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.
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."
Among the rabbis and with Jesus, a favourite way of answering a question is to ask another. While our culture demands instant answers, the Bible tries to induce a meditative, questioning attitude in God's presence. Jewish liturgy testifies to a deep belief that God will transform the universe. Their idea of God is less one of destructive force than of transforming love. Joel quotes the covenant made with Moses on Mount Sinai: The Lord, your God, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and rich in kindness. Somehow, when pushed to the limits of our patience, we can realize that God has plans for us beyond the horizons of this earthly life.
Jesus acknowledges the existence of supernatural forces of good and evil, devils and angels. He wrestles with these mighty powers and must silence his opponents who accuse him enviously, "by Beelzebul, he casts out devils!" "No!" he replies, "It is with God's help that I face down the power of evil." So we too cannot rely simply on our own unaided strength, but make God our refuge in the day of evil.
Some people put Jesus to the test by asking him for a sign from heaven. They want him to perform some spectacular sign. But they are completely blind to the presence of God in the ministry of Jesus itself. Jesus declares in the gospel that it is by the finger of God that he casts our demons from people. God is powerfully at work in his ministry if only people had eyes to see it. There is no need for Jesus to do a spectacular sign.
Sometimes we can be too keen on miracles when it comes to our relationship with the Lord. We fail to see how the Lord is present among us in and through the goodness and hospitality of others, in and through the selfless services people do in ordinary and simple ways, in and through other people's quiet prayerfulness. We can miss the deeper dimension of the everyday and the familiar. Remember what 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 human relationships can speak to us even more powerfully of the Lord.