The identity of the author of the Prophet Joel is uncertain. Some scholars point to the book’s interest in the Temple and cultic matters and suggest that Joel may have been a “court” prophet – a professional linked to the royal court and temple complex. Scholars find more agreement in dating the book. Most hold that the book is post-exilic – that it belongs to the period following the return from exile in Babylon. In that setting, the book appears to offer a message of God’s presence in the midst of the people during uncertain and difficult times. The first part of the book concerns a severe drought and locust infestation afflicting Judah. At the lowest point for the suffering people, the book shifts in chapter 2 to the announcement of God’s mercy and deliverance. Following this very moving turning point, the entire mood and nature of the prophecy changes as it speaks of Judah’s vindication and the judgment of those who have oppressed the nation.
Psalm 51, counted among the "penitential" psalms is a classic work of individual lament. By tradition, it is associated with David's great sin in arranging the death of Uriah and claiming his beautiful wife Bathsheba. While the Psalm admits and laments sin, it expresses confidence in divine mercy. It calls upon the Lord for cleansing and renewal - a plea that expresses hope as much as repentance. It is also interesting to not that this individual lament treats deliverance from sin in much the same way that other laments treat illness, death, or suffering.
Second Corinthians 5:20-6:2
The Second Letter to the Corinthians forms part of a wider body of correspondence between St. Paul and the Christian community that he founded at Corinth. It is likely that the Corinthian community wrote letters to Paul, although these are lost to us. Many scholars also believe that Second Corinthians, as we possess it in the canon of Scripture, may be a compilation of 2-3 letters or parts of letter by Paul to the community. Paul clearly struggled with the strong willed community at Corinth. Their role as a major regional commercial centre appears to have given the city, and its small Christian community, a tendency to arrogance. And so Paul must correct their preference for entertaining eloquence over authentic teaching, their internal divisions among factions and on the basis of social and economic status, and their use of spiritual gifts for personal aggrandizement rather than the building up of the Church. In Second Corinthians, he may also be addressing the effects of visits to Corinth by false teachers who have contradicted or distorted Paul's apostolic teaching. They may be Christians who wish to impose Jewish ritual observance upon Gentile Christians. In the passage at hand, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to remain faithful to God on the basis of God's invitation to take part in His ministry of reconciliation. Paul himself was skilled at drawing people into his work of spreading the faith. He established networks of leaders and evangelizes and co-workers in every community that he visited. His letters are filled with the names of these men and women who devoted themselves to the Lord and assisted Paul to announce that Lord. Here, Paul takes them deeper - they are more coworkers to Paul - they have been called into the very work of God's healing grace. And there is an urgency to the invite that requires their response. While not directly calling for repentance, we can imagine how a genuine awareness of God's invitation might inspire a radical change in the believer. After all, such is the story of Paul - changed from persecutor to Apostle.
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
The Gospel of Matthew has been described by the noted scholar, Fr. Daniel Harrington, as a “Jewish” commentary on the Christ event. Father Harrington makes this observation on the basis of this Gospel’s interest in the Old Testament and Jewish custom and tradition.
The passage in question forms part of Jesus’ lengthy discourse commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount. In this series of teachings, the Lord forms disciples who will seek and participate in an authentic relationship with God. Even as Jesus draws some contrasts with other teachers, His message is deeply rooted in the biblical and Jewish tradition. The Law and the Prophets are clear – the Lord God has no interest in a surface faith that elevates surface observance over genuine conversion of the heart.
In these verses, Jesus touches on three bedrock areas of Jewish faith life – alms giving, prayer, and fasting. In each case, the Lord places the emphasis on the authentic gift of the self to God and God’s will. The commands to do these things in secret is not a rejection of communal faith and prayer, but a summons to rediscover the purpose and origin of these pious practices. They are not a means to personal glory, but rather means of right relationship with God and neighbor. Jesus does not overturn Jewish practice here – he reforms it and us.