I wonder how much ink has been spilt over the statement that Jesus makes in today’s Gospel: “Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin” (Mark 3:28-29). Well, I am prepared to spill a little more.
The questions that most people raise are two. First, we are constantly told that God will forgive us any sin if we simply say that we are sorry and make an effort to turn away from that sin in the future. What makes this sin different? Second, what exactly is “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?” The answer to both questions lies in the reason that God in the person of Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to us in the first place.
In St. John’s Gospel we read: “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:22-23). When we confess our sins, we are reminded of that as the confessor pronounces the absolution. “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.”
Blasphemy is the act of insulting or showing contempt for or lack of reverence for God or sacred things. It is a sin. When a person blasphemes the Holy Spirit, he or she essentially says that they do not believe in the forgiveness of sins. They cannot forgive others. Even worse, they cannot forgive themselves. They carry the burden or the effects of sin with them constantly. If they don’t believe in forgiveness, how can the sin be forgiven!
The Gospels place this pronouncement of Jesus in the context of Jesus’ power to expel demons. His adversaries claim that Jesus expels demons through the power of demons, specifically Beelzebul. In other words, they claim that Jesus is not acting in the name of God but in the name of the devil. They insult or show contempt for Jesus and the power of God. Essentially, they are saying that Jesus cannot forgive sin, cannot heal, cannot expel demons, etc. They commit the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. They will not accept forgiveness of sins by God or God’s agents.
What isn’t said and would clear the issue up completely if it were is that one can turn away from these attitudes and embrace the possibility of forgiveness. This is not easily done, but it is possible. That change in attitude would then make it possible for even this sin to be forgiven.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator