The prophet Amos provides us with his own biographical material so we not only know who he is but important dates in his life. He was a sheepbreeder of Tekoa in Judah, who delivered his oracles in the Northern Kingdom during the prosperous reign of Jeroboam II (786–746 B.C.). He prophesied in Israel at the great cult center of Bethel, from which he was finally expelled by the priest in charge of this royal sanctuary (7:10–17). The poetry of Amos, who denounces the hollow prosperity of the Northern Kingdom, is filled with imagery and language taken from his own pastoral background.
The oracle we read today begins with seven rhetorical questions. The answer to each is a metaphor for God’s reaction to the disloyalty that the people of Israel have shown in breaking their covenant relationship. Dire consequences await them. They will be captured by their neighbors to the north who will press them into slavery. It is a frightening message.
The Gospel provides us with a contrast. The apostles find themselves in another kind of frightening situation. However, Jesus is sleeping through it. When they awaken him, he immediately asks them why they are frightened. Jesus then calms the storm. The apostles marvel at his power.
As I mentioned a few days ago, this story comes in the middle of nine healing and curing stories. Jesus was not the only healer in the land of Israel. The priests of the Temple performed exorcisms. Village healers used herbs to break fevers. However, Matthew wishes to distinguish Jesus from this type of healer by demonstrating an even more amazing power, the control of natural phenomena.
The prophet and Jesus both bring God’s Word to the people, and we need to listen to both messages, both the cautionary message of the prophet and the words of comfort and consolation of Jesus.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator