The Unforgivable Sin

Mark 3: 22-30

2 Sm 5:1-7,10 / Psa 89:20-22,25-26

. . . whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.
(Mark 3:29)

Trust in the goodness of the Lord,

Believe that we have been redeemed!

Those who deny Him and His Word,

The Holy Spirit they’ve blasphemed.

The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons He is driving out demons.” So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.” He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.” (Mark 3:22-30)

Reflection

Is there really a sin that can never be forgiven? Yes, there is, as our Lord was quite emphatic about this. However, this does not contradict the doctrine we believe in that God is all-forgiving. Jesus Himself said, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (to die on the cross for the remission of our sins) so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the Name of the only Son of God (John 3:16-18). The lines are clearly drawn here (there are no ifs or buts about it): Either you choose to belong to the kingdom of God, or you prefer to stay in the kingdom of darkness and evil. Those who choose to believe the lies of Satan, and willfully deny the divinity of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, condemn themselves to eternal perdition. God cannot save a soul who refuses to be saved. In the Gospel version of Matthew, the author added these words of Jesus: “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters” (Mat.12:30). And He further said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Mat.12:36-37).

Our Lord Jesus was not condemning those who had attributed His divine power (to cast out evil spirits) to Satan; He was only warning them that if they persisted in their unbelief, then they were in danger of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, and would inevitably condemn themselves to this unforgivable sin. This was what had happened to Satan and his minions, whose willful opposition to God’s plans had hardened their hearts forever. In fact, our Lord consistently urged the people in His time (and ours) to “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Repentance is the key to salvation from this sin.

The most difficult spiritual problem that I continue to struggle with concerns a younger brother who said he no longer believes in the teachings and divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ. In fact he even doubts the existence of a loving God Who is Father to us all. I fear for the eternal fate of his soul because he no longer cares about his faith. But I still hold on in faith to the power of combined petitions. I therefore plead with you, dear reader, to please pray for my errant sibling, that God in His goodness and mercy, will manifest a miracle in his life for his conversion. Thank you, and may the Lord bless you also for your prayers.

Father God, our Lord Jesus said, ‘no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man’ when He rescued the captives of Satan. Please tie up the hands of Satan, the strong man, so that the souls that he has taken possession of may escape eternal damnation. Amen.

Ridiculed for God’s Word

Mark 3: 20-21

2 Sm 1:1-4,11-12,19,23-27 / Psa 80

When His relatives heard of this they set out to seize Him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind.’
(Mark 3:21)

There’ll be times some don’t understand

Why we are bold to speak God’s Word,

In obedience to God’s command,

His wisdom comes as our reward.

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3: 20-21)

Reflection

The Gospel today may be one of the shortest in the Bible, but it clearly portrays the difficulties that our Lord had to face in His ministry. Being omniscient, Jesus knew that His words would be read by Christians of all generations who would understand how they are related to the Old Testament scriptures as well as to the teachings of the Church in modern times. However, His words could hardly be understood by His own generation. The scribes even said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul” (Mk.3:22). It didn’t help that He always taught the crowds in parables, which to the unlearned mind must have sounded like words of an insane man. Worst of all, He was going around with a rag-tag band of followers (like Simon, a known rebel, Judas Iscariot, a man of dubious origins, a former tax collector, and some fishermen). They would surely get Him into trouble, if not with the religious leaders, then with the Roman military authorities. His relatives must have become even more concerned when the scribes and Pharisees questioned the new teachings that He was propounding, especially in the observance of the Sabbath and other traditional forms of worship. He kept ministering to hordes of people, even if this was preventing Him from taking care of His own needs, going hungry in the process of giving service to the sick. They then decided that He had to be taken care of for His own sake.

We can see how difficult it is to follow the footsteps of our Lord in the ministry of the Word. He was rejected by His own hometown when He went home to preach and to heal the sick. He was, after all, only the son of a poor carpenter. Where did He get the authority to stand up in the synagogues and teach? Despite all the miracles that He performed early on, His own relatives were the first to doubt His sanity.

We too will experience the doubts, or even ridicule of our own friends and relatives when we speak out for the Lord, especially if we are new members or converts in the renewal. They may question our sincerity or sanity, incredulous about what we are saying when they first hear us proclaim the Word of God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus sets the example for us not to allow fear, doubts or ridicule to get in the way of serving His kingdom. The work before us is so important that the judgment of others about our behavior carries little significance in the light of God’s approval. We would rather face ridicule from friends than rejection from Christ for not proclaiming His Word. For Jesus said, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

Lord Jesus, in today’s Gospel You teach us in so little words the big mission that is laid out for us to accomplish. Help us, dear Savior, in times of our anxieties, doubts and fear of shame, to stand up for Your Word, even if it will make us appear ridiculous in front of our peers. Make us bold in the Spirit, Lord, that we may fearlessly proclaim Your Word. Amen.

The Call

Mark 3: 13-19

1Sm 24:3-21 / Ps 57:2-4,6,11

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to Him those He wanted, and they came to Him.
(Mark 3:13)

Chant His praise across the nation!

Let His Good News be heard by all!

We’ve been chosen for salvation,

All you faithful who heed His call.

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to Him those He wanted, and they came to Him. He appointed twelve—designating them apostles — that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve He appointed: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter, James, son of Zebedee and his brother John, (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him. (Mark 3: 13-19)

Reflection

Jesus had already called a number of the disciples to follow Him before the formal appointment of the twelve. First to be called were Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, then James and his brother John, all of them fishermen. He told them, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men” (1:17). According to the account in John’s Gospel, the following day Jesus went to Galilee and found Philip, who in turn told Nathaniel (Bartholomew), “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth” (Jn.1:43-45). Then Jesus called Matthew, the tax collector. Mark named him Levi in Mk.2:14. Could the word “levy” as in tax collection have come from his name?

Except for the first four, the other apostles all came from different backgrounds. None of them seemed to be men of distinction, power, wisdom or wealth. In fact, throughout the Gospel accounts, we read about their character flaws that seem to make them such poor choices as Christ’s core group. But He picked them anyway, perhaps to show God’s power in their transformation. As their leader, Peter appeared to be weak and indecisive, even cowardly. James and John were too impulsive and ambitious. Andrew was the meek type, preferring to stay in the background. Then there’s Nathaniel the cynic (“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”) in Jn.1:46. And who can forget the doubting Thomas? And last and least of them all, Judas, the betrayer. From the Gospel accounts, little is known about the other apostles’ lives.

It was only after Jesus had resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven, and the Holy Spirit’s power came down upon the apostles on Pentecost that their lives and personalities were completely changed. Only John, the favored apostle did not die a martyr’s death, but he was nonetheless exiled in Patmos, where it is believed he wrote the last book of the Bible. Reflecting on the call of the apostles, we can see that they were not chosen because of any particular talents or abilities, but by their willingness to follow and obey the Son of God. They were not even sure about their future with this “Prophet from Nazareth”, and even turned cold feet at a critical time. But in the end, they came together again in faith, albeit in great fear. God knows our weaknesses, our anxieties and fears. But He calls us nonetheless, because even if our faith were the size of a mustard seed, He knows He can make it increase a hundredfold, and employ us for the purpose for which we were born.

Dear God, we have heard Your call, and we follow Your will for our life. Use us as You deem proper, for we put our complete trust in You, believing that all things work out for the good for those who are called to serve Your kingdom here on earth. We can only praise and thank You, Lord, for this special privilege. Amen.

Following Jesus

Mark 3: 7-12

1Sm 18:6-9;19:1-7 / Psa 56

Whenever the impure spirits saw Him, they fell down before Him and cried out, “You are the Son of God!” But He warned them sternly not to tell anyone who He was.
(Mark 3:12)

Of all the things in my concern,

Where does my priority lie?

To follow Christ I must discern:

What kind of a Christian am I?

Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed them. When they heard about everything that He was doing, many people came to Him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. Because of the crowd He told His disciples to have a small boat ready for Him, to keep the people from crowding Him. For He had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch Him. Whenever the impure spirits saw Him, they fell down before Him and cried out, “You are the Son of God!” But He warned them sternly not to tell anyone who He was. (Mark 3:7-12)

Reflection

The popularity of Jesus as a great healer and teacher had attracted multitudes of people coming from all over Galilee. He had withdrawn to Capernaum towards the sea with His disciples (probably making Simon Peter’s home His base) so that people could come to him from all directions. But when the crowds came, they had become so thick that Jesus had to have a boat ready, in case He needed room to address the crowds pressing upon Him. All who were afflicted with various ailments wanted to touch Him, while those possessed by evil spirits proclaimed His divinity, but were silenced.

Why did our Lord order the demoniacs to be silent? It was because He did not want them to disrupt God’s timetable for Him to be known as the Messiah. This would be revealed after He had risen from the dead. Besides, it was not within their power to be declaring the presence of God among His people. They had no such privilege.

Why were such large crowds coming to Jesus? Was it to listen to his teachings? Many of them came to be healed of their diseases or to be freed from evil spirits. Most others were just curiosity-seekers and speculators who were hoping that Jesus would be their savior against the Roman conquerors of Israel. But Jesus was not the kind of Messiah they had been waiting for. He was in fact far more than any political leader who could give them temporal freedom here on earth. His kind of deliverance was from damnation to a life eternal in the kingdom of God in heaven.

In the Christian world today, we find that there are many followers of Jesus. Sadly, it seems most of them have the wrong motives for following Him. They look upon God to fill their needs, for long-term security, or merely to belong to His Church. When they pray, it is only to ask for favors. When they give tithes, it is only because they expect a tenfold return on their offerings. A true Christian is one who gives his life to the Lord because of love. He obeys all of God’s decrees because he believes in all the teachings of Jesus Christ. Of the thousands who followed Jesus when He walked the earth, only a little over a hundred was left when He ascended to heaven. Most of His followers had gone on to continue with their temporal pursuits. But from these numbers our Church has grown into billions of Christians all over the world. What about us? How committed are we as followers of Christ? Where do our priorities lie? Up to what extent are we willing to give our lives to Jesus?

We come to Your assembly, Lord, to praise You, and worship the Father, and be filled with Your Holy Spirit. Let all Your creation give You glory. Amen.

Reaching Out

Mark 3: 1-6

1 Sam 17: 32-51 / Ps 144

“Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”
(Mark 3: 4)

May Jesus free us from our doubts,

Give us the grace to understand

That until we learn to reach out,

Our faith is like a withered hand.

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:1-6)

Reflection

In normal times, the Pharisees would never associate with the hated Herodians, who were their enemies. These people were lackeys of the Romans whom the Pharisees regarded as unclean gentiles. Why would they forge this unholy alliance with the Herodians whom they despised? It was because the latter had the authority and power to arrest Jesus if His teachings were proven to be subversive against Rome. But why couldn’t they see the good that Jesus had done in making the deformed person whole again? It was because their prejudice against Jesus had blinded them from seeing the miracle as a good deed; instead, they saw it as a clear violation of their Sabbath law and a threat to their religious authority. Their hypocrisy was so obvious when they preferred to remain silent to Jesus’ question: “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”

The essence of God’s commandment, “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day,” had been lost to the Pharisees because of their blind rage against Jesus. How could they keep this day holy when they had associated themselves with the Herodians who were unclean? Worse of all, they were plotting to commit murder, completely forgetting the fifth commandment of God, on a Sabbath at that. The hearts of the Pharisees had become so shriveled by their sins of pride, hypocrisy, and murder that they had lost hope of being reformed.

Let us reflect on our life if there is any part that has become paralyzed or atrophied. Has my compassion for the poor and the sick shriveled because of my own selfish concerns? Do I remain silent as if my tongue has become stiff because I fail to proclaim the Word of God? Have I lost my flexibility to change my position when I know I’m in the wrong? Am I content to just close my mind to the truth? Do I at times feel that perhaps my faith has withered, because my prayers have become mechanical, or observing Sunday Mass has become an obligatory ritual? Our faith needs to be regularly exercised if it has to be strengthened by the grace of God. We can do this by constantly reaching out to others — in sharing God’s Word, in praying for the healing of the sick and the dying, and in extending helping hands to the needy. Otherwise, spiritual inactivity will surely lead to a paralyzed faith.

Lord, grant me the grace to be compliant to all Your commands, not defiant or disobedient, lest I end up with a paralyzed faith and an atrophied heart. Amen.

How to Keep the Sabbath Holy

Mark 2: 23-28

1 Sam 16:1-13/ Psa 89

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
(Mark 2:27-28)

True worship lies within the heart,

Not in a special day or place;

We cannot set prayer apart...

In every breath let’s give Him praise!

One Sabbath Jesus was going through a field of grain, and as His disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28)

Reflection

Jesus cited the incident about King David taking the holy bread that only the priests were allowed to eat (1Sam.21:2-7) to show that human needs should always take precedence over laws or rules.

God, in His goodness and mercy consecrated one day of the week for man to abstain from temporal or material pursuits, and give rest to his body while nourishing his spirit. “The Sabbath was made for man…” God knew that man needed to rest and take time to meditate on His relationship with Him, to praise and worship his Creator for his own good. God knew that if He did not command man to set aside one day for worshipping Him, man would become enslaved to the concerns of the world, and drift away from Him. This is the main reason for the 3rd commandment, “Remember to keep holy the sabbath day” (Exodus 20:8). But how many Christians, though they take time out from work on Sunday, remember to keep it holy? The cockpits are filled to the rafters with gamblers screaming to place their bets. The casinos and the massage parlors are doing brisk business on Sundays, and so are the malls and other places of recreation. Is this the way God intended for us to keep His day holy?

Perhaps God’s commandment to Moses in the book of Leviticus might show us the real meaning of the Sabbath. God said, “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, let the land too keep a sabbath for the Lord. For 6 years you may sow your field, and for 6 years prune your vineyard, gathering in their produce. But during the seventh year the land shall have a complete rest, a sabbath for the Lord, when you may neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard. The aftergrowth of your harvest you shall not reap, nor shall you pick the untrimmed vines in this year of sabbath rest for the land. All its produce will be food equally for you yourself and for your male and female slaves, for your hired help and the tenants who live with you, and likewise for your livestock and for the wild animals on your land” (Lev.25:2-7). This means that if the land can have a sabbath rest wherein it will yield food for all, then man must also observe the Sabbath rest by providing food and other necessities to those who are in need.

There are many ways by which we can make our Sabbath (Sunday) holy, in praise and worship of the Lord. Many organizations and parishes hold their blood-letting activities with the Red Cross or the DOH on Sundays. Donating blood is one of the highest forms of generosity, because it is giving an ounce of life itself. Others do their medical missions of mercy on this holy day. And it is not a walk on a field of grain, but real hard work. Are they violating the Sabbath? Of course not. They are in fact doing what is most pleasing to the Lord of the Sabbath. Let us spend our rest day by extending a helping hand or giving a part of our resources to our destitute neighbors, especially the victims of the recent floods and the big mall fire.

Grant us, dear God to devote our Sundays and other holidays to worship You, give You thanks and praise, contemplate on Your Word, and to bring others to You through our good works. Amen.