This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Aung San Ssu Kyi returns as election candidate
AMOS 3: 1-8
1 Listen, you people of Israel, to the charge which the Lord
brings against you against the whole nation which I brought
up out of the land of Egypt!
2 You only have I chosen from all the nations of the earth.
Therefore it is you whom I will punish for all your wrong- doings.
3 Can two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?
4 Does a lion roar in the forest when there is no prey for him,
Or the young lion growl in his lair if he has made no kill?
5 Does a bird fall to the ground unless it is caught?
Does the trap fly up when there is no bird to catch?
6 And do not the people of the city tremble when the alarm is sounded?
Can a city suffer disaster unless the Lord is its cause?
7 Surely the Lord God does nothing without showing his purpose to his servants the prophets!
When the Lord God speaks who can fail to prophesy?
The prophet says astonishing things here!
The “elect” of all religions believe that their calling is a sign of God’s favour; Amos says it means they’ll be held to account for all their wrongdoings. The translator says “You only I have chosen” but the Hebrew says “You only have I known” where the word “known” means the act of sexual intercourse. Those who have entered an intimate relationship with God need to understand that they will be held to account for unfaithfulness to their lover, according to Amos. The prophet Hosea takes this image of God as husband to a deeper level, but the insight of Amos is of permanent value. Churches may ask themselves, as they offer criticisms of the greedy rich, whether their own houses are in order. Perhaps God is saying to them, “You only have I known…”
The other astonishing thing is Amos’ description of how a prophet works. He is not content with events but seeks their causes. Two people will not meet each other in the desert unless they have made a rendezvous. The lion growls in his lair because he’s made a kill. A city suffers disaster because the Lord has ordained it. This heightened awareness of events allows him to discern what God is doing. Then he compares the fear felt by those who hear the lion roaring to the awe with which the prophet speaks the word of God. “When the lion roars, who is not afraid?”
Can young people be unemployed unless the society is greedy?
Can whole species be wiped out unless human beings are criminally careless?
Can nations spend more on arms than health if their people are not violent?
Can spiritual truth be neglected unless people have become shallow?
When the lion roars who is not afraid?
When the Lord God speaks who can fail to prophesy?
12 Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13He said to them, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer”;
but you are making it a den of robbers.’
14 The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, they became angry 16and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read,
“Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise for yourself”?’
17He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
18 In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. 19And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once. 20When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, ‘How did the fig tree wither at once?’ 21Jesus answered them, ‘Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be lifted up and thrown into the sea”, it will be done. 22Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.’
The tiny changes Matthew makes to his source, Mark’s Gospel, reveal his intentions. In the story of the money changers Mark gives the quotation as “a house of prayer FOR ALL NATIONS” because he portrays Jesus as clearing the Court of the Gentiles whose love of God is disrespected by the Jewish traders. Matthew is not particularly interested in the issue of Gentiles here, but just the use of the holy place for cheating. Similarly Matthew shows Jesus’ compassion to the blind and the lame, who may not have been allowed in the court of Israel because of their disability; and his appreciation of the children who ought not to have been speaking at all. Matthew wants to depict Jesus’ concern that those excluded or kept at arm’s length by the temple system should know that they have access to God.
Because the Temple fails to produce the fruits of faith and justice, Jesus performs a prophetic action by cursing the barren fig-tree which for him represents the temple.
Matthew is telling his readers that the accessible presence of God is in Jesus himself rather than any temple or system of worship. This is not a mystical belief, at least in the ordinary meaning of that word. Matthew considers the character and actions of Jesus as the effective presence of God for human beings, and faithful discipleship of Jesus as the only way of communicating it. Mumbo-jumbo about sacred places and sacramental actions would have received short shrift from this author.