This brief parable is in both Matthew's and Luke's Gospel,
although the settings differ and it is oriented to a slightly different message.
In both cases it is part of the ongoing conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities.
Those with a vested interest in maintaining the religious status quo.
Jesus addresses the person who comes to faith (the impure spirit departs)
and looks for some form of expressing that faith.
There is a void that is waiting to be filled.
"I believe" but what does that mean ?
I realise the reality of God, so what do I do now?
I have experienced spiritual reality, so where should I go ?
Whom should I speak to ? Whose advice should I seek?
This is the state of the spiritual innocent entering God's kingdom; like, says Jesus, a little child.
Open to every new idea or explanation. Ready to be guided, nurtured, helped.
In Mission terms, ready for Follow-up .. or corruption.
Jesus points to what is happening in his day, in that generation.
He points a finger of accusation at those who are meant to provide that on-going nurture;
the human response to the action of God in someone's life; To affirm its reality, offer help.
Is he saying that what they are offering is worse than what the person believed before;
"the final condition is worse than the first"?
The righteous of religion, sure and confident of their rectitude,
separated themselves by extensive religious rituals and rules of purity,
and called on others to follow their example in the seacrh of perfection.
They considered anyone who behaved differently was wrong, sinful, ungodly.
They avoided the touch of a leper, a woman, a cripple,
which they saw as ways to contamination.
Don't read that book, it might give you wrong ideas, new ideas contaminating your mind.
Build up the walls around us to keep us clean, ready for heaven, assured of salvation.
Keep yourself holy, safely separate from those who have got it wrong.
It was a package that Jesus spoke against at every opportunity.
Yet its parrallels are frighteningly apparent today.
The life of Jesus was about walking alongside people, be it male or female, ruler or peasant,
usurer or charity worker, prostitute or priest. All children of God. All needy in their way.
Yet, after 2000 years, we still love to model ourselves on those Pharisees.
Schismatic over spiritual irrelevance. Each one holier than the other.
Making our rules and defending them to the death.
Christianity is meant to be about following the model that Jesus showed us.
It has become focussed on rituals surrounding his crucifixion rather than on his life.
Christianity is meant to be inclusive - opening the church door to all kinds of disruption.
The church needs to be a place which offers help and hope to the needy, the bereft, the lost;
to be a place of safety for those freshly come to faith, of refreshment from the world's concerns,
BUT not a place that provides new demons, new rules, new regulations, to plague those within it.
So, let us, the church, offer hope of a better world, a life that makes sense.
Let us offer the idea of Hope replacing Despair; of Love replacing Conflict;
Of Generosity pointing a way out of Poverty, and Education from Crime;
of new opportunities in life today for those beyond our boundaries.
Let us reach out to the lost, rather than cosset the comfortable.