophets.” Amos is a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees. There are no prophets in his family heritage. In this respect he is not threatened by a loss of office, or prestige. He is an outsider, and so his prophecies are objective and uninfluenced by Israelite centers of power.
Because Amos is undeterred in speaking the truth he quickly makes enemies of the priestly and the royal establishment in the northern kingdom of Israel. When he prophesies that God will set up a plumb line (a weight on the end of the string used to level vertical posts and walls) in the midst of the people (presumably to judge their crookedness) Amaziah the priest of Bethel sends word to King Jeroboam claiming that Amos is plotting against the kingdom. Amaziah instructs Amos to travel south to the kingdom of Judah and to prophesy there, but not to prophesy in Bethel, or the northern kingdom of Israel. Amaziah’s actions remind us that it is easy to hear the words of the prophets to others but difficult to hear the words of our own prophets. Amos answers that his calling from God was specifically to Israel, and that anyone who stood in the way of that calling would find nothing but calamity.
Psalm 85 serves as a response to our Hebrew Bible reading by showing the proper response to God’s prophet in contrast to Amaziah’s response to Amos. The psalmist writes, “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.” The psalmist goes on to describe the salvation of God for the people. It is a time when steadfast love and faithfulness meet and righteousness and peace kiss each other. These are the results of the word of the Lord. The prophecy of God is judgment that is grace in disguise. By speaking against self interested power and corruption the word of God rids the community of those things holding the community in bondage and keeping the community from experiencing the joy that is possible in the peaceful and servant oriented life.
The opening to the epistle to the Ephesians is a beautiful declaration of what God has accomplished for us through Christ. It is proto-Trinitarian in nature, in that God the father works through Christ to provide us with the seal of the Spirit. Most importantly Ephesians claims that God ordained all these things to happen before the foundation of the world. Here we see the rich providence of God at work.
As Jesus’ popularity grew many began to say that Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead. John was very much alive the last his name was invoked in Mark’s gospel, so Mark explains the people’s association of Jesus with a resurrected John by giving a flashback that tells the events leading up to John’s death.
The flashback narrates the story of John’s arrest. Herod arrested John because John condemned his marriage to his brother Philipp’s wife Herodias. As a result Herodias held a grudge against John, even though Herod enjoyed to listen to John and favored the prophet as a prisoner. At a banquet thrown by Herod, Herodias’s daughter Salome danced for Herod and his guests and pleased Herod greatly. In appreciation Herod granted Salome a wish. Under her mother’s influence Salome asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Herod was grieved by the request, but to honor his oath and to save face in front of his guests he gave the order for John’s execution.
The story of John’s death follows immediately the sending out of the disciples to evangelize the towns of Galilee. The morbid story of power abuse and disregard for the prophetic word is fair warning to the new band of prophets who take nothing with them but a staff and sandals.
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your hearts and minds for worship consider the life of the prophet of God. John the Baptist lost his head because he spoke truth to power. Amos was told to leave town. While God’s prophetic word is the very medicine we need to become godly, it is often refused and attacked. In our worship we take time to hear the word of God and to be challenged in its hearing. After we receive the word we take it with us to a world in need. May we have courage and determination.