The scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ And Jesus called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’ – for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’
Christianity is generally considered to be a loving and forgiving faith. Should we, then, be surprised when we encounter Jesus’ words in today’s reading: whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness?
Before Jesus utters these portentous words we read the weasel words of the scribes: by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons. The religious ‘experts’ of the day were trying to portray Jesus’ teaching and miraculous deeds of exorcism and healing as some sort of dark art. They were attempting to convince people that Jesus’ power came from Satan, and not from God. Surely this is the sort of blasphemy Jesus speaks of when he says: whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness.
As we go about our daily lives we are being constantly challenged in our faith. As we listen to or watch the national and international news we hear and see many things that cause us to wonder about God’s perpetual presence in this world. As we hear the local gossip and politics being played out we find ourselves impugning others simply because their opinions do not coincide with ours. As we find ourselves being led along strange and challenging paths through life we question and criticize the motives of those who are seeking to improve the conditions in which we live. Every day we align ourselves with the scribes, and other religious leaders of Jesus’ day, who denied the divinity of Jesus by challenging the veracity of his words and works.
Christians are called to live in unity and peace. In honour of that calling, we have been living through the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Since 18 January all who profess the Christian faith have been called to live in unity of spirit and in the peace which comes from Christ alone. But have we? Or, have we been as a house that is divided against itself?
Jesus makes it clear that the petty differences that give rise to so much conflict, distrust and even hatred within Christian communities stand in direct opposition to our divine calling. Just as he makes it clear that if we persist in such attitudes and behaviours we will find ourselves always blaspheming against the Holy Spirit of God and, therefore, placing an unbridgeable gap between ourselves and our loving heavenly Father.
Let us pray that we might turn our backs on the false teachings which distance us from God, and focus on Christ’s call to love … even those we might describe as our enemies. Let us, through prayer and the study of his word, pray that we might never waver as we journey in the unity and peace which is the calling of each and every one of us. Let us pray that, when the moment comes, we might be judged as having honoured the power of the Holy Spirit and be welcomed into God’s loving embrace for the whole of eternity.