05Jul July 05. Thursday of Week Thirteen

Amos 7:10-17. Expelled from the Bethel sanctuary, Amos announces God’s truth.

Matt. 9:1-8. Jesus cures a paralysed man, showing his power to forgive sin too.

Misguided Orthodoxy

The Pharisees are right that only God can forgive sin yet they are misguided in limiting God’s power. Even basically well-intentioned rules cannot go unchallenged; yet the rule-makers find correction and warnings most difficult to accept. How hard it is to help good people see that they have room for improvement. This challenge faced by Jesus at it was by Amos, remains a feature life in the Church even today.

It is hard for religious leaders to admit mistakes and see the damage their harshness has done to others. After all, how could good, well-intentioned people like them be wrong? The blindness of hierarchs is not to theology, which they know well, but to common sense and elementary justice. Often it seems easier to excommunicate trouble-makers than to re-think official practices that have outworn their relevance.

It can be even harder when the truth-telling prophet is not diplomatic in saying what needs to be changed. Amos was vitriolic and sarcastic to the luxury-loving women (“fat cows of Bashan”); he and portrays the men as effete and sensuous, lying on ivory couches to be anointed with sweet-smelling oil, while reciting poetry to a captive audience. Yet this was God’s true messenger, a rugged individual, earliest of the classical prophets even while he refused the title “prophet” from the mouth of the high priest, Amaziah. Jesus too was less than diplomatic. Rather than dodging the issue he wants to force a decision, “Why do you harbour evil thoughts? Which is less trouble to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Stand up and walk’?

It is never right to use theology as further oppression of the poor. In this case the cure of the paralyzed man could teach the theologians about the Messiah. God can transform and sanctify whatever is brought to him: a misguided Abraham, a sinful paralytic, an uncouth prophet. The proud person, no matter how pure and legally correct, cannot be helped. The proud person goes away angry; the unlettered crowd can praise God for such a compassionate prophet as Jesus.

First Reading: Amos 7:10-17

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.'”

And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”

Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

“Now therefore hear the word of the Lord. You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.” Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.'”

Gospel: Matthew 9:1-8

And after getting into a boat he crossed the sea and came to his own town. And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” Then some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he then said to the paralytic – “Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” And he stood up and went to his home. When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.