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 garments,
and turn back to the Lord, your God.
For he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and always prepared to relent from punishing.
Fear not, O land;
be glad and rejoice,
for the Lord has done great things.
Be not afraid, you beasts of the field,
for the open pastures are green once again.
The trees will bear fruit;
the fig tree and the vine will yield a full harvest.
Joel is a wonderful book for all who recognise the failure of mankind to live out God’s plan. The scenes of devastation he describes are as horrendous as any predictions that environmentalists today make about the future of our world. ‘The seed has shrivelled under the clods; the storehouses are empty, and the granaries are deserted because the grain has dried up. How loudly the cattle groan! The herds of oxen are bewildered because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep are wasting away. To you, O Lord, I cry, for fire has consumed the open pastures and flames have destroyed every tree in the countryside. Even the beasts of the field cry out to you. For the streams of water have dried up, and fire has devoured the open pastures.’ (Joel 1:17-20).
This is the fate of the people who have turned their backs on God. Yet Joel, a true prophet of God, has words of hope to give to all who truly repent and seek to change their ways. God does not want his people to suffer and longs for their return to him.
Without repentance we cannot be prepared for Christ’s coming. In today’s reading God says, ‘Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn.’
Tearing our clothes in despair because we fear the future, fear of doing without, is not repentance. Repentance is a recognition that what is occurring is the fruit of our sin — yours and mine. It is the result of a failure to take seriously our common vocation as stewards and custodians of God’s earth, and of treating it as our own. It is a failure to recognize that stewardship involves not only ourselves but the rest of mankind, all of whom have a share in this vocation but whom we are robbing of their chance to serve God by our selfishness and greed.
For many people, living ordinary, blameless lives, it is difficult to respond to God’s call to repentance because it is hard to recognise what our sins are, and therefore, to feel that true deep sorrow and desire for change. Today we are called to recognise that sin has pervaded all of our actions, that our very lifestyle is an act of rebellion against God’s love. We can no longer look at sin as a private matter between ourselves and God, and blame the evils of the world on governments, industry, the feckless poor and the countless other scapegoats we have been accustomed to hold responsible. It is a matter for each one of us to respond and to recognize our responsibility as individuals and as members of one another.
In our act of repentance, we will look at the roots of our sins so that we may understand how it is that we have unwittingly allowed ourselves to be taken captive so firmly by the enemy of God. For those who still believe that the problem is primarily an economic one and not the results of sin, the words of an economist, Ernst. F. Schumacher CBE, will perhaps give that broader perspective: ‘The problem posed by environmental deterioration is not primarily a technical problem: if it were it would not have arisen in its acutest form in the technologically most advanced societies. It does not stem from scientific or technical incompetence, or from insufficient scientific education, or from lack of information, or from a shortage of trained manpower, or lack of money for research. It stems from the life-style of the modern world, which in turn arises from its most basic beliefs— its metaphysics, if you like, or its religion’ (Modern Pressures and the Environment).
When we understand this then we have begun to walk the path to repentance and in turning back to God can look forward to the coming of our Lord, who will forgive us and renew our broken hearts so that we can truly rejoice in his promise: ‘ “I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopping, the destroying, and the cutting locust, my great army which I sent against you. You will eat until you are satisfied, and you will praise the name of the Lord, your God,
for he has dealt wondrously with you,’ (Joel 2:25—26).
Prayer: Have mercy on me, O God, in accord with your kindness; in your abundant compassion wipe away my offences. Wash me completely from my guilt, and cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1—4)
For I am well aware of my faults, I have my sin constantly in mind, having sinned against none other than you, having done what you regard as wrong.
We Christians … are ourselves responsible for the misuse of the resources God has given to the world. And our responsibility is not merely as persons for other people but also for the political and economic structures that bring about poverty, injustice and violence. Today our responsibility has a new dimension because men now have the power to remove the causes of the evil, whose symptoms alone they could treat before . .. We do not despair in spite of the resistance of men and structures, with all their delays and frustrations, because we know that it is God’s world, and that in Christ there is forgiveness and the chance to begin anew every day, step by step. God wants the world to develop, and He conquers and will conquer sin.WCC/RCC Conference on World Cooperation for Development, Beirut, Lebanon, April 21-27, 1968.