by Father Mike Stubbs
We believe in a God who is compassionate and all-merciful; “Compassionate and merciful is the Lord” (Sir 2:11).
On the other hand, Jesus’ words in Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mk 3:20-35, might sound as though they contradict that belief. Specifically, he says: “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.”
Does that mean that if someone says something derogatory about the Holy Spirit, they can never be forgiven?
Does it mean that you can’t take it back? That doesn’t sound like Jesus.
When we see him in the Gospel reading, Jesus has been driving out demons as part of his healing ministry. He has gained quite a reputation as an exorcist. Consequently, his enemies have accused him of cooperating with Satan to explain his power over the demons: “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.”
In his response to these accusations, Jesus describes them as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Previously, the scribes had accused Jesus of blasphemy.
Now he returns the favor. By attributing the demons’ expulsion to Satan rather than to the Holy Spirit, the scribes are denigrating the Holy Spirit’s work.
Jesus’ words do not seek so much to place limitations on God’s mercy. Rather, they emphasize the seriousness of the sin that the scribes are committing when they claim that Satan is behind the expulsion of the demons, when it is actually the Holy Spirit at work through Jesus.
That is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
We may feel far removed from a world where demons are expulsed and exorcists are called into question. Consequently, we may wonder if and how Jesus’ words might apply to us.
Do we ever risk committing this awful sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?
Does Jesus mean this warning for us?
The scribes who criticized Jesus failed to recognize the power of the Holy Spirit at work in Jesus.
Do we ever fail to recognize God’s power at work in our world?
Do our prejudices and predispositions blind us to seeing the good and lead us to calling it evil?
Are we so opposed to our enemies that we are unable to see them doing anything good?
In that case, we echo the scribes in the Gospel reading. They were so opposed to Jesus that even when he performed good deeds, they claimed that Satan was behind it all.