Getting to Know Joel
By Theresa Doyle-Nelson
Source: St. Anthony Messenger magazine
Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Are you going through a tough time? Does your heart need some joyful renewal? Would a touch of hope help your spirits? Or are you a struggling farmer or feeling careworn in the food industry?
If so, the Old Testament prophet Joel might be a good person to get to know. Because we hear him only a few times at Mass, many Catholics probably feel a weak connection to him. Even so, this “minor prophet” is worth knowing.
The son of Pethuel, Joel probably lived in Jerusalem about 400 years before the birth of Christ. His prophetic book is only four chapters long, but it shows that he was a prophet for the Lord, passionate for the good of the people of Judah. Joel used highly dramatic, metaphorical writing. For example:
His teeth are the teeth of a lion . . . (1:6b).
Their appearance is that of horses; like steeds they run (2:4).
The sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood (3:4a).
The mountains shall drip new wine (4:18a).
Although Joel’s writings may be unfamiliar, they continue to offer valuable spiritual insights.
A Glimmer of Hope amid Despair
The field is ravaged,
the earth mourns (1:10a).
Joel opens his book with a scene of devastation: locusts have devoured the land, leaving the inhabitants of Judah destitute and in a state of severe famine. Misery, despair, and anguish are at every corner.
Americans might not experience the same sort of overwhelming experiences as Judah’s ancient people: a debilitating locust invasion, much-needed grapes dying on the vine, going without grain, withering fig trees needed for sustenance, and similar losses. Although we Americans have plenty of poverty in our country, most people can get to a grocery store, food pantry, or soup kitchen to keep from starving.
However, we all experience times of misery, despair, and anguish. We all know what it is like to suffer—sometimes very deeply. Recalling difficult times in your life may yield a heartbreaking list of bad experiences—perhaps a flood, hurricane, divorce, postwar stress, drug dependency, or other tragedy. We still hurt—on occasion, horribly. Our circumstances of despondency may differ, but we have all shared the similar sentiments of angst that Joel’s contemporaries felt over 2,400 years ago.
Proclaim a fast, call an assembly . . .
and cry to the LORD (1:14a,c).
Within his long and elaborate description of Judah’s difficult state, Joel works in a snippet of powerful advice. He briefly presses the people of Judah to stop and think, to look to God for solutions, and to make sacrifices in God’s honor.
Again, our lives differ radically from life in 400 BC. Wearing sackcloth might (or might not) be the best way to go, and calling an assembly to address our problems might or might not be appropriate. Turning to God in times of trouble, making some sort of sacrifice (for example, Lenten prayer, fasting, and almsgiving) is never a bad idea. Actually, performing penitential acts on Fridays is a habit recommended by the Church, whether there is currently anguish in your life or not (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1438).
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