"Let the nations rouse themselves, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the neighbouring nations.
Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the wine press is full. The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.
The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shake. But the Lord is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel. So you shall know that I, the Lord your God, dwell in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall never again pass through it.
In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the stream beds of Judah shall flow with water; a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord and water the Wadi Shittim. Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a desolate desert, because of the violence done to the people of Judah, in whose land they have shed innocent blood. But Judah shall be inhabited forever, and Jerusalem to all generations. I will avenge their blood, and I will not clear the guilty, for the Lord dwells in Zion."
While Jesus was speaking, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!" But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!"
A sword of sorrow seems to cut through today's texts. Joel announces a severe judgment against the nations, in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (="Yahweh judges.") And Luke seems to echo Simeon's prophecy that Mary's heart would be "pierced with a sword." How would Mary have interpreted her son's reply to a woman who shouted in spontaneous praise for the one who nursed Jesus, when he replied, "Rather blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it"?
Even if such symbols are not to be taken literally, they are to be taken seriously. As blood is seen as the locus of life (Lev 17:11), Joel warns that the life of all the created universe must be re-consecrated to God in the valley of decision. We must rethink our existence, our loyalty to family, country, race and even our church, if the Lord is to be our refuge and our stronghold. We re-evaluate our relationship with foreigners and with business, employment and government (what the prophet means by Egypt, Edom and Judah.) In a word, Joel bids us to rethink the heart and source of all our relationships.
Nobody escapes the sharp sword of God's word, not even Jesus' own blessed mother. Her role does not stop with the act of motherhood and her nurturing care of the infant Jesus. Throughout her life she was to listen to God's word and to act on its new inspirations. Luke presents Mary in just that way, as treasuring God's words and reflecting on them in her heart (Luke 2:19). We too must listen again this day to God's word and act on it with confidence, reaching out in love to our faith-family across the world, as close to us as brothers and sisters.
Today's gospel must be the shortest in the Lectionary, just two verses long. It is a little exchange between Jesus and a nameless woman, reported only by Saint Luke. It's notable how prominently women feature in Luke's gospel story. On this particular occasion, a woman was so taken by his words that she spontaneously burst out with a blessing directed at Jesus' mother. One woman declared another as highly blessed, for being the mother of Jesus!
Undoubtedly, our Lord had the highest possible regard for his mother. But he deflects the blessing onto a much wider group, "Still happier / more blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it." Of course, Jesus' mother was a prominent member of that much wider group. She, more than anyone else, heard the word of God and kept it. But if the mother of Jesus is blessed, it is not so much for being his mother but because she gave herself over to hearing and doing God's word, "Let it be to be according to your word." Likewise, if we give ourselves over to the hearing and doing of God's word, we will be blessed just as as she is.