Both of today’s readings express a sure and solid belief in God’s providence for his people. God’s power is mightier than an invasion of locusts or an unclean spirit. God is on the side of humanity—our advocate.
We hear only four verses from the prophet Joel and taken out of context, we might assume that it’s the usual prophetic lament for repentance resulting from another infraction against God. Joel writes after the exile in a time of restoration and celebration. It was a time of peace for the inhabitants of Israel. The darkness and gloom refer to a locust invasion—a natural disaster. These locusts are like military might, too numerous to count. It affects every part of their lives. From food and water to their animals’ survival, and even their temple rituals; all are at risk. The verse just before our text says, “Yes, our joy has withered away from among mankind”(v.12c). It is a catastrophe of epic proportions that robs their joy and puts fear in its place. Joel likens this situation to the end of the world. “The Day of the Lord.”
He calls upon every section of the population to do penance as an offering to God for their safety and survival during this invasion. Later in the book, we hear about God’s providence in restoring the land and their lives. They celebrate God’s blessings and saving help. His power is mighty.
The text from the gospel of Luke is situated within the same chapter as his version of the “Our Father” prayer (v.1). Jesus then invites his disciples—and us—to pray for what we want, “ask and you will receive; seek and you will find…” (v. 9-10).
Just before our reading, Jesus drives out a demon from a mute person. When this person speaks, the crowds are amazed (v.14). We take up the story as Jesus is accused by “some” to be working for the powers of darkness—Beelzebul. Luke states that Jesus’ power is mightier than evil. It is stronger than the man who “guards” his home. In chapter 3, John the Baptist refers to Jesus as “one mightier than I” (v. 16). We must place our trust in the power of Jesus to overcome every obstacle for our good. However, this does not happen without our consent. Like the one who finds healing from an unclean spirit, we must fill that empty space with God.
In hearing our scriptures today, what do they offer to us? The prophet Joel tells of a catastrophe befalling the people; can we relate to that situation? Perhaps it is not an invasion of locusts, but real challenges are happening today. In our world, in our communities, and in our families. Wars in Ukraine and Israel, violence in our cities, and the pain of broken relationships only break the surface of our troubles and crosses. All these situations can bring us down and usher in hopelessness. Joel doesn’t succumb to those tendencies; he names them as potential disasters and invites the people to offer penance. Would that we could do the same. Luke further invites us to reflect that true power sits in our prayerful relationship with God and united faithful communities. Division will only break us down.
May our joy never wither and may fear be stripped away by faith and trust.
May the power of Christ fill the empty spaces within each of us and spread out to all the world. Amen.
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.