The Parable of the Unclean Spirit
Who or what occupies your inner most self? Most of us are periodically plagued by terrible thoughts. Where do they come from and what are we to do about them? The Parable of the Unclean Spirit teaches that even if we take extraordinary measures to clean up our heart, our soul, and our life in general, it will do no good if we haven't filled our heart with Jesus. Our cleansed and empty heart will just be taken over by things more terrible than before.
This parable is the final part of answer directed to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. In an attempt to manipulate him, these hypocrites asked Jesus for a sign. He explained that no sign will be given, but then adds, "except the sign of the prophet Jonah." Jesus' very presence in the world is a sign for the faithful, but his death and resurrection (like Jonah returning from the belly of the whale) was a sign—a miracle. But unlike the sign of Jonah which was for the Ninevites, his resurrection was for the redemption of all the world. This miracle was for all of us: sinners, Pharisees, hypocrites and the indifferent.
Like we discovered in the Parable of the Yeast, Jesus' very existence alters the fabric of reality, but it takes eyes of faith to see the miracles. It's no different today, we can't see the kingdom of heaven unfold among us when we are inward focused. The miracle of the resurrection is no different. When we see it and know it through our eyes of faith, Jesus alters the fabric of our existence.
Jesus goes on to explain how those who do not repent like the Ninevites did for Jonah will be judged, and not arbitrarily, but by the witness of the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba, who all represent the Gentiles. Since the Resurrection, the Gentiles have flocked to Christ and through their faith and martyrdom have condemned the Pharisees and the hypocrites through their zealous witness.
Then Jesus lets the Parable of the Unclean Spirit fly directed to the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law, and the hypocrite Christians of today. It is for sinners like you and me to hear.
“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”
“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”
To understand this parable we must focus on the word "unoccupied." How often do people try to outwardly follow the rules, do the right rituals, do good works, wear their religion, even flog themselves in order to look godly, but inwardly their hearts are cold, judgmental, bitter and hateful? These are the people Jesus is talking to. How often do we see this condition in Christians? How often have I found that happening to me? Instead, we must fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit. If not, our empty heart will be a deserted place looking for just the right evil spirits to take residence. Our hearts are a niche which must be filled.
We must be occupied by the Holy Spirit to keep evil spirits away. We must help other Christians be occupied by the Holy Spirit. To the Philippians, Paul explains, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."
There is really only one way to be filled by the Spirit of God. As John writes, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." The Word, Jesus, must be made flesh in us. How does this happen?
Jesus is made flesh in us through Scripture. We read, listen, sing, look at, and meditate on his word. Jesus enters us. Even when we simply think about him he is in us. He is in our thoughts. This is one reason icons are so important to some Christian traditions. The icons were a way that we could meditate on the word, just like reading scripture. Simply by looking at Jesus in a painting, he enters our minds, thoughts and being.
Jesus is also made flesh in us through his Bride, the Church, the New Jerusalem. Jesus said, "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." When we pray, "Our Father," we pray with all the saints. Even if we think we are alone, we still pray as if we are among others, because they are with us. We are always surrounded by a "cloud of witnesses" as Hebrews 12 attests. In fact, we can't pray alone. When we pray, in Jesus' name, we are there with every last member of his Church. It's only ever, "Our Father." It just shouldn't feel right praying, "My Father." But not only does Jesus take residence in us when we pray, we take shelter in him. This is why Jesus said "that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." It is impossible to be with Jesus and not be in the Church as well, because the Jesus and his Bride are one.
Let us never forget that Jesus is made flesh in us through the Sacraments. The Sacraments are special gateways that Jesus gave us for making himself manifest in us. Through common earthly materials (water, bread, wine, etc.), Jesus enters us. We must not underestimate this reality. Though our sinful eyes cannot see him, our eyes of faith must know the truth of his presence.
Finally, Jesus is made flesh in us when we repent. When we call out as a sinner and say, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner." Then, as the Parable of the Lost Sheep makes it clear, not only does Jesus come save us, but there is "more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."
We sinners must be occupied by Jesus. The alternative is not an option.