Today’s Scripture: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
12Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.(NRSV)
The book of Joel is included with the minor prophets in the Old Testament. The second chapter of Joel, and the verses included here, have two seemingly disconnected parts: “The Day of God’s Army” and “The Call to Repentance”. The former describes an advancing army and describes a day of punishment, hardship, and fear. This is God’s army being led against God’s enemies. There is an abrupt change in “The Call to Repentance”. The juxtaposition of this section to the former implies that repentance can help one avoid, or turn away, the Lord’s wrath and punishment. Specifically, the author calls the people to gather, fast, and pray.
This selection of scripture is commonly read around Ash Wednesday. To me, the abrupt change from the first to the second section brings to mind the contrast between Mardi Gras and Lent. Mardi Gras is focused on celebration, indulgence, and excesses of food, drink, and fun. The Mardi Gras season climaxes on Fat Tuesday with elaborate parades. When midnight strikes to bring in Ash Wednesday, there is an abrupt end to the festivities. The streets are cleaned such that there is no sign of Mardi Gras. The city of New Orleans is quiet. Thoughts turn inward to God and self, with a concentration on the willing denial of the excesses of Mardi Gras; they “blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify[ing] a fast”.
However, the period before repentance is clearly not a party in this scripture. I wonder if an interpretation might be that the “enemies” are things that take our attention, distract us, make us forget the less fortunate, make us feel unfairly persecuted. It might be illness, disability, substance abuse, etc. The Call to Repentance does not describe the defeat of “the enemies”. Does that mean that we can abruptly “turn the other cheek” and give our attention to God in order to escape the enemies in our lives?
I think that these are the questions that Lent calls me to ask myself. Who are the enemies? Maybe I should let God’s army fight them while I turn my attention to God and the gifts God has given me. Maybe placing less importance on the things I am constantly fighting in my life and placing more importance on the gifts I have been and will be given is the way to defeat those enemies. I think I will need to work on this year after year after year……