Last week I signed the contract for the next stage in the restoration of the exterior of the Church. This week we received our DOB approval! PPM, our contractor, is in the process of having his expediter pull the permits for work. The shop drawing and submittal process has begun. We will get an update on when they will begin work onsite once the permits are available to be pulled. The abatement team is back onsite finishing any window caulking that remains and removing all of the caulking in the corners of the building. We have coordinated them with PPM so they will not have issues in disrupting one another’s work. The abatement team anticipates completion of all abatement work in August except the area behind the sidewalk bridge which will be done when it is removed later in the project. We anticipate work fully mobilizing onsite within the next 2-3 weeks.
Meanwhile many of our vacationing parishioners have been sending bulletins and pictures from the parishes they are attending over the summer. I am interested in every Church bulletin, the interiors of Victorian Churches and particularly creative restroom additions. Our architects, Li Saltzman, (http://www.lisaltzman.com/) will devise a plan to install a restroom and more importantly for the look of the Church access to it but we need to tell them what we as a parish need. An example: would one changing table be enough? There will be more questions.
Wishing you a blessed week no matter where you are, I remain
Sincerely yours in Christ,
The Mass and reception for people taking the bar exam will be on Sunday, July 22 at and after the 7PM Mass. This is for everyone, not just parishioners, and we ask you to invite your friends. Lawyers who can give knowing encouragement are particularly welcome.
15TH Sunday in Ordinary Time
Our first reading today brings us to the 8th century BC and requires us to look at the political and geographical realities of the time. After the death of Solomon about 931BC the Kingdom of David was divided in two: the northern kingdom with 10 tribes, with its capital at Bethel and a southern kingdom with 2 tribes with its capital in Jerusalem. Both kingdoms were situated between Egypt and whatever political entity was strongest in the north: Babylon, Assyria, Persia. The names would change but the need to play one off against the other was the same.
King Jeroboam II was king of Israel between 783-743BC. He was a talented politician and saw that Assyria, the dominant power in the north at the time, was experiencing internal discord. He was able to expand his country’s boundaries and its trade bringing unparalleled prosperity. This prosperity also brought ignorance of God. This does not mean a lack of cultic devotion. They were able to maintain two main shrines (Bethel and Gilgal) with many sacrifices and pilgrims but they did not remember that their God was a one of Justice. The Lord’s relationship with his people was not exclusively with the rich and rewarded but with the poor and inconvenient as well.
It is to this world that Amos is sent. He is not an official prophet. Indeed, he is a man of the land. He also is assumed to have been sent from the Southern Kingdom commissioned to address the apostasy of the north. As all prophets he uses his specific background to reveal the wider problem.
11 Therefore, because you have trampled upon the weak
and exacted of them levies of grain,
Though you have built houses of hewn stone,
you shall not live in them!
Though you have planted choice vineyards,
you shall not drink their wine!
12 Yes, I know how many are your crimes,
how grievous your sins:
Oppressing the just, accepting bribes,
repelling the needy at the gate! (Amos 5:11–13)
This is reflected in the archeology of ancient times and the contemporary, one might even say universal, experience of taxation. . We see that the houses of the rich grew in size during this period but those of the poor got smaller. Also, that levies of grain were much like poll taxes and disproportionally affected the poor. To absolve themselves many of the prosperous gave expansively to the places of worship. Amos writes
21 I hate, I spurn your feasts,
I take no pleasure in your solemnities;
22 Your cereal offerings I will not accept,
nor consider your stall-fed peace offerings.
23 Away with your noisy songs!
I will not listen to the melodies of your harps.
But if you would offer me holocausts,
24 then let justice surge like water,
and goodness like an unfailing stream. (Amos 5:21-24)
Today’s reading is particularly provocative because it is a confrontation at the royal sanctuary in Bethel with the chief priest, Amaziah. He assumes that Amos is a “guild” prophet seeking to be connected and paid by the court or temple. He tells him:
“Off with you, visionary, flee to the land of Judah! There earn your bread by prophesying,
13 but never again prophesy in Bethel; for it is the king’s sanctuary and a royal temple.” Amos 7:12–13
He basically is accusing Amos of biting the hand that he wants to feed him. For Amaziah a prophet to survive needs to be on someone’s payroll and he who pays he piper calls the tune. Thus, the power of Amos’s answer:
“I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. 15 The LORD took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel. Amos 7:14–15 (NAB)
As we have seen with Ezekiel he was not inducted into a company of professional prophets but called by God and given a mission. He does not report to king or priest but to God alone. The tame prophets where unable to hear the voice of God. In Upton Sinclair’s famous phrase:” It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”
The guild prophets, company men, could not write the next section of the book:
16 Now hear the word of the LORD!”
You say: prophesy not against Israel,
preach not against the house of Isaac.
17 Now thus says the LORD:
Your wife shall be made a harlot in the city,
and your sons and daughters shall fall by the sword;
Your land shall be divided by measuring line,
and you yourself shall die in an unclean land;
Israel shall be exiled far from its land. (Amos 7:16–17)
And so, it came to pass. The Assyrians got themselves back together and destroyed Israel in 721BC. We have seen that prophets may comfort the afflicted, but they afflict the comfortable and just as the “what” of the prophet’s message may shock and surprise us so too we may be taken aback by the “where”. Amaziah was angered at the message of Amos but truly enraged that an immigrant would dare to chastise him in his own place of worship. I can sympathize. The most personally prophetic message that I have experienced was reading Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”: painful, passionate and from prison.
As we look at the wisdom of the Old Testament, let us remember that the Lord’s message will undoubtedly be one we do not want to hear and may very well be from a place we do not want to look.