Listen to God’s word and obey his will

We can experience true happiness and peace when we listen to God’s word and obey his will, rather than following our own desires or the opinions of others. God’s word is the source of wisdom and guidance for our lives, and it reveals his love and grace for us. By following it we can grow in our relationship with him and enjoy his presence and blessings.

Image by Franz P. Sauerteig

God’s word is the light that shines in the darkness

By Ron Bruni

Saturday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Joel 4:12-21
Luke 11:27-28

This day happens to be the feast day of St. Callistus the First, a prominent figure in early Christianity who served as the 16th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church and who is best known for the catacombs of Callistus, a cemetery that was an important burial site for early Christians and many popes and for theological controversies particularly regarding issues related to forgiveness of sins and the treatment of those who had lapsed from the faith during times of persecution.

Today's readings are a rather eclectic grouping in which the first reading from the prophet Joel is longer than the other two readings combined. In my eyes, the common thread in these three biblical readings is the sovereignty of God as judge and dispenser of vengeance and punishment on his enemies and the blessings of obedience to his word for those who hear and obey it.

 The prophet Joel is one of 12 of the minor prophets so called because the length of their writings was shorter than the major prophets, i.e. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Like many of the prophets, both major and minor of their day, a good deal of their writing is eschatological, that is to say, relating to death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and humankind. The purpose of eschatology was to comfort, warn, instruct, and motivate the faithful to live according to God’s will and to anticipate his final salvation. The book of Joel’s importance to the canon of Scripture stems from its being the first to develop an oft-mentioned biblical idea: the Day of the Lord, i.e. the final judgment. Joel’s book gives some of the most striking and specific details in all of Scripture about the Day of the Lord: days cloaked in darkness, armies that conquer like consuming fire, and the moon turning to blood. Rooted in such vibrant and physical imagery, this time of ultimate judgment makes clear the seriousness of God’s judgment on sin. Yet implicit in these dire predictions is the idea that if you listen to and follow God’s word, you will be rescued and vindicated by God.

The valley of Jehoshaphat,  which means “Yahweh judges”, is alluded to in Joel’s writings and is the place where God will sit in judgment upon all the nations that have oppressed and mistreated his people Israel. The valley was probably well known by the people of the day from a historical sense because of previous battles fought there and other historical meanderings that had occurred here in the past. Though other scholars think it refers to a symbolic or ideal valley, not a specific geographical place. They argue that Joel used the name to emphasize God’s role as the judge of the nations and to expect his hope and faith in God’s sovereignty and justice.

The choice of Psalm 97 seems appropriate and in line with the previous reading today because it again states that the Lord reigns over all, and his reign brings joy to his people, but terror to his enemies. The psalm praises God’s sovereignty, justice, and glory, and calls his people to worship him alone and shun idols. The psalm also foreshadows the messianic era when God will judge the nations and save his faithful remnant.

In today’s gospel reading an incident occurs which is peculiar to St. Luke and like many of the facts recorded by him in his gospel, seems to have been derived from the company of devout women with whom he came into contact.

The reading that we are concerned with was preceded by Jesus casting out a demon and also discussing unclean spirits during which he was in  confutation of the Pharisees. While he was so engaged ,a woman lifted up her voice probably because she was taken with his wisdom and perhaps believing him to be their long expected Messiah. She expressed her admiration of his character in an exclamation upon the happiness of the woman who had the honor of giving him birth; a thought very natural for a woman. As she shouts out her proclamation” blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed”, it is interesting to note the fact that a woman felt free to interject her blessing into a rabbis meeting which is another sign of how Jesus valued and affirmed women in his ministry.

It is noteworthy as being the first direct fulfillment of the words of the Magnificat, “all generations shall call me blessed” (Luke 1:48-50). Jesus’s  reply, “rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” shows how the son of Mary in this instance emphasizes that even being a close member of His family is not enough. To receive God’s blessing even Jesus' family members must choose him as their Savior and obey the word of God. One may offer an expansion on this by saying faith comes by hearing the Word, and shows itself in doing. Barely to hear the word, and even give it assent, will be of little avail unless what is heard and believed is put in practice. Only Luke records this interaction but Jesus’s comments about family can be found in Matthew 12:46 – 50 and Mark 3:31 – 35 while not being of the same verbiage express the same message.

There are a few other places in the Bible where we can find Jesus saying something similar to “Blessed are those who hear the word and follow it”. For example:

  • In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus compares those who hear his words and do them to a wise man who built his house on the rock, which stood firm against the storm. He contrasts them with those who hear his words and do not do them, who are like a foolish man who built his house on the sand, which collapsed under the rain and wind.
  • In John 13:17, Jesus says to his disciples after washing their feet, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” He teaches them that true blessedness comes from humble service and obedience to his example and commandments.

Oh, what lessons are we to draw from these readings today that we can take home and act on?

We can experience true happiness and peace when we listen to God’s word and obey his will, rather than following our own desires or the opinions of others. God’s word is the source of wisdom and guidance for our lives, and it reveals his love and grace for us. By following it we can grow in our relationship with him and enjoy his presence and blessings.

It can be a positive influence and a witness to others by living according to God’s word and sharing it with them. God’s word is the light that shines in the darkness, and it offers hope and salvation to those who are lost and hurting. By living out God’s word in our words and actions, we can reflect his character and goodness, and invite others to know him and follow him.

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