08 Oct. Saturday of the 27th Week
Joel 4:12ff. Prophecy of a severe judgment, followed by a time of peace and prosperity on God’s holy mountain.
Luke 11:27ff. More blessed than the womb that bore Jesus is the one who hears God’s word and keeps it.
The Sword of the Word
A sword of sorrow seems to be wielded in all three readings. Joel announces severe judgment against the nations, in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (=”Yahweh judges.”) In Galatians Paul tells how the privileged role of Israel, a people who had been God’s elect over eighteen hundred years, is now ended. From now on, writes Paul, “all are one in Christ Jesus.” Luke, in turn, almost seems to have in mind the prophecy of Simeon to Mary that she would be “pierced with a sword” (Luke 2:35). With what a shock of bewilderment must Mary have interpreted Jesus’ response to a woman who shouted her spontaneous praise for the one who nursed Jesus, when he said, “Rather blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.”
Even if such symbols are not to be taken literally, they are to be taken seriously. As blood is seen as “the seat of life” (Lev 17:11), Joel warns that the life of all the created universe must be re-consecrated to God in the valley of decision. We must rethink our entire existence, and evaluate our loyalty to family, country, race and even our church, if the Lord is to be our refuge and our stronghold. We reconsider our relationship with foreigners and with business, employment and government, possibly what is meant by the references to Egypt, Edom and Judah. In all of these rich symbolic expressions, Joel bids us to rethink the heart and source of all our relationships.
The sword of God’s word reaches the sensitive heart of life in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians(*2), to strike down all false, artificial boundaries between “Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.” Paul writes: All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with him. The pain and humility by which divisions and grievances may be healed are usually more difficult than the offence which initially provoked the differences. Paul summons us to this “valley of decision,” to heal old wounds and family disputes, to become “one in Christ Jesus.”
No one escapes the sharp sword of God’s words, not even Jesus’ own blessed mother. Her role does not stop with her physical motherhood and her gentle, life-giving care of the infant Jesus at her breast. She too was to listen continually to God’s word and to act on its new inspirations. In Luke’s gospel, Mary is presented in just that way, treasuring God’s word, spoken through her wide reach of neighbours, and reflecting on them in her heart (Luke 2:19). We too must listen again this day to God’s word and act on it with new faith and confidence, and reach out with new bonds of love to our faith-family across the world, as close to us as brothers and sisters.
First Reading: Joel 4:12-21
Let the nations rouse themselves, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the neighbouring nations.
Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the wine press is full. The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.
The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shake. But the Lord is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel. So you shall know that I, the Lord your God, dwell in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall never again pass through it.
In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the stream beds of Judah shall flow with water; a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord and water the Wadi Shittim. Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a desolate wilderness, because of the violence done to the people of Judah, in whose land they have shed innocent blood. But Judah shall be inhabited forever, and Jerusalem to all generations. I will avenge their blood, and I will not clear the guilty, for the Lord dwells in Zion.
Gospel: Luke 11:27-28
While Jesus was speaking, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”