Summary: An exposition of Amos and John points us to Christ who gives us ears to hear and eyes to see.
Appropriating the Prophetic Word
The 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
July 15, 2001
COMPLICIT IN OUR OWN FAILED PERCEPTION
"We never saw violence or hatred in [our son] until the last moments of his life when we watched helplessly with the rest of the world."
This statement was offered in a letter to victims by the parents of one of the shooters in the Columbine high school massacre in 1999. In the letter and in interviews with the police, the parents repeatedly asserted that they had no idea about the arsenal of weapons their sons were amassing in their bedrooms - an arsenal that included knives, guns, cans full of gunpowder, coils of bomb fuse, and bombs - more than 100 of them, including pipe bombs, 35-pound propane bombs and homemade grenades.
When police entered the room of one of the boys after the raid they found a sawed-off shotgun barrel and bomb making materials lying in open view on the dresser.
According to classmates, the boys openly expressed their admiration for Adolf Hitler, they were obsessed with violent video games and they had posted threatening messages on the Internet revealing to investigators’ horror that they had been planning the assault for at least a year.
When we reflect on the parents’ protestations of innocence we are outraged. How dare they proclaim their helplessness in light of all this?
At night, while the parents were asleep, the two boys responsible for killing 12 of their class mates and a teacher made video tapes in which they talked about all the weapons they had. One of them in mocking imitation of his parents said, "If only we had checked his room. If only we had asked more questions."
How could their parents possibly have been so blind as to miss so many red flags? The answer is that we are never more deafened than when we refuse to hear and we are never more blinded than when we see only what we want to see.
Perception of the important events in our lives is not a matter of the proper function of our eyes, it is a matter of morality. Seeing and hearing, at least in Biblical categories, is a matter of our willingness to hear and see and our willingness to deal with the consequences of the culpability that hearing and seeing creates.
The tragedy of Columbine is that those who were closest to these boys did not see and did not hear because they were complicit in their own failed perception. The greater tragedy is that not one of us in this room is immune to being willingly deaf and complicit in our own blindness.
Our two texts today illustrate this very phenomenon.
EARS THAT WILL NOT HEAR
7 This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the LORD asked me, "What do you see, Amos?" "A plumb line," I replied. Then the Lord said, "Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer. 9 "The high places of Isaac will be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined; with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam."
10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: "Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying: "`Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’" 12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, "Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom." 14 Amos answered Amaziah, "I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, `Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now then, hear the word of the LORD. You say, "`Do not prophesy against Israel, and stop preaching against the house of Isaac.’ 17 "Therefore this is what the LORD says: "`Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword. Your land will be measured and divided up, and you yourself will die in a pagan country. And Israel will certainly go into exile, away from their native land.’"
In our first text Amos the prophet is delivering the word of the Lord to the people of Israel. God was tired of the fact that his people were thoroughly corrupted. They had repeatedly engaged in the practice of syncretistic idolatry. What was that?