Gird yourselves and weep, O priests!
For just two weekdays our First Reading at Holy Mass comes from the Old Testament Book of Joel. Joel is one of the twelve minor prophets. These twelve can be divided into three historical groups: those serving before the fall of the Kingdom of Israel, those serving between the fall of Israel and the Babylonian exile, and finally those serving after the return from the Babylonian exile. Joel falls into the last of these three groups.
The Book of Joel is only four chapters long. Today’s First Reading is from the first two chapters, and is a warning of the Lord’s judgment. The setting for this warning was natural: a lack of rain and a plague of locusts had decimated the crops necessary for survival. Joel’s warning is that this is only a sign of even worse suffering to come from the Lord. His people seem unprepared for His judgment, and Joel’s prophecy is meant to rouse them.
We can reflect on today’s First Reading in two ways: from a natural and then from a supernatural perspective. From the natural point of view, although few of us live directly off the land, all of us directly suffer to some extent when a local or national economy is weak. Temporal needs, when pressing, can either distract our attention from God, or turn us closer to Him for His providential care and guidance. From the supernatural point of view, the judgment that Joel threatened in terms of earthly suffering is only a foreshadowing of the eternal suffering that awaits us if we exclude God from our lives, and live as if this is the only world in which we’re meant to live.