SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Rom 4:13
; Ps 105:6-9
; Lk 12:9-12
We always speak about God’s unconditional love and mercy. Yet in today’s gospel, Jesus said there is one sin that cannot be forgiven. “Everyone who says a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” Is there a contradiction in the message of Jesus? Why is the sin against the Holy Spirit not forgivable whereas the sin against Jesus is pardonable?
There are people who reject Jesus because of various factors. They lack faith in the Lord. They have not yet had a chance to encounter the Lord. They might know about Him intellectually but they have not yet arrived at a conviction in their hearts. Hearing about Jesus does not mean that a person would have faith. This is true of people from other religions. They might have known about Jesus because they were educated in mission schools, or they have read about Him. Yet, they are not converted to Christianity because they have not arrived at a personal encounter with the Lord.
For such people, a general faith in God is sufficient. This is what St Paul says, “The promise of inheriting the world was not made to Abraham and his descendants on account of any law but on account of the righteousness which consists in faith. That is why what fulfils the promise depends on faith, so that it may be a free gift and be available to all of Abraham’s descendants, not only those who belong to the Law but also those who belong to the faith of Abraham who is the father of all of us.” We are saved not by what we do and by our merits. If that were the case, then God would not have promised Abraham that he would be a father of all nations. It was not because Abraham did anything to earn the promises of God. It was not because Abraham fulfilled the laws or that he was righteous, but that he simply put his faith and trust in God’s promises.
But the sin against the Holy Spirit is different. It is not just a rejection of our Lord but a rejection of goodness, truth and love. When we are numb to what is right and wrong, we are closed to the Holy Spirit. Life is such that when we neglect our prayer life or a relationship with someone, we become indifferent after some time. It is the lack of touch with our faith, our prayer life and with God that will cause us to fall into indifference. When we reject God’s word repeatedly and continue to sin again and again without any repentance, we will eventually lose sensitivity to the truth. We will come to a stage of relativism before we arrive at amorality. This is what is happening in the world. Those who are without faith rely on their own intellect and judgment. They reject any judgment that comes from others. Because of pride, they very soon fall into relativism. Truth becomes a matter of personal judgment and preferences. Of course, in relativism, one can always rationalize and convince oneself that what one is doing is right. Our mind can always adduce reasons for what we want to do. From relativism, one becomes amoral, because nothing is wrong or right.
When a person is blind to the truth and what is right, how could he or she repent? If he cannot see that what he is doing is wrong, there is no reason to change. This is precisely the sin of many people. They are so sure of themselves, so presumptuous that they are right that they would not listen to correction. There is totally no way we can reach out to such people. They insist on doing things their way and those who disagree with them are all deemed to be wrong and out to victimize them. Indeed, it is almost impossible to enlighten someone who has a victimization complex, or show him the way to the truth because he thinks that the world is against him all the time. This is the sin against the Holy Spirit.
When a person arrives at such a stage, no forgiveness is possible. It is not that God has rejected such a person, but he has rejected God and has shut Him out of His life. Those of us who have sinned and are aware of them could still have our sins forgiven because we know that we have done something wrong. Our inability to repent is due to our human weakness, particularly the weakness of the flesh. In our minds, we desire to live a righteous life but our will is weak and wounded. Consequently, only those who commit sins and are unable to recognize them as sins even when brought to their attention, cannot be forgiven; not because God does not want to forgive them but because the sinners do not want to be forgiven.
Indeed, the good news is that God does not take into account our sins before He justifies us. We are forgiven and we do not need to earn merits to be loved and forgiven. This is what divides us from those religions that underscore merits and fulfillment of the laws. Christianity speaks of grace that is unearned and unmerited. We can never earn the love of God. We do not speak of what we can do for God but what God is doing in our lives. Grace speaks of what God’s unconditional love and mercy can do to transform our lives. This is not to say that we continue sinning. On the contrary, because of His love for us, we stop sinning, not because we are afraid of punishment or because it is our duty, but because we love God who loved us first. We are compelled by love.
Conversely, the laws cannot set us free. They can at most tell us that something is wrong but they cannot give us the motivation to observe them. All laws are made to be broken, or else no laws are necessary. We all know the laws and yet we see crimes and offences committed every day. The rule of thumb is to break the law but just don’t get caught! The laws cannot give us the power to fulfill them. On the contrary, the laws tempt us to commit more sins because what is forbidden is even more desirable. This is how the Devil tempted Eve. At any rate, after seducing us to sin, the devil accuses us and makes us feel condemned before God. “The accuser of our comrades[c] has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” (Rev 12:10b) So not only does the law condemn us to death but the devil as well.
Hence this requires faith in His grace on our part. This is why anyone who has the faith of Abraham would have the promises of God fulfilled in Him. We are called to trust in His grace alone, not on our efforts. If we depend on our merits, none of us would ever attain the promises of God. Abraham himself trusted in God and he was richly rewarded. “Abraham is our father in the eyes of God, in whom he put his faith, and who brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not exist.” Indeed, it was Abraham’s faith in God, who is the author of life and death and the origin of all things, that made it possible for him to trust in God alone.
The great thing about Abraham is that even though he did not see all the promises realized in his time, he continued to have faith that somehow God will fulfill all His promises. And thus it took another 2000 years later before Jesus the Messiah was born and another 1500 years before Christianity spread all over the earth. As Christians, we too are the descendants of Abraham. “Though it seemed Abraham’s hope could not be fulfilled, he hoped and he believed, and through doing so he did become the father of many nations exactly as he had been promised: Your descendants will be as many as the stars.” This is what the psalmist says, “He remembers his covenant for ever, his promise for a thousand generations, the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac. For he remembered his holy word, which he gave to Abraham his servant.”
For us, Christians, Jesus is the incarnation of God’s grace and mercy in person. By His life, passion, death and resurrection Jesus shows us the face of God. Consequently, the Lord said, “I tell you, if anyone openly declares himself for me in the presence of men, the Son of Man will declare himself for him in the presence of God’s angels. But the man who disowns me in the presence of men will be disowned in the presence of God’s angels.” If we deny Jesus, we will be losers in the end because we forfeit the grace to recognize God’s unconditional love in Christ. But for those of us who testify to Christ, our faith will increase by leaps and bounds. The Holy Spirit will inspire us and lead us to a deeper conviction of Christ as our savior. In our helplessness, we find the power of God at work in our lives. “When they take you before synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how to defend yourselves or what to say, because when the time comes, the Holy Spirit will teach you what you must say.” When we surrender our lives to God, He will do the impossible. With God, all things are possible. But we can know this only when we entrust our lives to Him and take His Word and promises in faith as Abraham did. So long as we depend on our strength and efforts alone, we can do things for God, but if we rely on Him, He can do great things for us and through us.