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Text: Mark 3: 20 – 35
So, this passage is more than a little weird. Our culture places a lot of importance on the family, and we use the church and Christianity as a focus for that set of values. We imagine the ideal family—father, mother, children—dressed up in nice clothes going to church. We imagine that the ideal church is one full of families, nuclear and extended.
And then you have Jesus just straight up saying, “My mother and brothers and sisters? They’re not my family. These people here are my family.”
Queer people have this concept of a “chosen family.” For so many of us who have been rejected by our birth families—thankfully not me; I’m very lucky—the real family is the one we find who accepts us. Family is about acceptance and unconditional love; and we see Jesus’ family not accepting him. They say, “He has gone out of his mind.” They don’t agree with Jesus’ choice of career. So Jesus turns to his disciples, to the people he has gathered around him, and says, “Here is my family.”
It’s a different story than one found in the other gospels, where Mary is always near Jesus, but it’s one interpretation we can consider as we celebrate pride month. That Jesus knows what it’s like to need a chosen family; that Jesus is like us.
But that’s not really what I wanted to dwell on. Instead, we have the much more theologically troubling statement Jesus makes: “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.”
Every week I say, “No matter what you have done or have not done . . . there is nothing which puts us outside the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Except, apparently, there is.
“Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” What even is this? If Jesus says it’s the one unforgivable sin, it must be important. But . . . what even is it?
What is blasphemy? It’s one of the things you think you know what it is until you try to define it.
“[Blasphemy] consists in uttering against God—inwardly or outwardly—words of hatred, reproach, or defiance; in speaking ill of God; in failing to respect Him in one’s speech; in misusing God’s name.”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church 2148)
So this, but against the Holy Spirit of God; in putting oneself in direct opposition to the liberation God offers the people. In the context of the stories, the Pharisees saying that Jesus has “an unclean spirit,” because he helps people. Because he consorts with sinners and low-lifes. Because he forgives, his family says he’s out of his mind and the Pharisees say he’s in league with the Devil.
Bigotry and oppression, in other words. In subjugating others, in actively attempting to disrupt the salvation God offers us through the power of the Holy Spirit. In hating the image of God in one another. That is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. That is rejection of the Holy Spirit.
In my career as a minister and as a hospital chaplain before that, I have met a lot of people angry with God. Because of their illness, or the illness of a person they love. And a lot of people express to me how guilty they feel for being angry with God. And one person, they called that feeling “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” and thought it meant they were damned to Hell with no chance of forgiveness. That is what their church taught, at any rate.
One of the things I would say is, “God’s a big guy; he can take your anger.” And I meant that. I don’t think that’s what blasphemy against the Holy Spirit looks like. Did Jesus blaspheme when he said, “My God, why have you forgotten me?”
Instead, to understand what blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, is, we look at who the Holy Spirit is. What is She to us?
“I’ve heard in the Creed that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. I’ve also read in the catechism I have at home that the Holy Spirit is the same as the Father and the Son. Now, we know that God is love. What is it that proceeds from God and is also God? It has to be love. But if it proceeds it has to go somewhere. Where? To us. Then that is the Spirit of love that comes to us. What for? To stay here? No, to proceed also from us out to others. The Holy Spirit is, then, the same as the Spirit of unity and love among us. Even though people reject Christ, if they love others they are saved. But if they refuse to love others, they won’t be saved in this world or in the other.”
—Marcelino, in The Gospel in Solentiname (Carndenal)
Reconciliation means turning and seeing the God in each other. The God we have to apologize to is not the Jesus in a framed picture, not the image of the bearded Father we keep in our heads as we close our eyes. The God we must reconcile with is the Holy Spirit in the people we have hurt.
But if we deny the Holy Spirit in the other person, the God whose image is in the other person, there’s really no chance for reconciliation. When Jesus says blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, he doesn’t mean that God will sit in judgement and say, “No, you blasphemed the Holy Spirit; no forgiveness for you.” He means that forgiveness and reconciliation will just not be possible.
Something to consider as we ponder just what our apologies to the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples means for our part in the residential school system, as a colonizing church.
If we say, “Well, the schools were bad but those Natives are all drunks and glue-sniffers,” we are not reconciling. We are denying our part in the trauma that persists through generations upon generations. If we do not see the image of God in the Indigenous person, because they are addicted, because they are homeless, because they are angry with us, we can’t reconcile to them. We deny the Holy Spirit within them.
Jesus is not telling us that there’s something we can do to make God so angry that He will not love us anymore. He is telling us that we cannot heal our brokenness if we do not see Her face in the face of the most vulnerable and broken people.
God is love. God can do nothing but love. Let us love like God loves. Amen.