August 14, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 12:8-12.
“I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God. Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven. When they take you before synagogues and before rulers and authorities, do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say. For the holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say.”
The verse that causes me to pause and think is: “Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” According to Luke Timothy Johnson in The Gospel of Luke, Luke is mixing the pre-crucifixion with the post-resurrection. “The denial of Jesus as the prophet in the Gospel can be reversed by conversion to the proclamation by his successors in Acts. But the rejection of their proclamation in the Holy Spirit leads to a final rejection from the people.” So, Jesus seemed to be saying that it was forgivable to reject him as a man even though a prophet, a voice of God. However, it would be unforgivable to reject him as the risen Son of God who will continue to teach them through the Holy Spirit.
Luke continues to emphasize this precept in Acts. In chapter five Gamaliel, a Pharisee in the Sanhedrin, warns his fellow members not to kill the apostles. “So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” Wise man.
God had given the Israelites chance after chance to repent, to turn toward God to create His kingdom, a kingdom of compassion and justice based upon love of Him and one another. It seems like we’re in danger of running out of second chances, though. Jesus’ dying and resurrection is our last chance. Rejection of God yet again in the form of the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. If God cannot reach us through the prophets, through Jesus, or through the Holy Spirit, we are dead to Him. Barclay puts it this way, “To a Jew, God’s Spirit has two great functions. Through the Spirit he told his truth to men, and it was by the action of the Spirit in a man’s mind and heart that he could recognize and grasp God’s truth. Now, if a man for long enough refuses to use a faculty he will lose it….Just so we can lose the faculty of recognizing God. By repeatedly refusing God’s word, by repeatedly taking our own way, by repeatedly shutting our eyes to God and closing our ears to him, we can come to a stage when we do not recognize him when we see him, when to us evil becomes good and good becomes evil….Why is that the unforgivable sin? Because in such a state repentance is impossible. If a man does not even realize that he is sinning, if goodness no longer makes any appeal to him, he cannot repent. God has not shut him out; by his repeated refusals he has shut himself out. That means that the one man who can never have committed the unforgivable sin is the man who fears that he has, for once a man has committed it, he is so dead to God that he is conscious of no sin at all.”
I once asked Fr. John if it were possible to make a bad confession because I wasn’t sure what was right and what was wrong anymore. He told me, “No.” Now I understand why. If I have even a prick of conscience, I am not yet dead to God, I have not shut Him out completely. If in my mind and heart and through my actions good and evil are no longer opposed, I am lost forever. It is in my struggling with good and evil that I know that I am still open to God; it is still possible for me to repent, to turn to God again, to be forgiven, to be reunited. There is still the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to teach me. The reward will be that Jesus will acknowledge me before the angels of God. That’s a pretty good incentive.