Readings: Amos 8:4-6,8-12; Psalm 119; Matthew 9:9-13
It is easier to condemn great evils in the world than to accept that our own peccadilloes might amount to anything of great significance. Mediocre in our sanctity, we are often mediocre also in our sinning. Our compromises, our small bits of cheating, white lies, an occasional smart move to our own advantage - what harm do these things do? And in any case isn't everybody else doing similar things and perhaps even worse?
The reluctant prophet Amos is obliged to condemn the people for their petty injustices and frauds. But the Word of the Lord, speaking through him, shows that these injustices and frauds actually subvert everything. To lie and cheat, to steal and deceive - although the matters concerned may not seem major or serious, the dispositions involved are major and are serious. To accept that the life of a community could survive without truth and justice, without fair dealing and honesty, is very much mistaken. If I accept that people can be unjust and dishonest in little things then I am accepting that injustice and dishonesty are acceptable things to introduce into human relationships and affairs. And that is, eventually, disastrous.
Pile up small injustices and sin abounds. You will end up, the prophet says, mourning with the depth of grief that attends the death of an only son. He must be exaggerating, no? Our little sins and petty transgressions? But what does it lead to, this acceptance of lying and cheating? It leads to the death of the Word. Truth and justice cannot live in such conditions. A famine comes on the land, not of food or drink, but of hearing the Word of the Lord. People will then go searching for it and they will not find it.
What is the solution? Well one solution is to stop lying and cheating immediately, to introduce into all our concerns and relationships an honesty and transparency that will be as contagious in the direction of goodness as their opposites are contagious in the direction of wickedness.
Just as ordinary lying and ordinary cheating ensure that, eventually, society collapses, so ordinary loving and ordinary holiness ensure that, eventually, grace abounds. The call of Matthew, recounted once again in today's gospel, gives us encouragement and hope. Grace is not powerless when faced with those things that lead to the famine of the Word of God. Where sin abounds, St Paul goes as far as to say, grace abounds all the more. This is because Christ came to call sinners, and not those who are well. But He came to call them somewhere, not to leave them in their sins. He calls them to follow him, that means to return to holiness and righteousness, to right living and just dealing. He does not call us to the land of good intentions and commendable aspirations. He calls us to the land of honesty and truthfulness, justice and courage, temperateness and respect.
Little sinners may think that their offences do not amount to much and in one way they are right. We can be pathetic in our sinning. But those same petty offences open the door to the big enemies of communion and of human flourishing: they admit selfishness, lies, deception, cheating, sharp practice, discrimination, and all the other children of injustice.
It is great consolation: the Lord has come to put an end to the famine of hearing God's Word. The Word has even become flesh and dwelt amongst us. But the food that will sustain us in the future is God's commandments, the virtues of right living, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In our own small and seemingly insignificant places lies and cheating can do immeasurable damage, just as faith and compassion build up an eternal kingdom. Let us live not by bread alone but byevery word that comes from the mouth of God.