Homily – February 22nd, 2012
LENTEN REPENTANCE Ash Wednesday Feb. 22, 2012
The Day of the Lord generally excites fear among the Israelites. God has created the heavens and the earth and given blessings to the Israelites, but God’s tolerance has its bounds. Joel the prophet warns that because people have fallen away from the covenant, God has sent this awful plague of locusts.
Has anything like this ever happened in your days Or in the days of your forefathers?
What the locust swarm has left, the great locusts have eaten; What the great locusts have left, the young locusts have eaten; What the young locusts have left, other locusts have eaten.
(Joel 1:2-4) This prophet Joel then describes the awful damage that the locusts have inflicted. Joel uses the image of an invading army in listing the destruction of these beasts.
A nation has invaded my land, powerful and without number; It has the teeth of a lion, the fangs of a lioness. It has laid waste my vines and ruined my fig trees. It has stripped off their bark and thrown it away, Leaving their branches white.
The fields are ruined, the ground is dried up; The grain is destroyed, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails. Despair, you farmers, wail, you vine growers; Grieve for the wheat and barley, because the harvest of the field is
The vine is dried up and the fig tree is withered;
The pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree—
All the trees of the field—are dried up.
Surely the joy of mankind is withered away. (Joel 1:4-12).
The prophet Joel, having described the great destruction that denudes the earth of all vegetation, sees this destruction as sign of God’s displeasure with Israel. In this day of the Lord, God punishes his people. Plagues and drought and natural disasters fall on the people because God brings such suffering to the unfaithful people, unfaithful in keeping the covenant. This is the time of judgment against Israel.
However, in the midst of Judah’s desperate situation, and with awful judgment hanging over it, God utters a saving possibility. God calls the people to return to worship with all their conscience and to rend their hearts and not their garments.
The tearing of one’s garments publicly displayed despair(Genesis 37:29), mourning, or loss of status (Num 20:26). The cloak was torn when a person was in grief (Job 2:12). Special outerwear would depict power, prestige, and identity. Linen and wool were commonly used.
Thus when the Lord commands that the Israelite rend his heart and not his garment, the Lord commands an emotional giving over of prestige, of authority, of the self. The expression of repentance in Judah’s heart is to be more emphatic than just tearing of the cloak.
The heart in Hebrew idiom symbolizes what the brain symbolizes in language today. For the person of Joel’s time, the heart meant the understanding and the wanting. God asks Judah to turn away from
apostasy and return to God. Joel appeals to the people to love and worship and obey God with all their hearts (Jer 4:4; 32:39-40).
Joel reminds the people of God’s relation to them, for God shows Himself to be
gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
Now the decision calls for actively coming close to God. Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. And bring all the people so that the bride and groom come, the elders come, the children and even the infants must come. Bless the assembly. Let the priests pray for all the people.
This passage from the prophet Joel is read in all the churches at the beginning of Lent. Protestant churches and Catholic churches see in this passage a stirring to accomplish the purpose of Lent. By reason of the sacraments—baptism, confirmation, penance, and especially the Eucharist—we are God’s people.
None of us is exempt from the need for repentance and transformation of our lives. We have need to reconcile with our neighbor, commit to love God above all else, and accept grace when it is offered. Our spiritual life depends on our responding to this call for penitence and trust in God. Lent offers each of us the moment to draw close to God. Amen.
Pastor Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.