Both the reading from Joel and the Psalm today depict God in judgment mode. In the Valley of Jehoshaphat, the Lord is powerful, strong, roaring from Zion as all Israel’s enemies (neighbors) pass or fail the final judgment. The enemies of Israel are harvested with the sickle, trod underfoot because the press cannot process more wine. The sun and moon are darkened and foreboding. The earth is quaking, but the Lord offers the children of Israel a safe haven in these tumultuous times. Good things come to the Israelites because they are God’s people.
The psalmist also paints a judgment time, but not nearly as apocalyptically as does Joel. There are clouds, and the mountains melt, but no shaking and quaking, nor cutting and trampling. But for those who are just, there are rewards. They can be glad, because the light will dawn for them and they will have gladness of heart.
What did Israel’s neighbors do that would cause God to punish them? They probably acted like nations do today – trading goods and services, taxing commerce, exerting political influence, fighting, warring, taking property and lives for national interests. Certainly those nations would see what they did as appropriately in their own best interests. How are these actions any different that what is done in the current international arena?
What did these neighboring nations do to deserve God’s wrath? Well, for one thing, they weren’t Israel. Because they weren’t Israel, they didn’t accept the one God of Israel. They didn’t accept the Hebrew concept of the world. They didn’t believe what the Israelites knew was the truth. If they heard the word of God, they didn’t follow it.
Then we read what Jesus said. “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” Jesus isn’t painting the dark apocalypse of Joel or John at this point (although He will talk of the final judgment later). Instead, He blesses those who hear and observe. Note that it isn’t enough just to hear the word of God, one must follow it to be blessed. Jesus calls for knowledge, faith, belief, and action.
Easy to hear, hard to put into action. Our natural impulse, our national interests, tend to pull us toward ourselves and not others. Many of us are acculturated to be acquisitive, self-centered, inner directed, callous, insensitive. Rewards come from taking care of #1, having more, having the best, commanding more resources, exerting more influence, being more in control, having the competitive edge, living the good life, being the winner (and thus making others the losers). We keep score to know how much each of us has, and thus how much more I have than you. We are focused more on the now of this life and not on the reality of our true lives. And many of us will continue to profess that we are Christian, that we follow the precepts and example of Jesus.
My mother used to say “Actions speak louder than words.” Do you hear the word of God? Do you observe it? Are you like the enemies of Israel, of the true believers, who do not hear? Are you like the unblessed, who hear but do not follow? I know that many times I hear but don’t act, believe but don’t observe. I know that my actions many times are in conflict with my words, with my beliefs. My heart might be in the right place, but what I do isn’t consistent with my heart.
The challenge of being observant is, I think, to recognize that the little things do matter. Creating habits of doing little things consistently with what I believe then will lead to strength to do big things, when they arise, also in harmony with what I believe. If I believe in the sanctity of all life, I think I need to respect each person I encounter (little thing) and not only be concerned about abortion or the death penalty (big thing). And respecting each person I encounter can mean that I am polite to strangers on the street and look them in the eye, that I hold the door for someone, and that I don’t cut someone off in traffic.
My prayer today is that I can listen more closely to God’s word, but more importantly that I can be more observant in how I live this minute of my life.
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