Priests, put on sackcloth and lament; wail, you ministers of the altar. Come, pass the night in sackcloth, you ministers of my God! Grain offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God. Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord. Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near--a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.
I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will recount all your wonders.
I will rejoice in you and be glad,
and sing psalms to your name O Most High. (R./)
You have checked nations and destroyed the wicked;
you have wiped out their name for ever and ever.
The nations have fallen in the pit which they made,
their feet caught in the snare they laid. (R./)
But the Lord sits enthroned for ever;
he has set up his throne for judgment.
He will judge the world with justice,
he will judge the peoples with his truth. (R./)
When Jesus had cast out a demon some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons." Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven. But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?--for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armour in which he trusted and divides his plunder. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
"When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but not finding any, it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first."
A favourite rabbinical way of answering a question, also used by Jesus, is to ask another. While our culture demands instant answers, Biblical questions induce a meditative attitude in God's presence. There was a deep-rooted Jewish faith that ultimately God will transform the universe for the better. While they were as aware as we are of the destructive forces in the natural world, they trusted that the transforming love of God would ultimately prevail. Joel recalls the covenant with Moses on the holy mountain, Sinai. What they experienced on the mountain was a God who was "gracious and merciful, slow to anger and rich in kindness." Even when tested to the limits of our patience, we can trust that God has plans for us beyond the horizons of this earthly life.
Jesus acknowledges the existence of supernatural forces of good and evil. As he wrestles against the evil powers, his envious opponents among the Pharisees accuse him of being in league with the devil, "by Beelzebul, he casts out devils!" He rejects this wild claim, for it is with the power of God that he faces down the power of evil. So we too can make God our refuge against all evil and temptation.
Some people challenged Jesus to perform some sign from heaven, some spectacular miracle. They could not see the presence of God in the person of Jesus itself. God is powerfully at work in his ministry if only people had eyes to see it. There was no need for spectacular signs, in order to accept the gospel. As he would say to doubting Thomas after the resurrection, "Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed."
Sometimes Christians can be too drawn to "signs and wonders", obsessed with shrines and miracles. We can fail to see how the Lord is present among us in and through the goodness and kindness and hospitality of others, in all kinds of ordinary expressions of love, in people's quiet prayerfulness. We can miss the divine presence in the everyday and the familiar. In a fine poem, Joseph Mary Plunkett wrote, "I see his blood upon the rose and in the stars the glory of his eyes." Nature spoke to him of Christ. The best of human nature and our relationships can speak to us of God.