March 11, 2021
Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute, and when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed. – Luke 11:14
As soon as we hear the tell-tale rumble coming down the street, we must run out to greet the trash truck. We watch the mechanical arm reach out and grab the cans to dump. Since we live on a cul-de-sac, as soon as the truck finishes, we get to patiently watch for it to loop around and do the same on the other side of the street. The whole ordeal takes less than 5 minutes, but the kids cheer as our cans get emptied and wave to the drivers. The dirty diapers, junk mail, kitchen scraps, and the rest of the mess from the previous week disappears. Without children, I would never watch my trash get routinely carted away. And yet there is something freeing about the ritual cleansing of the excess in our lives.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus “drives” out the demon that prevents the man from living his life fully. The crowd is awed by the miracle, but it is another example of how easily Jesus can cure our physical ailments. Our spiritual struggles, the demons that keep us from God, are even more difficult to cast aside. We put up armor around our hearts, this “hardening” we are warned against in Jeremiah and Psalm 95. In our attempts to stay in control, we shut out God’s voice. We hoard our coping mechanisms and defenses and are unwilling to relinquish them to make space for something new. The goal is not to fill my trash cans to the brim each week, but rather to use them to rid myself of things that we no longer need. In Lent when we “give something up” or add on a new habit or practice, the sacrifice itself is not the end goal. Like the trash can, sacrifice is a useful tool as we clear space so we can live more freely and fully.
Some of the excess that needs trimming away right now is not trash, but rather things that have served their purpose in my life and are now ready to move along. Like a worn out sweater, toxic friendship or stale loaf of bread, in Lent we have the chance to clear space for what truly gives us life. Sometimes our ways of praying have become dry and tasteless, and the longer we hold onto them, the more we miss the chance to encounter God’s generosity in new, dynamic ways.
So many times I fall asleep discouraged and frustrated with how little I have accomplished, how poorly I responded to my kid’s tantrums, and how hopeless the world seems right now. I keep reminding myself that the same God who drives out the demons that cause blindness and deafness in the Gospels is also driving out my self-doubt, fear, and false sense of control. This week I am going to imagine these demons riding away on the trash truck (along with the contents of the diaper pail) while I stand on the curb waving goodbye.