“Mind your own business”, this is how I would sum up the theme of today’s mass. When are we a busybody? Is it wrong to be a busybody? Who is a busybody? Should we mind people’s business or simply leave them alone?
Amos apparently was a busybody. He did not even come from the Northern Kingdom of Israel. But he went there to proclaim the Word of God, urging the people to repent; otherwise they would suffer the tragedy of being stripped of their wealth, land and freedom. He felt called to warn them of the troubles ahead. The men who brought the paralytic to Jesus were also busybodies. They brought him to Jesus hoping that the Lord would heal him. They felt for the paralytic. In St Mark’s gospel, we read that they literally lowered him down from the roof and ceiling. Because of their faith in the Lord and on account of their plea, the Lord healed the paralyzed man. In many ways, Jesus was also a busybody. He healed many sick people and would intervene to help them. The Pharisees were also busybodies. They were interfering in the good work that Jesus was doing for the paralytic. They were judging Jesus as to whether He was doing the right thing. They even accused Him of blasphemy for forgiving the sins of the man. “Knowing what was in their minds Jesus said, ‘Why do you have such wicked thoughts in your hearts?’”
Not all busybodies are welcome. We do not like busybodies, especially when they interfere in our lives. Amaziah was angry and annoyed at Amos. It is inevitable that when we speak the truth, we will always confront opposition. This is because speaking the truth challenges those walking in falsehood to change their lives. This was the case of the Israelites when they heard the warnings of the Prophet Amos. His prophecy did not sit well with them because it was perceived as discouraging and negative. Most of all, it hurts those who are in positions of power. In the case of Amaziah who was the high priest of the sanctuary of Bethel, his influence and luxurious life was threatened by Amos’ prophecy as it might make the people question the existing status quo. Hence, out of fear, Amaziah informed the King that the prophet said, “Jeroboam is going to die by the sword, and Israel go into exile far from its country.” In truth, Amos did not say that Jeroboam would die by the sword except that Israel would go into exile. The intention was to accuse him of treason and brand him as a traitor. Amaziah told Jeroboam, king of Israel, that “Amos is plotting against you in the heart of the House of Israel; the country can no longer tolerate what he keeps saying.”
That Amos was not welcomed is understandable. No one likes to hear bad news. This is true even in our days. It is extremely difficult to tell those under us, our children, our subordinates and even our friends that they are wrong. They will react with hostility and resentment. No one wants to be told that it is wrong because we all have our views of what is good or bad. In such a situation, today, we choose the way of compromise, trying to accommodate both views so that there is peace even though it may be an uneasy and superficial peace. It is always difficult to speak the truth today because when the interests of those involved are affected, we can be sure that they will rise up to defend their interests.
Like the prophet Amos, Jesus was also not appreciated and often misunderstood. We read of the growing opposition against Him in chapter 9 of St Matthew’s gospel. In spite of the miracles and good works He performed, He was perceived as a deviant. The religious leaders felt threatened by Him. So they sought to remove the irritant from their community. In the case of the healing of the paralytic, they were scandalized by Jesus who acted in the name of God in forgiving the sins of the paralytic. Instead of recognizing the power of God at work in Jesus through His preaching, reconciliation and healing, they saw Him as one who broke the Law.
When should we be a busy body? Is it wrong to be a busybody? What are the criteria of a good busybody? The person must be intervening purely for a good cause and not for self-interests. These are the first two guiding principles. Indeed, this was the defence of the prophet Amos. He said, “I was a shepherd, and looked after sycamores.” He could have remained a shepherd and lived a contented life. He was not making money from the Prophetic ministry as suggested by Amaziah when he sneered at him saying, “Go away, seer; get back to the land of Judah; earn your bread there, do your prophesying there.” Clearly, the prophet Amos was not trying to sell his ideas or propagate his ideology but he was sent to communicate a message from the Lord. It was not about his interests but the good of the nation.
The third guiding principle is that it comes from the Lord. Amos said, “It was the Lord who took me from herding the flock, and the Lord who said, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” Since the Lord took him from being the shepherd of his flock of sheep and called him to be a prophet, he could not go against the Lord. He said, “So listen to the word of the Lord.” We need to discern whether the Lord wants us to help. Not every request needs to be attended to even when it is something good. We must ask whether it comes from the Lord or from our needs. That is why those who wish to be counsellors should not counsel because they counsel to satisfy themselves, not purely out of mercy or for the good others. They want to feel needed and fulfilled by being useful to others.
Jesus too was discerning as to what the paralyzed man really needed. He discerned that the man needed forgiveness rather than physical healing. Hence, instead of healing him physically, he could see that the heart of the man was burdened by guilt and his past. Hence, He began by forgiving his sins before He healed him physically. Jesus told the paralyzed man, “Courage, my child, your sins are forgiven”. The man did not react, unlike the scribes who were scandalized. This was because the paralyzed man knew himself more than others. He was fully aware of his sins and therefore did not deny the fact. In truth, he needed to hear the words of forgiveness desperately. He could not forgive himself and his past, which was the cause of his paralysis. He took the words of Jesus positively. Only the sinner knew how much he needed to let go and be assured of God’s forgiveness of his sinful past and the many mistakes he had made. It was the truth revealed to him by the Lord that helped him to find healing.
Consequently, the confidence in which we serve the Lord and speak the truth is dependent on our own inner conviction of what the Lord is telling us. If we are certain that what we are saying is from the Lord and not from us, we know that it will bear fruit. It is also the situation of the Lord. He had been called to proclaim the Good News to the poor. Like Jesus, we will speak with the authority of God because we have heard what the Lord wants of us and what He wants us to say. This explains why it is so important that those of us who are preachers, teachers or visionaries must be people of prayer who are very much in contact with the Lord, especially through the Word of God. When we preach or teach from our intellectual knowledge, we cannot go far in changing lives unless we speak from our inner convictions. Only when we speak in truth and from the Lord are our words efficacious.
Indeed, both the prophet Amos and our Lord continued with their ministry undeterred by the opposition they were facing. They did not give up as easily as we do when we find ourselves facing our critiques. Most of us would just shake the dust off our feet and leave them alone. We are afraid of hardship and opposition. But Amos and Jesus remained firm in their convictions and ministry. They did not give in to opposition or succumb to threats and false accusations. They were resolute in doing what they had been sent for.
In the final analysis, it is not difficult to distinguish between a false and true prophet. The false prophet speaks from his own interests and he has a hidden agenda of which he might or might not be conscious. This could spring from fear and selfishness. A true prophet has no ambition and no self-interests. He says what is needed to be said because he has heard the message from the Lord. When we become resentful because our plans are not accepted and retaliate in anger, most likely our ego and interests are affected. Otherwise, like the prophet Amos, it might come to a stage when we have to say the sad truth that repentance is too late, as in the case of Israel, because it would be a matter of time when Assyria would conquer Israel and they would be sent into exile. A prophet is sad for those who live in darkness but he is not reactive.
If we want to be true prophets, let us examine our own motives and be sure that we have prayed deeply so that we can distinguish the voice of God from our own voice. No one can be so presumptuous as to say, “the Lord says”, unless we have heard Him clearly in prayer, contemplation and reflection. The true prophet remains focused and suffers with his people in their sins and the consequences of their folly.