The Lord says:
"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."
The Lord is king, let earth rejoice,
the many coastlands be glad.
Cloud and darkness are his raiment;
his throne, justice and right. (R./)
The mountains melt like wax
before the Lord of all the earth.
The skies proclaim his justice;
all peoples see his glory. (R./)
Light shines forth for the just
and joy for the upright of heart.
Rejoice, you just, in the Lord;
give glory to his holy name. (R./)
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 be wielded in today’s texts. Joel announces a severe judgment against the nations, in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (="Yahweh judges.") And Luke seems to have in mind Simeon’s prophecy to Mary that her heart would be "pierced with a sword." With what bewilderment must Mary have interpreted her son’s reply to a woman who shouted out words of spontaneous praise for the one who nursed Jesus, when he said, "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 entire existence, and evaluate our loyalty to family, country, race and even our church, if the Lord is to be our refuge and our stronghold. We reconsider our relationship with foreigners and with business, employment and government, possibly what is meant by the references to Egypt, Edom and Judah. In all of these rich symbolic expressions, Joel bids us to rethink the heart and source of all our relationships.
Nobody escapes the sharp sword of sorrow, not even Jesus’ own blessed mother. Her role does not stop with her physical motherhood and her life-giving care of Jesus as a child. She too was to listen continually to God’s word and to act on its new inspirations. In Luke’s gospel, Mary is presented in just that way, treasuring God’s word, spoken through her wide reach of neighbours, 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 new faith and confidence, and reach out with new bonds of 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. This brief exchange between Jesus and a nameless woman is reported only by St Luke. Women feature so prominently in Luke’s gospel as to suggest that he took particular note of anything about them in the stories he heard about Jesus, as he researched his work. Of all the Evangelists, he offers the best balance between male and female disciples. On this particular occasion, a woman was so impressed by Jesus that she spontaneously burst out with a word of praise for Jesus’ mother, whom she declared as highly blessed, for being the mother of such a son.
While Jesus had the highest regard for his mother, he transferred this word of praise to a much wider group. Even happier and more blessed than his own mother are those who hear the word of God and keep it, he says. Of course, Jesus’ mother belonged to that wider group. She, more than anyone else, heard the word of God and kept it. Mary’s blessedness is due especially to giving herself over to hearing and doing God’s word. To that word her lifelong answer was, "Let it be to be according to your word." If like her, we devote ourselves to hearing and doing God’s word, we will be blessed just as as she is.