Joel was probably reared in Judah, but moved to Jerusalem, where he may have been a Temple priest, probably in the second half of the fourth century BCE. Judea, the Jewish state formed by those who returned from the Exile, had in recent years experienced both a draught and a devastation by locusts, which God tells them he has sent to punish them. But now he is sending abundant rain and withdrawing the locusts. The people will prosper, and God will “pour out” his spirit upon them. (Being myself an old man, I like the line about old men having dreams.) Then God changes the subject and tells his people about the coming apocalypse. It will begin with “apocalyptic woes,” and to be saved they must flee to Zion. Among these folk will be a group whom God will single out with a calling to do his work. In the translation called the New English Bible (which I like a lot) this group is called a “remnant,” a term which appears several times in Scripture indicating a small group that remains faithful and devoted despite the evils that befall them.
ALTERNATIVE FIRST READING
Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 35:12-17
“Ecclesiasticus [not to be confused with Ecclesiastes] or the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach” appears in our Apocrypha. It is a long poem speaking about how to lead a good life honestly, written around 200 BCE by a scholar-teacher of Jerusalem. Our reading is taken from a section on tithes and gifts to the Temple: give from the heart as well as the purse; don’t use the sacrifices for your own benefit. God is an impartial judge. He will not be partial to anyone only because he or she is poor, but he will listen to anyone who has been wronged, especially the orphan and widow.
II Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Paul pauses in his instructions to his youthful successor to speak about his certainty that he will not live long, but is convinced that at his death he will be rewarded by God. He goes on to speak of his first arrest and how his friends deserted him. It happened on his visit to Jerusalem. A rumor spread that he had brought gentiles into the inner court of the Temple, and the Jewish mob went after him, yelling for his death. He was rescued by the Roman soldiers, who were preparing to whip him for causing a disturbance. He saved himself by evoking his Roman citizenship, which gave him a right to be tried at Rome. Because of a rumor that the mob was planning an ambush to kill Paul, the Romans got him out of danger by sending him to Caesarea. He successfully defended himself in two more trials, but because he had evoked his Roman citizenship, they sent him to the great city. At Rome, the Christian community greeted him as a hero. He was held under house arrest only and allowed to preach, and in these circumstances took over the leadership of the church at Rome. There ends the account in Acts. What happened thereafter is a mystery. Tradition holds that he knew
Peter at Rome and that both died in the persecutions of Nero.