October 18, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Matthew 12:22-32.
Then they brought him a demoniac who was blind and mute. He cured the mute person so that he could speak and see. All the crowd was astounded, and said, “Could this perhaps be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “This man drives out demons only by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and no town or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself; how, then, will his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people drive them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and steal his property, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore, I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
The strong man here is Satan. The Jews believed that Satan would be enchained in the last days before the coming of the new age. Jesus was telling people that the kingdom of God had arrived; Satan was bound. The proof of that was that he was able to drive out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit; they were witness to the coming of the kingdom of God. It was now and they either stood inside the kingdom or outside, with Jesus or against him. They were confronted with a choice. Jesus had come to gather in the sheep; those who opposed were responsible for scattering the sheep, for turning them out to the wolves. Whom would they follow?
Could this be the Messiah, the Son of David? Could it really be him after all these centuries of waiting, of longing? Some wanted to believe and did. They chose to follow Jesus. Others saw something entirely different. They believed these miracles were evidence of the power of Satan at work. Jesus had a stern warning for them. A man’s sin will be forgiven; even not accepting Jesus as the Son of Man, the one who came in God’s name as from the clouds, will be forgiven. Disbelief was not an unpardonable sin or choice. But attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan, to evil intent and manifestation, was beyond the pale. That was blasphemy and would not be forgiven in God’s kingdom on earth or in heaven. That is definitive and hard, even harsh.
Why such severe judgment? Barclay writes that the Holy Spirit enables a man “both to receive and to recognise God’s truth….If he for long enough shuts his eyes and ears to God’s way, if he for long enough turns his back upon the messages which God is sending him, if he for long enough prefers his own ideas to the ideas which God is seeking to put into his mind, in the end he comes to a stage when he cannot recognise God’s truth and God’s beauty and God’s goodness when he sees them. He comes to a stage when his own evil seems to him good, and when God’s good seems to him evil….Why should that sin be unforgivable?…If a man cannot recognise the good when he sees it, he cannot desire it. If a man does not recognise evil as evil, he cannot be sorry for it, and wish to depart from it. And if he cannot, in spite of failures, love the good and hate the evil, then he cannot repent; and if cannot repent, he cannot be forgiven, for repentance is the only condition of forgiveness.”
That, I think, well addresses the reason why attributing evil to God will not be forgiven. But that doesn’t address the issue of blasphemy. According to the Catholic Dictionary, blasphemy “is a misuse of language, for blasphemy implies a conscious and intentional use of language which the speaker knows to be injurious to the Being of whom it is uttered.” Why was that important to Jesus in this story? Because the Pharisees were talking to the crowd; they were trying to influence those within hearing to choose to be against Jesus and they were trying to convince people that these works of Jesus were not the work of God but Satan. Because they were so intent on denying that Jesus was God’s anointed one, they deliberately painted him, and by extension his Father, as an instrument of evil. The Pharisees had considerable influence in their communities; they were respected; they occupied positions of power; they had wealth, a sign of God’s favor. They used all of these advantages to turn people away from Jesus, to persuade them that he was not the Messiah, the Son of David. That was the unforgivable sin.
Using God’s words or invoking His name to commit evil is unforgivable. We need to beware being persuaded by those who do so and there has been a long list throughout history. Those who deify themselves and misuse language to confuse and mislead, to betray God, will not be forgiven. Of course, I am not given the responsibility of judgment, but terrorists who kill in the name of God and people like Fred Phelps who hate in the name of God seem to be to be committing sins that are unforgivable. They certainly defile the kingdom of God on earth and, I believe, will have no place in His kingdom in heaven. Personally, I take solace in that.