A popular show (on PBS no less) is Downton Abbey. And that’s a bit surprising to me since we Americans seem to always be gripped, al least in our rhetoric, with this notion of egalitarianism. But this popular show is very much about the clear stratification of “classes” and the “drama” of etiquette and class.
In that society, a violation of what is “acceptable” can be an “unforgivable” mistake that scares one’s reputation for a lifetime. “What, he didn’t extend his pinky while holding his tea cup!? Unforgivable!”
It is amazing what passes for unforgivable in human societies. In some societies, it’s “unforgivable” to marry outside your caste. In some places its unforgivable to to violate the unspoken oath of your clan or family. Why, growing up my father found it absolutely out of the bounds of acceptable behavior for we boys to wear red and black together since those were the uniform colors of his most hated college football team.
Of course there are other behaviors that seem to be unforgivable. As a former police officer I can tell you it really is true that even in prison among that hardened population, someone who violated a child has to be sequestered away from the general population just to keep that person alive inside the prison. Their crime was “unforgivable.”
The whole concept of something being unforgivable rests in the community conscience of priorities and decorum.
In today’s Gospel Lesson our Lord Jesus talks about something unforgivable. Look at Luke 12:8-12 and read the passage. In verse 10 Jesus says “And every one who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” The Lord declares that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit “will not be forgiven.” The English word “blasphemy” comes from two Koine Greek words that mean “to injure reputation.”
Here’s the whole passage: The Lord said to His disciples, “Every one who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but he who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And every one who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious how or what you are to answer or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
So why does the Lord set blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as “unforgivable?”
Let’s broaden our thinking here and consider that it is the Holy Spirit that the Lord promises will do the work of drawing people to Christ. The Holy Spirit will be that Voice that whispers in our souls that we are on the wrong path. The Holy Spirit will lead the Lord’s Church into all truth. The ministry of the Holy Spirit will empower the people of God to carry out the “last will and testament” of our Lord Jesus to be witnesses to His Gospel in all the earth. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential to our very lives as serious Orthodox Christians. His intimate and active presence in our lives must be cultivated and depended upon if we are really serious about practicing the Orthodox Faith. St. Seraphim declares “Acquire the Holy Spirit, and a thousand around you will find their salvation.” The Lord goes on to promise in this very passage that “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
To denigrate the Holy Spirit, to dismiss the Holy Spirit, to insult the Holy Spirit; reveals a person whose heart is closed by choice to the leading of the Holy Spirit. It isn’t that this or that action makes God so angry that He wont forgive you. That is a ridiculous notion that makes my behavior more powerful than God’s love. And that isn’t possible. But God loves me so much that He chooses out of His Freedom to not violate my will and “force” me to return His love. So a heart so contemptuous of the work of the Holy Spirit simply refuses the forgiveness offered and places himself in an unforgivable place. The sentence of unforgivability is always self imposed. Hell, it turns out, is locked from the inside!
Today, are you aware and open to the active and intimate presence of God in your life? Are you cultivating a sensitivity to His love, guidance, wisdom, and affection in your daily life? All the rhythm of the Faith, Her disciplines, Her prayers, Her liturgies are all meant to increase your sensitivity and cooperation with the constant work of the Holy Spirit to transform you into someone who is “like Christ.” Only this work will adequately prepare you to enjoy God’s unfiltered Presence forever. Only this active and free choice made by your willing heart will provide your soul with the peace and the grace to be what you were made to be. No wonder the Church teaches us to pray (why not stop what you’re doing right now and pray this prayer wherever you are?):
Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of truth
Who is everywhere Present and filling all things
Treasury of Good Gifts and Giver of Life
Come and abide in us
Cleanse us from all sin
And save our souls, O Good One. Amen
P.S. Recently our parish experienced a tragedy that brought this Sunday’s Faith Encouraged LIVE program close to home. We had the Orthodox Christian funeral for a 43 old father and husband. How does a Christian, shaped by the faith of the Resurrection, face such a tragedy? WHat is it about the faith that even “Christianizes” our legitimate and very real grief? Join me and my special guest, Fr. James Ellison, as we talk about Grief on the next Faith Encouraged LIVE with Fr. Barnabas. That’s this Sunday at 8 PM Eastern on AncientFaith.com