Amos prophesied during the height of Israel’s prosperity, and the officials of the kingdom considered the prophet nothing more than a thorn in their side (Amos 7:10-17). Amaziah, the high priest at the sanctuary of Bethel, expelled Amos from the sanctuary and demanded that he return to his native Judah.
Amos’ prophecy and visions only intensify: “The sequence of Amos’ visions indicates that he became increasingly conscious of impending doom hanging over Israel because of the injustice in the land. In his early visions of locusts and drought, the prophet is able to avert disaster by means of intercessory prayer (7:1-6). However in the last three visions of the plumb-line, the ripe fruit, and the sanctuary (7:7-9; 8:1-3; 9:1-4), the prophet shows that calamity has become irrevocable. The Lord seems to be indicating that by rejecting the prophet’s word, Israel had crossed the line of no return” (M. Duggan, The Consuming Fire, Ignatius Press, 249).
Amos foresees the “Day of the Lord” not as a time of victory over Israel’s enemies, but rather as a time of divine judgment, terror for the unrighteous, wailing and lamentation. Israel and Samaria will be invaded by Assyria and the people will be sent into exile. This was nothing more than the fulfillment of God’s word, the divine visitation on the injustice rampant among the people. The people were unfaithful to their mission to bring the nations to worship the one, true God, and so God sends them out as exiles into the nations, until the day when his Son, Jesus Christ, comes to restore the tribes of Israel and gather all men to himself.
In comparison to Israel’s day of visitation, Matthew’s encounter with the Lord has a much different outcome. Matthew does not reject the voice of the Lord and instead leaves everything to follow Christ. Just as the first apostles left their nets, Matthew leaves his counting post. From the outside, it looks like Matthew is nothing more than a sinner, who contributes to the Roman oppression of the people. From the outside, someone could easily accuse Matthew of the sins listed by Amos: waiting for the Sabbath to end so as to get on with making money, fixing his scales to cheat the people, and so on. But this is not the case, Matthew’s heart is open to the movement of God’s grace. He doesn’t let it pass by and responds generously. Jesus defends Matthew from the questions of the Pharisees, who thought that they were righteous because the fulfilled the external rites of the law.
We are like Matthew; we are sinners in need of God’s mercy. When God visits us, we should not follow the example of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, who rejected the word of the Lord. Rather, we need to welcome the Word of God each day in prayer, in Sacred Scripture, in the Eucharist, and in serving our brothers. Our attitude toward sinners cannot be like that of the Pharisees who separated themselves from them and judged them severely, completely oblivious to the log in their own eye. Rather, we need to be like Matthew, who, after encountering Jesus and leaving everything to follow him, gathers his family and friends and acquaintances at table so that they too may encounter the Word of salvation.
Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at [email protected].