In our Gospel reading for today, there are some scribes, who, apparently seeing or hearing about Jesus driving out demons, say, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.” Then Jesus points out the fallacy of those statements: “How can Satan drive out Satan?” And then, toward the end of our reading, Jesus says, “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.” And then we hear, “For they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.”
Maybe I’m too caught up with the divisions among us, but I wonder whether we are tempted, instead of thinking, “I need to watch out about blaspheming against the Holy Spirit!” to think, “What he/she/they said was a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and they should never be forgiven!” In other words, we can be tempted to look for justification for our condemnation of others instead of avoiding condemnation ourselves.
I’m not saying that there isn’t evil being done. There is. I’m not saying that we should not speak up for what is right. We are called to work for justice. What I am saying is that God is the ultimate judge, and the question of condemnation is solely up to God to answer.
In our first reading from Hebrews, we hear that “once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice.” That was not an act of condemnation, but of salvation. If we follow Jesus who did that for us, our lives are oriented towards love. Instead of looking for reasons to hate, perhaps we can call on the Holy Spirit to empower us to love.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.