Amos in our first reading is having a hard time. He has been sent by God to tell the king and government that they should start mending their ways, but no one will listen. The land is at peace, the harvests have been good, and the land is flowing with milk and honey.
Very often, in such times the worship of the one true God was forgotten. They went their own way, worshipped other gods who were more exciting such as gods of nature who demanded fertility rites. But that was not all: the poor were being neglected, while the rich lived in plenty.
So Amos goes to the king’s sanctuary and tells the people that they are living like pagans and not like the chosen people. Then the king’s prophet intervenes because he cannot allow this to continue, and he forbids Amos to preach. We then find out an amazing fact: who Amos is.
This man who is to turn Israel back to the worship of God, who is to convince the government to take care of the poor, is a nobody. He is a farmer, a shepherd. He says, the Lord took me from following the flock and said to me, go prophesize to My people. Amos had no formal education, the only thing he knew how to do was to take care of grapevines and count sheep, yet God chose him, and sent him to reconvert a whole nation. He uses the simple of this world to confound the wise.
It is the same way in the Gospel. Jesus summoned the twelve and sent them out. They were the most unlikely cast of characters for anyone to choose to be the foundation stone of a worldwide movement: poor, uneducated fishermen; a tax collector who would be regarded as a crook; people with no influence and no social connections. But Christ sent them out to be extensions of Himself. They were just like Amos, ordinary people who were called upon to do an extraordinary job.
Perhaps the scary thing is that, like it or not, we are their successors. By our baptism, we are a prophetic people, a people who should make a difference in the world. Because of us, the world should know or at least suspect that what Christ said and did still makes a difference in our world, for the world still worships false gods and if we do not show the way or speak the truth, none will.
St. Paul tells us today that God chose us that we should be holy. The word “holy” is the Greek word “hagious,” which has the idea of difference of separation. A church is holy because it is different from other buildings. The Sabbath is holy because it is different from other days. There is the challenge that the modern Christian has been slow to face: in the early church, the Christians never had any doubt that they must be different from those around them, they knew that they must be so different that they would probably die for it. The tendency nowadays is to play down the difference between church and world.
We Christians do not always think of ourselves as different from the world. Yet Christ insists on a difference not to take us out of the world, but that we should make a difference in it. It should be possible to identify the Christian in school, the factory, the office, everywhere. And the difference is that the Christian behaves not as any human laws compel, but as the law of Christ compels.
A Christian teacher is out to satisfy the regulations not of an educational authority, but of Christ, and that will almost certainly mean a very different attitude to the pupils. A Christian workman is out to satisfy the regulations not of the union or management as much as those of Christ, and that will make him a different kind of workman. A Christian nurse or doctor will never regard a sick person as a case but always as a person, an individual. A Christian employer will be concerned with far more than the payment of minimum wages or the creation of minimum working conditions.
It is a simple fact that if all Christians became “hagious,” holy, different, we would revolutionize society. Amos and the twelve that Jesus sent out were very ordinary people yet they dared to be different, to be holy.
So many of us are afraid to be what we are called to be – saints. Sanctity is your Christian calling simply because to be a saint, to be holy, is basically to be one with God. It means that you try to live the two great commandments of the law: Love God and your brothers and sisters at least as much as you love yourself. Do that and you are a saint. Not heroic holiness, not love until crucifixion, but essential, daily sanctity. Most of us are saints. You may not like that term but you better get used to it, it is another word for Christian.
Back in the fifth century a splendid pope and preacher, Leo the Great, said in a Christmas sermon, “Christians, recognize your dignity. God became what you are that you might become what He is. A God-man died for you that you might live for God and man. God lives in you that you might live in Him.” Recognize that dignity, and you will recognize your calling. Simply be what you are, saints, and live like saints. Christ-bearers act like Christ-bearers. You are called to greatness: therefore be great, and help make our church like a country where no one is a stranger, and no one is rejected. Remember, Christ told us what we are: He said, you are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.