There once was a man, or it could have been a woman, it really doesn’t matter to the story. Anyway, there was this person who was beset by difficulties. The world had become grey and depressingly hazy, like a lingering London fog. One day, after what seemed to be an eternity, the woman, or the man, or the person discovered that the sun had risen and the world was aglow in brilliant colors again. They took it as a sign that things were better; the day was seize-able again. Life was back on track. Work crackled and after-work thrived. Family and friends were friendlier and all-around better company. Every thing smelled, tasted, and seemed better. Then it wasn’t. A tsunami named cancer swept them up and carried them back into the foggy darkness.
Luke 11:24-26 is a short parable, the meaning of which has stimulated a ton of debates. We start with an unclean spirit – a demon – who goes out of a man. It is important to note that the demon is not cast out. He seems to be able to come and go as he wishes. He is the one who decides; the one in control. And even though Jesus has a bigger point here, there is this message about playing around with things that are unclean. No matter how much posturing is done; no matter how much defending of one’s strength or abilities; evil will always corrupt and take control. Don’t play with unclean things! I know. That really should go without saying, but it doesn’t. Anyway, this unclean spirit traipses out of the man and moves on to waterless places. Why waterless places? Unclean things seem to frequent areas that are uninhabitable to mankind, such as deserts and ruins and the like. In Isaiah 34:14, night monsters are said to inhabit the wilderness along with wolves and hairy goats. This particular demon is seeking a place to rest. But all of his searching renders zero success. So, the unclean thing decides to go back. And notice that he calls the man “my house.” He has claimed ownership.
And when the demon does return, he finds the house swept and put in order or made attractive. And isn’t that nice? Evil can rest here. Evil can throw a party here; a party of indeterminable duration; a party of eight. The original demon leaves again so that it can bring along with and welcome seven more demons to rest int his nice house. Again, the demon has all of the authority here. He goes out and comes back as he wills. He welcomes in seven (maybe emphasizing complete evil) other spirits who are more evil than itself. Can you say, “Yikes!” Sure you can. The final state of the man become worse than before when it was one unclean spirit he had to deal with.
Debate time. Is Jesus advising us to not be empty houses? I mean if unclean spirits hang out in empty waterless lands, if that is the atmosphere they gravitate toward to seek out rest, they may just find a desolate soul attractive and just what the evil one ordered. Or is Jesus saying that you cannot merely repent of the evil, you have to say “yes” to Jesus? This is similar to the empty house idea. Don’t just clean house of the evil; fill it with good. The problem with this idea, is that the man didn’t cast the demon out. The demon left, fully confident in his right to come and go as he pleased. The sweeping and making the house attractive is merely a response to the demon being gone. The unclean spirit itself made the house or man empty. This doesn’t seem to be about repentance. Is this a statement about how Jesus exorcism is better than Jewish exorcism? I don’t see it.
What if, in the context of the discussion about the strong man and the power of God, Jesus is making a statement about relying on situational respites from distress. If your situation improves, but the strong man is still in charge, your situation hasn’t really improved. A better economy is not a sign of anything other than people having more money. Improved health does not mean you have been touched by the finger of God. Jesus used the example of an unclean spirit because the previous conversation centered around demons and the ruler of demons in relation to the power and kingdom of God. He could have used any situation really. Numerical growth is not an indication that God sides with a church or a movement.
Again, it is time to choose sides. Are you going to join Jesus in kingdom of God work or are you going to focus on attractiveness and situational improvements? It is Jesus who has finger of God power over the strong man. It is Jesus who can fill your soul. If your country experiences peace after a long war, that doesn’t mean God is with you. Follow Jesus. He has the power. He has already bound the strong man.