Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B - June 10th, 2018
Today’s Gospel story of the unbelieving scribes from Jerusalem who attributed Jesus' power over demons to Beelzebul (Mark 3:20-35) is inserted within the story of the arrival of Jesus' relatives. “Beelzebul” is a Canaanite divine name used here for the prince of demons. There are a number of references in the New Testament that try to establish a link between Jesus and Satan (Matt. 9:34; 10:25; 12:24,2 7; John 7:20; 8:48, 52). These references referred not only to his lifetime, but probably indicated as well the tensions that existed between the church and the synagogue. When Jesus said that Satan cannot cast out Satan (23b), he was saying that any entity divided against itself cannot stand, be it a kingdom, household, or even Satan himself. Jesus has no kinship with Satan, but is his dreaded enemy.
In the middle of the controversy, Jesus learns that his mother, brothers, and sisters have arrived (32). Throughout Jesus' earthly life, two groups felt themselves particularly close to him: first, his immediate family circle in Nazareth that thought they had lost him to the Twelve; and second, the group of the Twelve, his spiritual family. There were many moments of tension and even alienation among the two groups. Both were blind to his true identity.
Jesus teaches his blood ties that his disciples are key to himself and his new ministry. Nevertheless, this new group was a threat to blood relations (33-35). When Jesus’ own family says that he is beside himself, they are also inferring that he is possessed by a devil. That is the explicit response of the scribes who arrived from Jerusalem: “He is possessed by Beelzebul.”
Jesus’ family had ample reasons to think he was eccentric, or “beside himself,” because his life revolved around another center than that of his immediate relatives or of the people of his time. For Jesus, that center is indicated in verse 35: it is doing the will of God. To do God’s will is what the kingdom requires; family ties are secondary. The good news of the Gospel, with all its promises and demands, is that whoever does the will of God is not only the brother, sister, and mother of Jesus, but by that very fact is also his or her own true and deepest self.
The unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit
The spirit that works in Jesus, by which he cast out demons, is the Holy Spirit of God. Today’s Gospel text also contains the mysterious reference to the sin or blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (29). Why is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit unpardonable? Blasphemy does not consist in offending against the Holy Spirit with words; it means rather the refusal to accept the salvation that God offers to us through the Holy Spirit, working through the power of the crucified Christ. When Jesus says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven either in this life or in the next, it is because the non-forgiveness is linked to non-repentance, to the radical refusal to be converted. Only those who set themselves up against forgiveness are excluded from it.
When we close ourselves up in sin, thus making impossible our conversion, and consequently the forgiveness of sins, which has little importance for us, we enter a state of spiritual loss and destruction. To blaspheme against the Holy Spirit does not allow an escape from our self-imposed imprisonment to the cleansing and purification of consciences and the forgiveness of sins.
Doing the will of God
Jesus’ new center is to do the will of God. This is the kingdom’s requirement. The will of God is first of all the comprehensive plan of God for the universe and history. It is the marvelous plan through which the Father, “destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will” (Ephesians 1:5). The same expression “thy will be done” can refer also to any singular expression of the will of God. This “will” must be done first of all by God; it is God who fulfills his plan of salvation for the world.
Far from meaning some kind of passive, helpless abandonment to fate or circumstance, the “will of God” surpasses our wildest imagination and dreams, and reveals God’s immense, providential, merciful care for each and everyone of us. To allow God’s will to be done in us requires a conscious, decided “yes” or “fiat” on our part, and a sweet and sometimes bittersweet surrender so that something great may happen in us, through us, because of us and even in spite of us.
In his programmatic homily at the inauguration of his Petrine Ministry on April 24, 2005, Benedict XVI said: “Dear friends! At this moment there is no need for me to present a programme of governance. …My real programme of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole Church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by Him, so that He himself will lead the Church at this hour of our history.”
Imagine Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, one of the greatest theologians and minds of the Church, announcing to the Church and the world that he has come not to do his own will, but to listen, together with the whole Church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by the Lord, so that the Lord himself will lead the Church at this hour of our history! What powerful words to be taken to heart for each of us!
The saints are eccentrics
How many times have we thought that the saints are merely “eccentrics” that the Church exalts for our imitation, people who were so unrepresentative of and out of touch with the human scene? It is certainly true of all those men and women who were “eccentric” in its literal sense: they deviated from the centre, from usual practice, the ordinary ways of doing things, the established methods. Another way of looking at the saints is that they stood at the “radical centre.” Not measured or moderate, the saint's response to God's extravagant love is equally immoderate, marked by fidelity and total commitment. G. K. Chesterton said: “[such] people have exaggerated what the world and the Church have forgotten.”
The reality that explained all reality
In today’s second reading from Paul’s second letter to the community in Corinth (4:13-5:1),
Paul proclaims his faith, affirming the eternal life that grows within him even as he journeys towards his death. Paul imagines God presenting him and them to Jesus at the parousia and the judgment. In verses 16-18, Paul explains the extent of his faith in life. Life is not only already present and revealing itself but will outlast his experience of affliction and dying: it is eternal. For Paul the dying and rising of Jesus Christ was the reality that explained all reality that revealed the true face of God. The God of Jesus Crucified was revealed, not in the external appearances of power and splendor, but in the marvel of what appears to be human weakness and frailty.
Reconciliation and Penance
In light of today’s Gospel, let us read from #17 of Pope John Paul II’s 1984 Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Reconciliation and Penance
“In another passage of the New Testament, namely in St. Matthew's Gospel, Jesus himself speaks of a ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’ that ‘will not be forgiven’ by reason of the fact that in its manifestation, it is an obstinate refusal to be converted to the love of the Father of mercies.
Here of course it is a question of external radical manifestations: rejection of God, rejection of his grace and therefore opposition to the very source of salvation -these are manifestations whereby a person seems to exclude himself voluntarily from the path of forgiveness. It is to be hoped that very few persist to the end in this attitude of rebellion or even defiance of God. Moreover, God in his merciful love is greater than our hearts, as St. John further teaches us, and can overcome all our psychological and spiritual resistance. So that, as St. Thomas writes, ‘considering the omnipotence and mercy of God, no one should despair of the salvation of anyone in this life.’
But when we ponder the problem of a rebellious will meeting the infinitely just God, we cannot but experience feelings of salutary ‘fear and trembling,’ as St. Paul suggests. Moreover, Jesus' warning about the sin ‘that will not be forgiven’ confirms the existence of sins which can bring down on the sinner the punishment of ‘eternal death.’
In the light of these and other passages of sacred Scripture, doctors and theologians, spiritual teachers and pastors have divided sins into mortal and venial. St. Augustine, among others, speaks of letalia or mortifera crimina, contrasting them with venialia, levia or quotidiana. The meaning which he gives to these adjectives was to influence the successive magisterium of the church. After him, it was St. Thomas who was to formulate in the clearest possible terms the doctrine which became a constant in the church.
In defining and distinguishing between mortal and venial sins, St. Thomas and the theology of sin that has its source in him could not be unaware of the biblical reference and therefore of the concept of spiritual death. According to St. Thomas, in order to live spiritually man must remain in communion with the supreme principle of life, which is God, since God is the ultimate end of man' s being and acting. Now sin is a disorder perpetrated by the human being against this life-principle. And when through sin, the soul commits a disorder that reaches the point of turning away from its ultimate end God to which it is bound by charity, then the sin is mortal; on the other hand, whenever the disorder does not reach the point of a turning away from God, the sin is venial. For this reason venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity and therefore eternal happiness, whereas just such a deprivation is precisely the consequence of mortal sin.
Furthermore, when sin is considered from the point of view of the punishment it merits, for St. Thomas and other doctors mortal sin is the sin which, if unforgiven, leads to eternal punishment; whereas venial sin is the sin that merits merely temporal punishment (that is, a partial punishment which can be expiated on earth or in purgatory).”
[The readings for this Sunday are: Genesis 3:9-15; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35