Witnessing to our faith and defending the values that it proclaims can be a lonely and thankless task. This was certainly the experience of the prophet Amos, who, in the eighth century before Christ, had been sent by God to the very heart of Israel’s northern kingdom to denounce rampant greed and corruption. The high priest Amaziah, representing the vested interests of the wealthy classes, had been quick to denounce the prophet: “Go away, get back to the land of Judah; earn your bread there, do your prophesying there.”
There is an immediate and obvious parallel between the avarice denounced by the prophet Amos and the ills that afflict contemporary society. In both cases the unrestrained greed of the few has led to the widespread suffering of the many. The society addressed by Amos dismissed his words. Like Amos, we are called to witness to the Gospel values that are so easily disregarded in today’s society. Are we not, like Amos in his own day, called to stand firm on values that protect family life and that safeguard the well-being of society as a whole rather than wealth of the few? Must we remain silent when the very foundations of faith are threatened?
Amos faced these and many other challenges. He was not afraid to speak out, to swim against the tide of popular opinion. It was, for him, a costly choice, bringing down upon him the wrath and derision of powerful voices. How can we possibly live up to the challenge so bravely embraced by the prophet Amos?
The Gospel, describing the first mission of the Twelve, demonstrates the way in which Jesus prepared his disciples for their mission. What is unspoken in the narrative, but was the very foundation of the Apostles’ mission, was the fact that the Twelve had already spent some considerable time with Jesus. We cannot convincingly take Christ to the world unless, in faithful prayer, we have truly entered into his presence.
It was this consideration that made sense of the seemingly impossible restrictions that Jesus placed on the preparations that the Apostles were to make for their mission. They were to take nothing for the journey except a staff. No bread, no haversack, no money – not even a spare tunic. This was not rash imprudence, for they carried with them the one thing necessary: the presence of Christ and his power to heal and save.
In an entirely different context St Paul outlined the grace that must stand at the heart of our witness to the world. Before we speak a word, the Father has already enriched and enabled us with the gift of his Son. In Paul’s words, before the world was made he chose us, chose us in Christ, to live through love in his presence. He has made known to us the hidden plan of his love so that we, in our turn, might play our part in bringing everything together under Christ as our head.
Paul’s language is expansive, but we should never allow its beauty to hide the very practical indications that it gives for our own lives and witness. It is in prayer that we allow the wonder of God’s grace to penetrate all that we are. In the humble knowledge of what Christ has achieved within us we are enabled to speak out with conviction. Like the Apostles on that first journey we rely not on ourselves, but on Christ’s presence and commission. Without the prayer that honours Christ’s presence, our witness is without words or conviction.