Because so many American Catholics celebrate the Sunday liturgy on Saturday evening, they might miss the unusually rich banquet of the word presented by the readings for this Saturday late in Ordinary Time. To “stumble across” these readings in the late autumn is something akin to an underfed bird or mouse falling into a grain bin just at the end of harvesting. The Gospel for today warns us of the importance of aligning ourselves with Jesus, the Son of Man, who has established the victory of the dawn or beginning of the Reign of God on earth. But, in addition to the promise that if we witness to our relationship with Jesus (this is both word and action, of course) then He will witness (again, speak and ACT) positively about us. That is a very significant promise. But the next verse contains a continuously puzzling assertion: If we act against Jesus we can be forgiven, but if we act against God’s Spirit, there is no forgiveness possible. The obvious question is what is the action against the Spirit that is unforgiveable?
An interesting clue to the conundrum can be found in a footnote in the New American Bible that simply states that to get Luke’s understanding of the Spirit you have to look at the Spirit’s work in the Acts of the Apostles. The Spirit is the Person of God that acts on God’s behalf to bring forth the Kingdom of God once Jesus has presented what God’s reign means in human terms. Jesus made it clear that no human controls God or God’s authority. In his human mission, Jesus constantly subordinated his actions and will to the Father – challenging his followers to always do the same. Even to his passion and death, Jesus is looking to the Father to guide his decisions, to give him what he needs to accomplish the Father’s Will. It is God’s Spirit that operates in Jesus’ human Mission to enable him to be faithful to God’s “plan of salvation” as Paul describes it. So the Spirit is the power that enables the mission of establishing the fullness of the Kingdom on earth to come to fruition in any era or location.
Back to the action against the Spirit – presumably the power of the Spirit is the power of forgiveness (as well as the power of creation, the power of justice etc.). To act against forgiveness would be to prevent the Spirit’s power in us to forgive (us). Similarly, to suppress the work of the Spirit in bringing the Good News would cut us off from the Good News that saves us. So the “sin against the Spirit” is any action that prevents God from being God in our life – and it is unforgivable because we lock out the very access to forgiveness that would transform our lives. Another way of putting it is stated in the Our Father: Forgive us . . . as we forgive others. It is not so much a condition in the sense of “you do this and I will do that” as it is a condition of possibility. If you block out the possibility there is no chance you can receive. Refusal to allow God to be God – that is the source of both life and of forgiveness from our sins – results in our inability to be forgiven.
To say a bit more about the power of the Spirit and the foolishness of blocking or stifling the Spirit (taking so much control over something that we ignore that God ultimately has control) we just have to enjoy the first reading. This wonderful prayer from Ephesians is a listing of all the ways the Spirit enables God’s Reign which is our flourishing. What we fail to understand over and over is that the coming of the Reign of God means that all of us will fully flourish as human beings – and that no one will be left without. The best that can happen to each of us individually is to be totally alive in God’s desire for us – or as Paul puts it: “that you may know . . . what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones”. The “holy ones” are those that God has given the gift of his Spirit to and who choose to live according to that gift.
The ordinary means of receiving that gift of God’s Spirit is through Baptism and the other sacraments, but the means of living the gift is our committed cooperation with the Spirit that dwells in us, transforming us more fully into “the holy ones” who have received this glorious joy – here on earth. The wisdom with the revelation of God’s glory that comes from that Spirit is made available to us.
If we refuse to make that Spirit at home in our lives and decisions, we cannot be forgiven because we willfully cut off the “Who and What” that forgives – God’s personal power that seeks to dwell in us.
Reflecting on these texts I am so deeply aware of the importance of asking Jesus to pour forth the Spirit so that “the eyes of our hearts be enlightened” minute for minute, both individually and as the whole Catholic Church, for our only reason to exist is to bear the Spirit into the world to accomplish the Will of the Father in union with Jesus, our head. (A will that always seeks our joy and our flourishing . . .)
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