Why you need a spiritual paracetamol – Joel 2:12-18 ( Part II)

 Why you need a spiritual paracetamol – Joel 2:12-18 ( Part II)

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 second part of the series.

Yesterday I stated that repentance necessitates both recognition and admission of guilt of having done wrong; of being sorry for the hurt one caused another. You need to have the guts to say I have sinned and too much of our lives today is lived in justifying our sin rather than admitting and confessing it.

Having done that, one has to move to the second stage; to reconciliation. A mere admission of guilt without reconciliation is like spending hours reading a self-help book, making a million notes and then simply placing the book back on the shelf; doing absolutely nothing in terms of implementation. The reading taken from the prophet Joel is like a runner who must obey the three-step command of “on your mark, get set and go…” You can’t simply move from the first stage to the last or decided you just like the ‘go’ part. Having recognized the importance of admission of sin one has to now move to reconciliation.

The prophet Joel gives us an understanding into this invitation to reconciliation. For a minute put things in perspective so we understand what is really being offered. WE (the stress is on our failure and not God’s) have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Yet he is the one who invites us back into relationship. Take a moment to read this text and let it hit you right between your eyes.

“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend 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.”
Joel 2:12&13

The opening words of verse 12 indicate a very frayed and fragile relationship that many young people find themselves with the Lord. It has been so long since we have prayed, so long since we have believed, so long since we have acknowledged our sinful ways….this relationship with the Lord is hanging by a silken thread. That’s how fragile it is. But don’t forget the irony, it is WE who brought this to the edge and it is HE who is working out a deal with the words, “yet even now return to me…”

To “return” (sub) in Hebrew means literally to “turn” around, to change one’s direction by halting the walk away from God and beginning the walk toward God. You see that’s what reconciliation is; it’s not a turning from our sin as much as it’s a turning to God. After the admission of our sin, God and not sin is the focus. Yet this turn around must be from the heart not some spiritual seasonal flavour that has caught my fancy on the fifth pew of the Church. No half-hearted measures will suffice. The desire to reconcile must be from the heart.

The “heart” in Hebrew anthropology is the site of deliberation and commitment. Turning to God with one’s whole heart therefore involves changing one’s mind, reconsidering one’s actions, and orienting oneself entirely toward God. The word REPENT in Greek (metanoia) implies a the putting on a new way of thinking in order to reorient our relationship with God rather than a whip in your hand to chastise ourselves. To return to Yahweh will require YOUth to change their minds and the direction of their lives. It will require them (and us) to let go of the things that have separated them from God and to embrace wholeheartedly God and God’s commandments.

God demands (and the word is demands) contrition. While the scripture text of Joel mentions one external act of contrition, namely fasting it also demands a daily recalling of our sin with weeping and mourning. The Psalmist himself speaks of his sin ever before him; not as a means to torment him but as a reminder that he could slip into that very same sin, but for the love of God who has saved him. Keeping our sin before us each morning when we awake is a way to remind ourselves that we could slip up again but for God’s mercy. Again, the objective is not to focus on the sin but on God who takes away our sin.

Here is a simple exercise that will help you overcome sin. Each morning when you awake bring your sin before the Lord and ask him for strength to fight this sin just for next few hours. Do you know why a doctor gives you paracetamol four times a day? While a paracetamol suppresses a fever it is good enough only for the next four hours after which the fever spikes again. Sin is something like a fever that spikes every four hours. To fight it you need a spiritual paracetamol, namely prayer. Every four hours bring your sin before the Lord. Tell him you survived falling into this sin from the moment you woke up till now but now you need the Lord’s grace again to fight the sin for the next four hours. Keeping your sin at the back of your head but focusing on the Lord in prayer is a constant way of reminding yourself that you can defeat this enemy and route this sin. Try it!

Finally, the last word of God is not punishment even though he does execute his wrath from time to time. The last word of God is his gracious and merciful presence. We are told in verse 13 that God is slow to anger and steadfast in his love. The words steadfast in his love have also been translated as ‘mercy’ or ‘loving kindness or hessed in Hebrew. This loving kindness is not a way of rubbing our nose into our failures but a way to remind ourselves that inspite of who we are, God loves us with a merciful love.

In the third and final part of this reflection I will focus on contrition. The need to find an appropriate penance that is offered by God or one that we can choose for ourselves in order to seal this once broken relationship.

If you have not read the first part of this series, please click on this link. https://www.pottypadre.com/the-reason-why-so-many-of-youth-are-miserable-joel-212-18-part-i/

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