This is the second of a series of concepts I have been pondering, thanks largely to prompting from the bible study series The Great Adventure and Matthew, by Jeff Cavins, Tim Gray, and Sarah Christmyer. If you find these posts useful, then great! If not, then please ignore. I am sure there are other and better answers than mine. However, I want to share these ponderings because I had never heard of them before, so chances are a lot of other people hadn't either.
Passage: Matthew 12:43-45
(Douay-Rheims) The Parable of the Empty House and the Wicked Spirits
43 And when an unclean spirit is gone out of a man he walketh through dry places seeking rest, and findeth none.
44 Then he saith: I will return into my house from whence I came out. And coming he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.
45 Then he goeth, and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man in made worse than the first. So shall it be also to this wicked generation.
The Problem: This parable seems to be sitting in the middle of nowhere with a pile of details that appear merely cosmetic. Most commentaries focus on the "empty" aspect -- how it applies in principle to things like bad habits, exorcism, or being away from God. However, these "what it means to me" interpretations seem more like an inkblot test than an interpretation.
Seeking the Solution: This time I got smarter and prayed first, "Dear Lord, I don't think I can get this one either. Some hints plz! thx!
The Game is Afoot!: Checking nearby passages for context, I started seeing a pattern back in Matthew 11 that suggested no matter what the people saw, they would not repent and believe. It was like simultaneous criticisms of an object being too large and too small.
a) Matthew 11 - 16 But whereunto shall I esteem this generation to be like? It is like to children sitting in the market place. 17 Who crying to their companions say: We have piped to you, and you have not danced: we have lamented, and you have not mourned.
b) Matthew 11 - 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking; and they say: He hath a devil. 19 The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say: Behold a man that is a glutton and a wine drinker, a friend of publicans and sinners. And wisdom is justified by her children.
c) Matthew 11:21 - Woe to thee, Corozain, woe to thee, Bethsaida: for if in Tyre and Sidon had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in you, they had long ago done penance in sackcloth and ashes. (Reminder that Tyre and Sidon were Gentile cities.)
The piping and the dirge are reminiscent of the range of our Lord's mighty deeds, from the wedding at Cana, to raising the dead. John was accused of being possessed at one end, and at the other end, Jesus was accused of being a friend of sinners.
I also saw trigger events in Matthew 12:1-13.
Summary: Jesus and the disciples are passing through a cornfield, and the disciples are charged with working on the Sabbath (Jesus answers with 1 Samuel 21 which has significant parallels to the situation -- Jeff Cavins has an excellent commentary). Later at the synagogue, Jesus is charged with healing on the Sabbath.
Nothing is convincing these stubborn people (Matthew 11), and then they accuse Jesus of sinning by working on the Sabbath (Matthew 12). So I think... Jesus tells them what they had become and why, through the parable of the Empty House and the Wicked Spirits.
At this point, I received a massive clue in Mathew 23:24 (Blind guides, who strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel.) Now if the gnat was the relatively minor unclean spirit, or the small sin of working/healing on the Sabbath, then... (Dear Lord!
) I suddenly realized I could name those seven more wicked, or rather Deadly, spirits. From there, the rest of the "cosmetic" details began to resolve themselves.
The Solution: The Pharisees cast out minor sins (hundreds of cleanliness laws) without putting God at the heart of their efforts.
Like passing through the desert (possibly a slight echo of Psalm 63:1 or 62 in Douay-Rheims), their works were bound to be barren and fruitless. By doing so, they thought their house was clean and swept and put in order, but the house was empty because they did not put God at the heart (Psalm 127: Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.)
By focusing on the exterior cleanliness sins, the Pharisees were open to the much more wicked internal sins. Now, if we keep 1 Samuel 21 in mind, as well as the current backdrop of Matthew 11 and 12, we can use origin of the 7 Deadly Sins from Proverbs 6 to play "Spot the Pharisee."
Spot the Pharisee!
16 Six things there are, which the Lord hateth, and the seventh his soul detesteth: 17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood. 18 A heart that deviseth wicked plots, feet that are swift to run into mischief, 19 A deceitful witness that uttereth lies, and him that soweth discord among brethren.
Isn't this exactly what the Pharisees were try to do? And so it was with that wicked generation, with the last state being worse than the first.
Closing Comments: For being only five sentences long, this parable was quite an exciting adventure.
A much shorter reflection and some stray thoughts.
Matthew 11:11 (Douay-Rheims)
Amen I say to you, there hath not risen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist: yet he that is the lesser in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.