The Tenth Sunday of Pentecost
1 Corinthians 12, 1-11 & Saint Matthew 12, 22-32
July 17, 2016 at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church in Norman, Oklahoma
It is almost impossible to get to the point of this episode of Matthew’s Gospel because of that verse about unforgiveable sin. I cannot tell you how many times in my 48 years as a priest people have come to talk about this either because they are intellectually curious or because they are frightened and guilt ridden. Countless good people have tormented themselves unnecessarily by the thought that they are guilty of the unforgiveable sin. A wise preacher once said that those who worry about the unforgiveable sin cannot be guilty of it. Today I am that preacher. The whole point is that if you are aware that you are a sinner, you have nothing to worry about. At that point the mercy of God takes over. There is always hope.
Once that’s out of the way, there is a lot more serious business going on here. Remember that at the time of Jesus every kind of illness was thought to be the consequence of sin and Satan, so the work of Jesus, his healing and liberation, is cast in the setting of a battle with Satan which is exactly what it is and why this controversy gets started. When it comes to facing off with evil, sin, or Satan (call it what you will) Jesus makes it clear that there is no neutrality. There are only two sides. You are either in the fight with him, or you are against him. There is no middle ground, and there are no bystanders. You have to take a side. Not taking a side is to choose. When it comes to our life in the church the same thing holds true. If your presence does not strengthen the Church, then your absence weakens it. There is no rest-stop.
It has been proposed that there are three things that cause people to seek neutrality. There are people who just want to be left alone. Their lives are marked by sheer inertia. They shrink away from anything that disturbs them in any way.
There are also people who are simply cowards by nature. Fear rules their lives. Most of all, they are always controlled by what others will think of them or say about them. To them the voice of a neighbor is louder than the voice of God. Finally there are people who simply avoid adventure and like the security of the way things are. They want things predictable. The older they grow, the more this is so. Following Christ and conforming one’s life to Christ Jesus will always mean adventure, will always mean someone is talking about you, and it means you will not be left alone. God will be speaking.
For those grounded in the sayings of Jesus, this quotation seems on the surface to contradict a similar saying in Mark and Luke wherein Jesus says the reverse. “Whoever is not against us is with us.” However, in those sayings, the focus is on the “other” – it is outside of one’s self. In this instance, the focus is on me. It is not about others.
Today, this Gospel presents a test for us. Shuffling through life avoiding conflict, hiding behind a shallow neutrality on issues of morality and justice will not do. There is a challenge here for anyone who hears the word and the call of Jesus to bring in a harvest for the kingdom of God. Whoever is not with us is against us. We have to take a side, and there will be consequences now and in the days to come.