Not becoming a habitat for evil

This weekend I preached on the parable of the unclean spirit who departs and then returns to find the home empty. He finds the empty, clean and swept house to be a wonderful habitat for evil.

Mt 12:43–46 ESV

43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”

I do not want my body and soul to become a habitat for evil. I think that repentance is good. It is good and honorable to turn away from sin. I should be sorrowful that I have sinned against the Lord and against my neighbor.

But now I am also concerned that I do not sweep and put in order my soul so that I can fill it with my own good works. The righteousness of my own good works is empty in the sight of God. If I repent of my sin and seek to build my life on a foundation of doing good deeds, I have become a desirable habitat for evil. The habitat for evil is a dwelling place where God is no longer considered necessary. When I attempt to build the foundation of my life on my own good works, I am living a life empty of God’s promises of hope and mercy.

Jesus tells this parable to show the empty, fruitless promises of attempting to live a life that is absent of faith in God and filled with faith in our own good works. He is specifically addressing the message of the Pharisees. Jesus is also addressing the falsehood that the ultimate expression of the Christian faith is a moral life that abhors evil and seeks our own good works.

When Amos commanded the people to hate evil and do good, he was pointing the people to do the good of God. We miss the point when we hate evil and seek our own good instead of the good of God.

Praise God that Jesus Christ goes to the cross and the tomb. On the cross and in the tomb the vanity of attempting to defeat evil and death on the basis of our own good works is revealed. In our suffering and in our death evil tries to squat and take up residence. When Jesus defeats sin, death, and the devil, he kicks out from our lives the power of evil to squat and shows to us the fullness of life in his love and promise.


Day 1 Preaching the Parables

This week I am taking a class with Thomas Long, a well known preacher and teacher. This class is called “Preaching the Parables” and so, surprise, we are talking about the parables of the New Testament.

Here are some thoughts after the first day of class….

Based on the readings we had to do to get ready for this class, it is certainly true that the study of parables is the avant-garde of hermeneutics. The study of the background of the parable and the context of the text around the parable allows us to see the parable as part of a bigger story.

Parables all come out of a concrete reality and sometimes the preacher has to clear the air of all the interpretations that have worked against that concrete reality. A reading of Scripture takes place in a stream of previous readings. These readings can help guide us towards a beneficial reading of the Scripture, but the dominant interpretations can also prevent us from seeing the jagged and radical dimensions of God at work.

When the preacher spends time to get to know the text…

1) brings excitement to want to share from discovery

2) the acoustical effect of the Biblical text…as they were read out loud there was a word event, and preaching is an opportunity to become a part of the reverb effect. The acoustical impact of a text being spoken aloud.

Titles: Do not need to accept the titles for interpretation or where the text has been cut

A parable provides a collision with reality and bring us into a connection with God’s reality. The story telling provides an opportunity to witness how religious prior conceptions are dislodged. Parables provide teaching that turns things upside down from an ethical or theological rut and instead of being shaped by this rut the community identity can begun to be shaped by sharing the reversal of the story.

The genre is found in Matthew, Mark and Luke but does have beginnings in the mashal of the Old testament.

1 Samuel 10:9-12

Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

Saul is not one of the ‘prophets’ but through his actions he should be counted among them.

Job 17:1-6

Job in his misery has become a mashal

Ezekiel 17:1-6

riddle, allegory

Not all of these mashal are narrative, not all earthly stores, a person, a saying, a riddle, an allegory

What holds this diversity together? Is it an algorithm that leads to a meaning. Maybe the parable describes an ineffable reality that needs to be described but cannot be contained into ordinary speech.

Greek word parabole – gluing of two greek words


para-alongside of

You are being converted into a reality in the hearing of the parable. A parable always requires the movement by listener. Preaching a parable can help people move towards thinking with flexible minds like they did when they were kids and their brains being rearranged.

Preaching in this great reversal is down without fear and a fundamental trust by the congregation that the preacher is going to take you someplace safe.

There is a small crisis built into every parable.

Paul Ricoeur- at some point in Jesus’ parables there is extravagance

Since we know the good endings of the parables do we allow the surprise to capture us do we still hear the extravagance. The parables often have an end stress – the aha of the parable that comes at the end of the parable and often with a statement. The statement causes you to go back through the rest of the parable through this end stress statement.

Preachers should ask themselves some questions when getting ready to preach a parable

What is the genre?

Jesus did not event the form, a form of rhetorical address that requires the hearer to move to catch the comparison and contrast, some enigma involved

Which parable am I going to preach?

There is the parable in the text. There is the parable remember because of the conflation that takes place in hearing the parables in multiple gospels. There is the parable that we expect Jesus shared and how might this contrast with the context that the Matthew, Mark, and Luke place it into their gospels. Jeremias is a theologian that has provided a framework to understand how the Gospel writers have transformed the parables for their context. My own thoughts is that some of these efforts of searching for the original kernal of the parable lead down to a rabbit hole of imaging a parable that speaks more to our own desires.

What is our basic procedure to bridge the connection between the kingdom of God and the thing it is being compared to…

Literary Answers

1) Connection is allegorical, it is in code and only known by those who know the code can crack it

Mark 4:10ff

You can’t interpret unless you have the secret of the kingdom of God, putting in parables so that others can’t get it

Most of us will balk as this as not democratic

Allegory is in the Jewish competence and is not to be dismissed

2) Connection is Simile

Adolf Julicher argued that the parables are not allegories but they are similes. The hearer of similes have to interpret in what way… Similes put two things together and compare them in one way and so we should not not look for multiple ways of meaning. There is one and only one point where the two things come together

Preacher reaches into the jar and pulls out the one point of the parable but the Julicher one point of the parable was always a reflection of the preacher’s own world. Takes away some of the wild and crazy speculation of the allegory method

3) Connection is metaphor – it is impossible to pull out the meaning, but you walk into the environment of the world and experience. Cannot put a life into a single point but 

4) Connection is not literary according to Louise Schottroff. Literary readings are all affected by Christian superiority and anti-Semitism and the virulent strain of anti-Jewish readings of parables. Also affected by dualism that seeks to separate spiritual and body. Also the dualism of law/gospel. Infected by obedience to authority and avoidance of the gospel. 

She represents the new non-linear, post colonial reading of Scripture.

Eschatology of the ultimate reality of authentic life in Christ becomes embodied the actual reality of living.

Kingdom of God gets compared to the parable, but the definition of the parable is not brought out from the parable. The definition has to come from some place else for Schottroff.

This class on parables also looks at why Jesus uses parables could be because the good news of Jesus is a parable. The parable interrupts our world with an extravagance of grace and so we find that Jesus himself is the ultimate interruption of grace.

The mystery of where the weeds came from

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells several parables and three of them about seeds: the Sower and the scattering of the seed, the wheat and the weeds and the mustard seed.

The first one was heard last week in churches and we gave thanks for the generous sowing of seed.

This upcoming week we hear about the master who sowed good seed but later his servants came to him confused. If he sowed good seed why are there weeds growing in his field?

They have high regard for their master and don’t understand how weeds could ever creep into their good master’s field. Their confusion is very interesting because it would have been very normal in the first century for the wheat and the weeds to grow alongside of each other. It was also common knowledge that it was better to wait until the harvest to separate the wheat from the weeds. But in Jesus telling of the parable the servants are surprised.

The master explains that the weeds did not come from him but that somebody in the night came and planted the weeds.

The weeds would grow alongside the wheat and would not be visible until the wheat began to develop its grain heads. The wheat would get heavy and droop a little with the weight of the grain. The weeds would then be visible because they carried no fruit for harvest but instead stood straight.

When the servants heard from the master about the devilish source of the weeds, they eagerly wanted to go into the fields and pull out all the weeds. But the master cautioned them to wait until the harvest and leave the work of separation to the harvesters.

This is a marvelous parable about the church and the world, the interior community of the church, and the internal struggles of each individual.

I also find in this parable a reminder that the church community is strengthened by the power of the gospel at work through Jesus. We are not a powerful community when we attack and judge each other. We do not build each other up when we seek to pull the sinners away from the midst of us. We trust God to do the work of the judgment and we live in the midst of the good news that He is planting in our midst.