Weekly Bible Devotional
“The Bible: Ever-expanding Love”
February 14, 2021
Scripture for Sunday: Joel 2:12-13, 28-29
Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13 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.
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
29 Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
Notes on the Text:
Not much is known about the prophet Joel, except that he was the son of Pethuel and that he lived in Judah (Southern Kingdom) most likely during the Persian period of Jewish history (539-331 BCE). The name Joel means “Yahweh is God.” Joel was familiar with the temple in Jerusalem and was an advocate for worship as a way to reform people.
The occasion for the writing of Joel is a plague of locusts that ravished their land. We don’t really know if the plague was literal or metaphorical (invading army). If it was literal, it would have been a natural disaster of great magnitude. If it was metaphorical, it would have been a military disaster. This was a time of great fear and devastation. Even though the prophet acknowledged that greed and disobedience brought a lot of misery to the people, God’s ultimate answer to the problem was that of helping to transform the people through personal visions of God’s hope. Their checkered past was not going to dictate their future. Because of God’s grace and love, they were going to receive the full power of God’s Spirit so that everyone among them would be able to have dreams and visions of a different future. This vision was so powerful that the people of God held on to it for a long time and every time they faced great danger, loss, or pain, they recalled that the Spirit of God was just about to do something new. These words became motivators for them to change their lives and ways and to work for a different future by growing deeper into their faith. They inspired countless numbers of people to start over again! In fact, in the book of Acts in the story of Pentecost we are told that Peter saw the coming the Holy Spirit on the eleven disciples as a fulfillment of that vision by Joel.
Against the backdrop of locusts, disobedience, separation, pain, and plagues, Joel reminds us that the promise of God is never too far from us. God does the loving and our work is to continue to show up, trust, and let go.
The experience of God’s love is what grounds and helps us to love beyond our fears and limitations. We can learn all kinds of information about faith, but that does not lead us to know God. We can also have a few spiritual experiences, but they often wither away with time. Only when we find regular practices and rituals that help us experience God’s presence, are we able to be healed and transformed. And each time we experience God’s presence we are moved into greater love.
Even though the fullness of God’s presence is not something we will know until we are on the other side of eternity, our connection to God grows as we get deeper into God’s presence. Fr. Thomas Keating talked about this as a growing friendship with God. The more time we spend in intentional listening to God, the more we know God. And the good news is that this is not something that is exclusive to the spiritually sensitive or to monks. Just like the prophet Joel proclaimed, God’s Spirit is poured out “on all.” When we return again and again to those rituals and practices, God’s love grows in and through us.
Richard Rohr sees a pattern of faith in the Bible that helps us to learn about our own growth. He writes, “As we begin to recognize the journey of faith, we can also discern four stages, or levels, through which faith evolves: In the first stage, people start to experience the reality of God…they tend to believe that God’s love is limited to just themselves, to a select few such as a chosen people or the one true Church. In the second stage, people begin to respond to God’s love, but they perceive God’s love as a dependent on their response. They believe that grace is a conditional gift, that God will love them if they are good, that God will save them if they keep the commandments…In the third stage, people begin to see God’s love as unlimited and unconditional…But they think that God is doing that from afar, from up in heaven someplace…Finally, in the fourth stage, they make the breakthrough to seeing that God’s grace and love are incarnate in human lives and interactions…They experience God’s love within, loving themselves and others and redeeming the world through them. But they realize that it is God who is doing the loving, God who is doing the saving; and they surrender themselves to being channels of God’s grace in the world. They let go.” This of course is not a linear kind of process. Sometimes we are in all four stages at the same time or we go back and forth. But these four stages could be helpful reminders for us about where God is leading us. Instead of using them to judge ourselves or others (in the Bible or in daily life), the invitation is to focus on the Spirit of God and to continue to show up for God’s redeeming and healing work in us.
Psalm 1 (Paraphrased by Nan Merrill)
Blessed are those
who walk hand in hand
who stand beside virtue,
who sit in the seat of truth;
For their delight is in the Spirit of Love,
and in Love’s heart they dwell
day and night.
They are like trees planted by
streams of water,
that yield fruit in due season,
and their leaves flourish;
And in all that they do, they give life.
The unloving are not so;
they are like dandelions which
the wind blows away.
Turning from the Heart of Love
they will know suffering and pain.
They will be isolated from wisdom;
for Love knows the way of truth,
the way of ignorance will perish
as Love’s penetrating Light
breaks through hearts
filled with illusions:
forgiveness is the way.