When people have specialized skills in our culture today they often go into business for themselves and become independent contractors. They know that they have a valuable commodity to offer people that the people really need. They can then negotiate their own contracts with people and give the people what they need while also doing quite well for themselves. It is a very attractive prospect to be one’s own boss and not have to answer to anyone except oneself. Today’s readings make it very clear that when we are commissioned to spread the gospel of the kingdom of God we are not independent contractors. We do not work for ourselves, we work for God and serve the kingdom. There is a great amount of freedom in this relationship with God. We can concentrate on the task that we have been commissioned to do, the preaching of the gospel, not only with our words but also with our lives and leave the rest to God. We are called to plant the seeds and God will bring about the growth.
In the reading from the Book of Amos we meet the prophet Amos who has been called and sent to be a prophet to the northern Kingdom of Israel. In the time of Amos there were apparently a lot of prophets wandering around and offering their perspective on things. In those days the prophets were pretty much union people. They worked in groups and were expected to adhere to the company line. It really helped a prophet’s job prospects if he supported the dominant lifestyle and kept in line with the current administration. Amaziah was that sort of prophet. He was pretty much the chief of staff for King Jeroboam II and worked in the official state Temple in Bethel. He calls Amos in to his office and instructs him to get in line with the official policies of the time. He assumes that Amos is an independent contractor and that he is in business for himself. Amos informs him that he once was in business for himself but that his business was as a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. Being a prophet was not his idea. Amos was called and sent by God. He served the Truth and that Truth was revealed by God. Amos could not be bought off.
In the gospel of Mark we hear Jesus instructing the Twelve and sending them out to the people of Israel in his time. He makes it clear to them that they are also not to be independent contractors. They work for the Kingdom of God and must serve the Truth of that Kingdom. They are not to take any of their own power point presentations or dress up in fancy power suits. They are to very simply point to the Kingdom of God with their words and their lives. There are to be no negotiations in their presentations of the Kingdom, either in content or in compensation. They are to share the Word which has been entrusted to them by Jesus and they are to take whatever compensation is offered to them by the hospitality of the people. If the people do not accept their presentation of the gospel they are not to argue with the people or change their preaching, they are to simply move on and get on with the work of the Kingdom.
St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians that our blessings come from God and Christ, “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved. In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will in accord with his favor that he set forth in him as a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and earth…In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory.” Whew! In short, we work for the family of God. We are part of that family and our compensation is the inheritance that has been set aside for us in Christ.
There is a freedom in serving the gospel in that we don’t have to worry about what we are to wear, or what we are to say, or how we are going to be compensated. God will take care of that. We are not to let the trappings of this world distract us from the work of the gospel. We can encounter many demons in working for the world and we often have to sell out to keep our jobs and it can very often make us sick. The apostles are freed to drive out those demons, cure the sick and live in the freedom of the Children of God in his Kingdom. It is the Lord who signs their paychecks with his lavish grace. Who do we serve?