Image: Forest fire near the village of Tsiigehtchic
We hear from the prophet Amos in today’s first reading. Amos is considered one of the minor prophets of the Old Testament, yet his words had a major impact and became a model of preaching for many of the prophets who came after him including the prophet Isaiah. Because of his challenging message Amos was often not welcome to preach publicly and so his words were written and distributed leaving us with a good record of what he had to say to the people.
The times in which Amos spoke were relatively peaceful and prosperous and so, feeling self-reliant, the people had begun to backslide from the covenant that God had made with them and their faith became lukewarm. Amos attempted to rally the people and get them back to work on their relationship with God. Part of this was his particular concern that justice towards the poor and the vulnerable could not be neglected.
In the selection of today’s scripture Amos makes clear that the good times the people are now experiencing are not just the result of their work ethic or business shrewdness but because, up until now, God was showing them favor. As promised, God was on their side and was honoring the covenant that had been made between them. The other side of that, however, is that God’s favor could just as quickly be taken away if the people continued to ignore their obligations toward God and the ones that God had entrusted to them to be cared for.
What our readings today are trying to tell us is that it is God who is in control, not us. The gospel has a powerful image of Jesus calmly rebuking the wind, showing his disciples that even the weather is under his command. Whether it is the natural force of the weather, flood, or fire, whether earthquakes or disease, there are many reminders to let us know that we have very little control over what happens in our life. We must never take for granted our place in the universe, as it is very precarious. At the same time, we must take care not to allow ourselves to become helpless.
Since God does have the power over the gift of his creation it would be easy to fall into the trap of saying God will do whatever God does so why bother trying. This ignores that fact that, for the people of Amos’ time the covenant was about entering into a collaboration with God. For us, in our time, our baptism has also allowed us to become part of God’s family and participants in his plan for the world so there is a great deal that we can do.
When we go on the water, we can wear a life jacket, when we face disease, we can keep a social distance and wear a mask to protect others. We can put smoke detectors in our homes and keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. We do not have to just leave everything to fate. And, in our relationship with God we can pray and take part in the Sacraments he has left for us as reminder of his love for us.
Yes, God is in control. We cannot take credit for everything that we do without including God in the picture, but we also cannot leave everything to God without lifting a finger to do our part. We are in this together. The psalm for today speaks of our need to be in awe of God and to learn from God the ways of justice and mercy. Our task then, is to exercise those traits in our own life so that we can build the Kingdom that God has been planning for us.