Rise and Reconcile – Joel 2:12-18 – PART III
As we prepare for the season of Lent, I would like to reflect with YOUth on the first reading that the Church offers us on Ash Wednesday. Today is the third and final part of the series.
The first reading on Ash Wednesday taken from the book of Joel covers a three-pronged approach to the season of Lent. Recognition and admission of sin, reconciliation with God (through the sacrament) and finally contrition and restitution.
The prophet Joel could be considered rather ‘mod’ for his times. He presents the demonstration of contrition as one that should be practical and not superfluous. Actions have consequences and these consequences can’t be washed away with a song and a dance. Joel begins by commanding the people, “rend (tear) your hearts, not your clothing” (2:12).
There must be a sudden shift of priorities in response to sin. You can’t say I am sorry and go back to the same mess. That’s not what true contrition is. True contrition demands a shift in internal priorities. Contrition is a matter of the heart. You see, contrition is not a matter of spiritually moving a few pieces of furniture in my home during the season of Lent. It’s a complete move to a new home, a new life.
That is why Joel calls for a tearing, a separation of the heart from its old disordered desires and not just a few cosmetic changes in my spiritual wardrobe. By wearing purple, dark blue or black on Ash Wednesday to Church you can’t get your sin fixed. That’s why Joel says don’t just rend your garment or in our case pick some sad clothing. Ash Wednesday must be preceded by the act of a complete rendering of our heart in the confessional.This is why confessions must be heard before the season and not at the end of the season. We also need to reflect upon what turning to God would mean for individual lives and the whole congregation in the present context.
Interestingly the prophet also throws a curve ball. He says, “Who knows” how God will respond to this lament of ours (2:14). On the face of it, the prophet seems to be offering no guarantee to our contrition. He seems to say that ‘perhaps’ God might give you a reprieve, he might send you a blessing instead of this curse. It seems that not even God’s own prophet is certain what the future holds! Yet for us who believe and have experienced the forgiving love of God, the “who knows?” does express doubt but confidence because we know the heart of God throughout the Bible.
God is always in control but he does not take control of our lives. God does not (micro)manage the activities of natural forces and our lives. God does not control the amount of food you eat because you are gluttonous, nor does he control how much porn you watch on the internet. God does not stop you from scrolling instagram for endless hours….that’s on you! He is not going to take away the adulterous partner in your relationship if you don’t even delete and block those numbers. He is not a remote-control God. From his holy heaven he does not control the choices we make or decide if we should flirt with devil or dance with the angel. All that is on us. In the same way contrition depends entirely on us. It depends on how much are we willing to fight that sin.