These days, an empty stadium or ballpark is the norm. But before Covid, back in 2015, the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox played a game in Baltimore in an empty stadium. The Orioles announced that due to the unrest and violence in the city, the game between the two teams would take place without an fans in attendance.
And so it was. It was also vendor and concession free, there was no dance cam, they didn’t play “guess the attendance,” and when Mike Davis hit a home run out of the park—there were no people rushing to be the first one there. The ball just sat there.
The players did the best they could to compensate. They threw balls into the stands as if people were there. Some pretended to sign autographs. They had the national anthem, the seventh inning stretch, ball girls, and an employee roaming through the stands to collect foul balls (as well as the ones the players threw into the stands). Still, as a spectator sport the game left a lot to be desired and the big, empty stadium bore witness to that.
When Jesus tells the story of the unclean spirit that leaves a person only to later come back later to a house “swept clean and put in order” with seven spirits more wicked than itself, His point is that nature abhors a vacuum. To turn another phrase, cleanliness is not next to godliness—it’s an important step in the right direction, but that’s all it is. It is a means to an end rather than an end in itself.
The seventy-two disciples who went through the villages and towns proclaiming the kingdom of God were thrilled that the demons submitted to them (10:17). Jesus found joy in that but also in the greater truth that God had revealed Himself to them while concealing Himself from the arrogant (v. 20-21). He then deals with the objection that it is by the power of Beelzebul (the prince of demons) that He is able to cast out demons (11:15). He points out the absurdity (and desperation) of such a suggestion. And it’s in this context that He tells the story of the fabulously clean but invitingly empty house.
It’s in all likelihood meant to represent the Pharisees who had brought the Beelzebul charge against Jesus (Matthew 12:24). Cleansing was part of their heritage. Historically they came on the scene in the early days of the Hasmoneans when they called the people back to the Torah and away from pagan ways and practices. But what had been a great start (cleaning the Jewish house), had lost its way. Instead of turning the house into a home by furnishing it with love, mercy, and kindness—they simply kept scrubbing. In the end, Jesus said they had something spotless but there was nothing but death and uncleanness inside (Matthew 23:27). This was exactly the kind of environment where evil would thrive. A house without goodness and grace is like, well . . . an empty stadium.
Let’s make sure our lives and churches aren’t fabulously clean and invitingly empty!