Lately I've taken to listening to the audio Bible on YouVersion's Bible app in the mornings as I exercise or as I'm getting ready for work. I have been out of spiritual practice, so since I'm exercising regularly, I figure coupling my physical exercise with some kind of spiritual exercise is a wise move.
I'm listening to the Gospels right now because it feels like it's been a while since I listened to stories about Jesus or read anything about Jesus. We're real good at talking about the behaviors expected of Christians and the rules and regulations to live a more Christian life, because that's the stuff we have control over to some degree, and man, we love rules. But the Gospels are bewilderment, mystery, magic, confusion, frustration, rebellion, storytelling, crazy faith, epic failure. The epistles are a bunch of friends who come around regularly to nudge you back on the right path. Jesus is the model for how his followers should look in contrast to societal norms, and it's a certain kind of crazy awesome weird.
I'm reminded of this as I listen to Jesus tell stories to his disciples, as I hear the narrator tell stories about Jesus healing people, about demons driven out into a herd of pigs and about pigs dashing off a cliff, about how scared people were, how they asked Jesus to leave their region but the healed man asked to go with Jesus, and how Jesus told him to stay and tell people about God's mercy, and I imagine how angry the farmer must have been to hear his 2,000 pigs were dead because of Jesus, how hard it is to see past our own griefs into the miraculous. That herd of pigs seems to follow me throughout the day. Do I rejoice that Jesus healed a man or am I angry that he took away my profit this season? I don't even have a herd of pigs, what am I talking about? What is my herd of pigs, my prized possession I would never sacrifice, not even for another man's life?
The Holy Spirit must use some circumstances, people, places, or creatures to carry off the demons in our lives. Lots of country songs talk about how a song can bring back a memory; I wonder if the opposite is also true. I think some people are put into our lives in particular seasons, and maybe without knowing it, they carry our demons away, through a conversation or interaction, they carry away whatever it was we were struggling with. Our burdens are cast away with that person.
This morning, I listened to Jesus tell a bunch of parables about Israel. The one that stuck with me throughout the day goes like this: “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation" (Matthew 12:43-45).
After Jesus drove out the demons in the possessed man and sent them into the pigs, he told the man to tell his family how much the Lord had done for him, about the mercy that was shown to him. And he did. He filled the empty places that were left by the demons with the fruits of the Spirit, spreading the story about how a Man came who cared for him so much that he drove a legion of demons out from inside his spirit, who carried away the terrors that possessed him, who ordered them away and restored him to himself, a fuller version of himself, one absent of impure spirits and filled with the spirit that produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Imagine what it would have looked like for the man to have returned to his family without this miracle story. To resume his every day life, whatever that might have looked like. To leave his soul wide open, swept clean and vacant for whatever other demons might come to dwell there. It's a dramatic portrait, like a foreclosure in the country, grasses and vines swallowing a house, slowly gripping its foundation and crumbling the concrete that held it up. Without regular maintenance and the presence of people to take care of the structure, all things degenerate and are consumed, governed only by the laws of nature. It isn't enough to kick out the demons of our past. Something better needs to move in.
I've carried the story of the impure spirit around with me today. It lodged in my heart as a reminder to do the daily maintenance required in order to keep the ugly out and invite whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, or admirable in. Daily I send out the demons to drown with the herd of pigs.