Lectio Divina on Joel 2

Ah, my Lord, how we dishonor you when we approach you with anything less than expectation, wonder, and praise. Sometimes the Lenten season overtakes the whole year: sorrow and penance, self-improvement strategies and pleading for mercy, memories of the way we’ve messed up and knowing we can’t entirely make things right on our own.

After his resurrection, Jesus filled his disciples with joy and wonder. We can’t skip that part of the story. We can’t neglect absorbing Jesus’ divine love and unendingly tender mercies with overflowing gratitude for all he pours out on us through his paschal mystery.

Ash Wednesday thrusts us into a penitential season with the reading of Joel:

“Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent
    and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
    for the Lord your God.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion,
    declare a holy fast,
    call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people,
    consecrate the assembly;
bring together the elders,
    gather the children,
    those nursing at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room
    and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord,
    weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord.
    Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
    a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
    ‘Where is their God?’”

Then the Lord was jealous for his land
    and took pity on his people.

And there the reading ends. The passage is a perfect beginning for Lent, but also for any point in our life when we are in a difficult time, bearing the crushing weight of the cross, or sorrowing for sin.

However, we never really get to pick up this prophet’s vision and understand how the Lord takes pity on his people.

In this scriptural meditation, we will look closely at the Lord’s reply which immediately follows this Ash Wednesday passage. I have made bold and underlined words and phrases to bring to your prayerful awareness as you are reading the Lord’s response to his people who are crying out to God that he might spare them. In italics are my interjections.

19 The Lord replied to them:

“I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil,
    enough to satisfy you fully;
never again will I make you
    an object of scorn to the nations.

Note: it is the Lord who will feed and honor his people, satisfying them fully and forever. The LORD will do it.

20 “I will drive the northern horde far from you,
    pushing it into a parched and barren land;
its eastern ranks will drown in the Dead Sea
    and its western ranks in the Mediterranean Sea.
And its stench will go up;
    its smell will rise.”

Note: the Lord will free and protect his people, completely liberating them from their enemies. The LORD will do it. He will act. He will get things done. He will start things moving in the direction of our joy.

Then Israel replies:

Surely he has done great things!
21 
    Do not be afraid, land of Judah;
    be glad and rejoice.
Surely the Lord has done great things!
22     Do not be afraid, you wild animals,
    for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green.
The trees are bearing their fruit;
    the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.
23 Be glad, people of Zion,
    rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains —why?—
    because he is faithful.

Note: stop and shout it out! “Because he is faithful!” We can be glad and rejoice, we see the desert turn into an oasis because he is faithful. The fig trees on the terrace yield their riches because HE is faithful. Our Ash Wednesday reading earlier in this second chapter of Joel made it clear that we were NOT faithful. Here now is the key to our joy. Even though we are not faithful, GOD IS FAITHFUL. And he can do all things. He will do all things. He has pity on us and can reverse the most terrible consequences of our weakness and sin.

He sends you abundant showers,
    both autumn and spring rains, as before.
24 The threshing floors will be filled with grain;
    the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.

Note: pay close attention to the next section. God understands clearly what his people, what you and I, have been through…”the years the locusts have eaten.” He declares: I will repay you for all you have lost, I will make it up to you for the lean years and will fill you until you are full. To what purpose? So that “you will know that I am in Israel,” says the Lord. I am here, he says, “I am the Lord your God.”

25 I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
    the great locust and the young locust,
    the other locusts and the locust swarm
my great army that I sent among you.
26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God,

    and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

28 “And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Note: the Lord prefers working wonders, creating joy, causing us to burst out with praise, assure us with his fidelity calling forth our faith and fidelity. God prefers to be pouring out his gifts, which is where it all started with creation in Genesis. “Let there be….and God saw that it was good….” It is in God’s nature to love, to give, to overflow with goodness, to pour out his wonders on his people.

So, my friend, here are three ways to live in wonder at God’s fidelity:

Have the courage to let God restore you

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.” To allow God to restore us for the pain, the loss, the failure, the marginalization, the injustice, demands a fierce yielding to him. I know that that many times I am clinging to me, my own ideas of myself, my future, what’s best for me. I cling to my own resentments, my own ideas about God and what he should be doing. It is only when I have the courage to allow God to restore me in his own way, on his own terms, and in his own time, that I discover that the desert busts into bloom in surprising ways that perfectly satisfy all my dreams and fill me with happiness and contentment. It is always just right. It is always surprising. “Surely the Lord has done great things!”

Surrender to God’s authority over you

“I am the Lord your God…and there is no other.” To surrender is to put one’s full weight on someone or something. When we surrender to our bed at night, we relax and allow our whole weight to rest on the surface beneath us. It involves letting go, a release of effort, the melting of our tension and fear. Surrender involves great trust. God’s power over us is not that of a despot or someone out to see us fail or suffer. In this passage of Joel says, the Lord says:

26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God…

Stop searching as if you had to find something that probably doesn’t exist

I have to admit I spend too much time looking for things that are right in front of me. Yes, this applies to keys and other things I habitually lose. And it also applies to God’s love, his mercy, the miraculous and wondrous way God is active in my life. In this passage from Joel, the Lord is making a promise to them by virtue of his own faithfulness to his people. When I search about for light, hope, a way forward, it is usually hampered by my awareness of my own infidelity. God is faithful because he cannot be anything less than faithful. He cannot be anything less than entirely true, wholly loving and completely good. Stop searching and see that you are surrounded by the sea of perfect love.

I invite you to pray quietly with this verse of Joel:

23 Be glad, people of Zion,
    rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains —why?—
    because he is faithful.

Deepening your reflection:

  • In what areas can you shout out: “The Lord is faithful!” In what areas of your life is that difficult?
  • Have you been aware of the way God is acting in your life? What are some of the things you notice about how God acts?
  • Is your spiritual life marked more by lamentation or praise? Is God asking you to develop either of these more in your prayer at this time in your life?