|First reading||Amos 7:12-15|
Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, said to Amos, ‘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.’ ‘I was no prophet, neither did I belong to any of the brotherhoods of prophets,’ Amos replied to Amaziah ‘I was a shepherd, and looked after sycamores: but it was the Lord who took me from herding the flock, and the Lord who said, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”
I don't often reflect on the Old Testament part of the Sunday readings but I have a soft spot for Amos ever since I first noticed this reading and spent the rest of the Mass imagining him as a shepherd in a Tolkien-esque landscape where trees were like Ents and needed to be shepherded to stop them going over cliffs and getting lost in the wastelands; something of an imaginative child.
As I discovered, in the area where Amos lived the land was fairly generous and sheep did not have to go far for good grazing. Sycamore trees grow well even in poor soil - see any unclaimed piece of wasteland to know that. Their eagerness for growth and their straight grained wood makes them ideal for coppicing; for fence and tent posts, for ploughs and tool handles.
An ideal pairing then with the trees offering shade and grazing and the sheep keeping the land clear for the young saplings to grow straight and tall.
Amos was a minor prophet - which in itself is surely an oxymoron? How can someone who speaks God's word possibly be considered a minor anything?
I imagine him as a gentle but dour man; a man with a rhythm to his life; not much of a talker; someone not comfortable around people or away from the wide skies and starry nights. A man who prays whilst he works and sees the fruits of his work as his prayer to the God he calls Lord of Hosts.
Though he says it about himself; he is a no-one; not a prophet; not one of line of prophets. In a time when God did walk and talk amongst His people and there were others more 'qualified' to do God's work - God picks Amos.
I imagined the conversation with Amos' reply to God's request -
'Lord, I can smell the rain and tell the winter's length by the skeins of geese; I can see the twist in the grain where the wood will crack; I can find a sheep in a winter's storm and safely birth twins to a yearling. You want a prophet? Go to the temple; find a priest; I'm a shepherd who knows wood.'
God knew who God wanted. God wanted someone who read the weather; knew the right path; knew the value of life. God wanted Amos to read the signs of the times in a language people would understand; not priest babble; not temple talk.
And Amos saw this was his mission; to be himself. The Book of Amos, which calls Israel to renewal, is the book of a farmer, a shepherd, a dresser of sycamores.
How often we undervalue the gifts that God gives us; papering them over with qualifications; authorities and titles? When what we have is exactly what we need.
Just as the apostles are sent out - to offer reconciliation when they could barely spend two minutes together without thunder. Which meant they recognised the need; had experienced the grace of forgiveness; knew that life was not so simple; knew what they were talking about.
It is in what we regard as our inadequacies that God works; in our weaknesses that God has strength. In being who we are that God makes himself known.
In Jesus' name