How many of your childhood birthday or Christmas presents do you still have? In our family, the initial rush of excitement at receiving a gift is followed by a few weeks or months of use. Over time, it begins to gather dust. Eventually we wind up giving it away or putting it in the garbage.
This experience helps me connect to an odd story Jesus tells:
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 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. 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 wit this evil generation”(Matt 12:43-45).
Jesus is criticizing his “generation” because they have condemned his disciples (Matt 12:2), conspired to kill him (Matt 12:14), accused him of working for Satan (Matt 12:24), and afterward demanded a sign (Matt 12:38). He has come to them and attempted to bless them—healing, teaching, and offering himself for them. And they are willing to receive some of the blessings. Yet it is clear that they are not willing to be changed by Jesus. They are stubborn and resistant. They are like people who have their demons cast out, but then invite seven times as many demons to take their place. Receiving the blessing is not part of a life change for them, but only a temporary interruption in their service of evil. “The last state of that person is worse than the first.” We might even say it would have been better for them never to have seen or heard from Jesus.
How should disciples understand this story? We have received this great blessing from Jesus. We have been cleansed from our sins and given hope of eternal life. What do we do with this blessing? Does the offer of salvation lead us to continual life change—or is it merely an interruption in our service of evil?
How are we building on the blessing? What changes are we making to avoid sin in the future? How are we fighting against the pride that led us down our previous path? What habits are we changing? How are we gaining momentum to make spiritual progress? What people are we allowing to influence us? Are we keeping our hearts soft?
We have a lot of experience receiving gifts that lose their meaning. Eventually they grow so unimportant to us that we dispose of them. Jesus deserves better. How are you building on your blessings?