Here it is:
“But when the unclean spirit has gone out of the man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and does not find it. Then he says, I will return to my house whence I came out; and having come, he finds it unoccupied, swept, and adorned. Then he goes and takes with himself seven other spirits worse than himself, and entering in, they dwell there; and the last condition of that man becomes worse than the first. Thus shall it be to this wicked generation also.”
In my last blog I focused on words of Jesus which could be seen as demanding a swift exorcism of any evil spirit in a person. This saying assumes that the “exorcism” has taken place, through the agency of the possessed or of a healer. Now the person is free of evil, clean, and unoccupied. Now Jesus says, the evil spirit returns and finding its old home neat and tidy and vacant invites its evil pals to take up residence.
In the psychology of Jesus, no human house is vacant for long: it is either a house of God or of the Evil One.
This is a realistic challenge to all simplistic moralism. We like to think that if we only manage to rid ourselves of the compulsive desire that leads us to damage others or ourselves, we’ve done it. Our soul- house is no longer filthy and shameful, but deep-cleaned and pristine. But if we go only that far, leaving our souls void of tenants, all the old compulsions, and worse, will soon be back. What can be done?
“Behold,” says Jesus, “I stand at the door and knock. If any hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.”
There’s the terror. Let him in? Oh, I don’t mean he would be always criticising or demanding. No, he’d just be asking, asking if I really want to say that or do this; asking if I could resist the impulse to gossip maliciously: asking what I’m doing to support Greta Thunberg, and so on. So, no, I don’t want him in my house, with his questions. Can I not just have it clean and tidy?
This is also true of Christian assemblies. It’s possible, though not easy, for churches to clean up their act, to get rid of self-righteousness, abusive clergy, power-hungry leaders, fundamentalist attitudes, and present a bright and friendly face to the world. But if the spirit of Jesus is not present in its heart, it will always be open to corruption. The worship of a Christian assembly is not simply a nice custom; it is means by which evil spirits are shown the door, and the divine spirit invited to come in.
Because self- deception is so easy, I never assume that Jesus is the sole tenant of my soul, but remind myself again and again who he was, and therefore is, by reading and re-reading the gospels. The idea that we can invite Jesus to be in our souls by just saying his name, is bunkum. I need to know my guest so that I can recognise his voice. Nor should we ever take it for granted that because we did this once, he’s still there. Perhaps I’ve forgotten about him and my soul is empty, empty and vulnerable.
Jesus’ difficult teaching reminds me that a nice, clean, empty soul-house is the devil’s joy.