In Mark's Gospel today, Jesus meets a a man with an "unclean spirit." Other Gospels use the term "devil" or "demon." It matters little what word is used. You get the message: This man is spiritually sick; his demon rules! Jesus confronts that demon and orders that demon out, and : to the wonder and amazement of everyone present, the demon exits. It's interesting that no one else recognizes Jesus, yet this demon does : obviously a clever and insightful demon!
What about the demons in us : yes, we all have them! Demons incline us to do the wrong thing. Someone once surmised that it would be great if we could thoroughly separate good people from bad people. But someone wiser said we can't because goodness lives alongside evil in every human heart. So the question becomes: how much influence do we allow the "unclean spirits" to have, and how much influence do we allow the Spirit of goodness,, the Holy Spirit, to have in our lives?
Demons are masters of cleverness and deceit. They aren't always violent (as in some movies!) but they hurt our relationship with God. Demons are nasty; but they don't usually parade their nastiness: They don't say, "Look at me, look at how terribly nasty I am!" No, demons are masters of camouflage; they pretend to be what they are not. They cloak themselves with motives that appear virtuous and honorable. Let's look at three rather common and ordinary demons:
First, the demon of control claims we must be totally in charge of our lives at all times. After all, it's good to be the take-charge person. But human experience contradicts this. There is much in life we do not control. The truth is we spend more time and effort responding to events, and less time and effort directing events : an accident, a job loss, a falling out between parent and child or between husband and wife, an illness, aging, or even the death of someone we love.
Secondly, the demon of holding grudges claims in doing so we are defending our principles. But grudges stir up all kinds of deep negative feelings and these in turn make compassion and forgiveness impossible. Without compassion and forgiveness, we cannot be true disciples of Jesus!
Finally, the demon of purchasing/owning stuff suggests that material goods are signs of success. The more we have, the better people we are! But Jesus insists that when blessed with material goods we need to share these with others less fortunate. The Gospels are very clear on this!
All three of these demons : and many more : are "unclean spirits" making it difficult for us to bring about Jesus' reign of peace and justice on earth. Remember the story of the elderly tribal chief's conversation with his young grandchild: The chief tells the grandchild that in everyone's heart there are two wolves fighting each other. One is a good wolf whose instinct is to guide and protect the wolf pack. The other is a bad wolf who is interested only in himself and has no concern for the pack's welfare. When the chief finished his story, his grandchild asked him, "Grandpa, which wolf wins the battle?" The chief responded simply: "The one you feed."
Every time we insist on total control, every time we hold a grudge, every time we purchase things for selfish use, we feed the unclean spirit and the demon wolf within grows stronger. But every time we ask for help, every time we forgive someone, every time we share what we have, we feed the good wolf, and it grows stronger. The choices we make each day determine who we become. What demons must we expel to become the people God calls us to be?