The Return of the Unclean Spirit, by Katie Snipes Lancaster
When an unclean spirit leaves a person, it wanders through dry places looking for a place to rest. But it doesn’t find any. Then it says, ‘I’ll go back to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house cleaned up and decorated. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself. They go in and make their home there. That person is worse off at the end than at the beginning.” Luke 11:24–26
Reflection: I’ve never paid this parable any attention, and maybe that’s true for you. To me today, it is shouting from the rooftop an innate truth about uncertainty. There is no guarantee. Healing comes (or in Jesus’ terms, “an unclean spirit leaves”) but then, even when it feels like all is “back to normal” some other unknown is on the horizon, exponentially immense. Nothing is more fragile.
Right after Jesus speaks this parable someone tries to compliment him. Jesus reacts with a strong reply, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” He is serious, there is work to be done, and lives are at stake. While “working for good” (or as Jesus calls it, obeying God’s word) cannot cure every malady, prevent natural disaster, or overcome evil forever, Jesus’ parable helps us to see that problems can grow sevenfold if left unattended, and so our participation in healing, generosity, and care matters.
Our lives are all interconnected. As Frederick Buechner says, “The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt.” At the heart of Jesus’ message is this: we need each other.
God, turn us toward one another. Amen.