Amos 7:12-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13
Both Opening Prayers of today's Mass contain a luminous (excuse the pun) little phrase - the light of truth.
The first says:
God our Father,
your light of truth
guides us to the way of Christ.
The second says:
let the light of your truth
guide us to your kingdom.
The light of truth – what a marvellous phrase!
We all know the light of the sun in the daytime, and of the moon in the night. We know the useful light of a torch, the revealing light of a spotlight. We know the lights blazing down on the football field and the comforting lights in the dark street as we walk home at night.
But do we know the light of truth, the most splendid light of all? This is the light we should all be walking in because this light illuminates the path to heaven, the path to God. Without this light we are lost even more completely than the football players are lost when the lights unexpectedly go off in the middle of the game.
The light of truth is God’s light. It reveals to us who we are as humans; it tells us how to act, how to worship God, the meaning of our lives. God’s light is not a torch or a burning flame, it is a man – Jesus Christ. Yes, Jesus is the light of truth – the light that guides us to the kingdom of God. As he himself said (Jn 8:12): I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark; he will have the light of life.
We do not light a lamp to put it under a tub and neither does the Father. He puts it (Jesus) on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. (c.f. Mt 5:15) And where is that lamp stand? It is the Church. You are the light of the world. (Mt 5:14)
Of course, we do not all shine as brightly as we should and from time to time in the world’s history the light of truth in the world will grow perilously dim; man turns away from God and follows other paths. This, I believe, is very much the case today in the poor, affluent Western World. We are confused and scattered and tangled up in desires and ambitions which lead only to estrangement from God and disaster for ourselves.
In his untiring mercy, however, the good God sends holy men and prophets into the world to draw us back to adherence to the truth. If mankind refuses to listen to these it runs the risk that God will withdraw and simply leave it to experience the painful and destructive consequences of its own stubborn conceit. We remember how last week the Gospel told us that because the people of his home town rejected him: he could work no miracle there. Deprived of God’s help we are on our own.
This brings us to the First Reading from the prophet Amos.
Woe to Damascus, said Amos, for its cruelty in war. You can almost hear Amaziah, the priest of the royal sanctuary in Israel, cheering because Damascus was the enemy of Israel and Amaziah would have been happy to hear they were going to be punished by God.
Next came Gaza which would be punished for its crimes; and then Tyre, Edom, the Ammonites, and Moab. These prophecies would have given Amaziah a great deal of pleasure. Their enemies were going to ‘get it in the neck’ from God. What a good prophet this man Amos is turning out to be. We like him! But not so fast, Amaziah, keep listening.
Then Amos starts on Judah who had rejected the Law of the Lord and were led astray by their own lies. Amaziah must have been getting a bit uncomfortable at this stage. Judah was not yet Israel because the kingdom was split – but Amos was getting uncomfortably close.
Finally comes Israel. I won’t bother listing all the crimes of Israel for which they were going to be punished but I can assure you it was not a pretty picture. Can you imagine how furious Amaziah was? It’s one thing asking someone to look at all the faults of others, but it’s another thing entirely to ask them to look at their own. The light of truth shines so much more comfortably on the faults of our neighbour than it does on our own, doesn’t it?
It was all too much for Amaziah: Go away, seer; get back to the land of Judah; earn your bread there, do your prophesying there. We want no more prophesying in Bethel; this is the royal sanctuary, the national temple.
Well, it didn’t stop Amos: You say: “Do not prophesy against Israel, utter no oracles against the House of Isaac.” Very well, this is what Yahweh says … . Once again it was not a pretty picture; the light of truth rarely is.
Well, let’s get personal. The possibility of taking a wrong turn on the path to the kingdom exists for all of us. When it happens it’s a tragedy. We make the wrong decision, we listen to the wrong advice, we convince ourselves that our conscience is ok, besides, everybody seems to be doing the same thing! And before we know it we have lost the way – we have lost the light of truth – and we don’t realise it.
Amaziah was a priest. He was priest in the royal sanctuary, the national Temple, no less. But he had lost the light of truth. It can happen to anyone. He still offered his sacrifices and holocausts, he still did his religious duties, he still ‘looked’ like a priest – but he had, nevertheless, lost his way.
I believe there are many ways in which we as Catholics have lost the way. I will spare you a list but the light of truth is fading in the Western world; darkness is gathering.
What are we going to do about that?