There are two significant things in this gospel that might cause some concern at first glance, so before getting into the heart and message for us to ponder today let’s quickly clear the air and make sure we are all on solid ground.
This gospel is one of a handful that mentions the brothers and sisters of Jesus. As Catholics, we believe that Mary was perpetually virgin, that not only was she a virgin when she conceived and gave birth to Christ but that she remained a virgin perpetually, for the rest of her life. I think it’s fair to say that’s a fairly well-known part of the Catholic identity. So how in the world do we say that when the Gospel speaks about the brothers and sisters of Jesus? The common explanation in the Western churches is the argument of St. Jerome, that these brothers and sisters were actually cousins and other close relatives, who would have lived maybe in the same house or certainly very nearby. So the use of the words “brothers and sisters” was not meant to be literal in the sense of exact family relationships, not unlike how we might call someone an uncle or an aunt but who in reality was just a close friend of the family and not an actual blood relation. There is another explanation that I personally prefer and which is more common in the Eastern churches, is the argument of St. Epiphanius that Jospeh was previously married, had children, and then was widowed all before his marriage to Mary. So these brothers and sisters were basically step-siblings. Either explanation is plausible, go with whatever one you wish… all I ask is that whenever you hear about the brothers and sisters of Jesus you have an answer in your mind of how we can still believe that Mary was perpetually a virgin.
The second thing I want to quickly address is Jesus telling us that whoever blasphemies against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness. Certainly that does not sound like the merciful Father we have come to know in our lives, so it is a terrifying thing to consider that we could possibly do something for which there is no forgiveness. And I have encountered people who, being too scrupulous and thinking that they are constantly on the edge of being damned to hell, question whether they have done this somehow, whether they are beyond forgiveness. Honestly you could spend a lot of time reading commentaries and scholarly articles and debate over translations and words and meanings and still not have a clear answer. My understanding, from readings and praying and trying to know and understand Christ, is that this unforgivable blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not just a mortal sin but is a holding fast to mortal sin, persisting in a complete rejection of God that has entirely broken your life with him. The Holy Spirit is God’s Spirit, is Christ’s Spirit… and if you have freely chosen to reject the Spirit of God then God respects your free will. But the moment you turn around, the moment you stop walking away, God rushes to forgive. In other words it’s not that God refuses to forgives, it’s that the blasphemer of God’s Spirit refuses to receive. And honestly… perhaps my understanding of this is not quite perfect… but I offer it to you as a place to start.
So now that we can safely set to aside all the disconcerting parts of this Gospel, what brief homily can I offer you? I think it is this: there are evil spirits in the world but the victories of these serpents have always been temporary, and now in Christ they have been utterly crushed. From the beginning God created man in goodness and in love, that is what we are called to be and in the deepest, truest sense of our being that is what we are. So live your life looking not for the evil and the faults of others, but for their goodness. See the goodness in others. Rejoice in it, foster it, take every opportunity to make those moments of holiness the thing that matters most to you. We are brothers and sisters because we strive to do the will of God, and that connection to each other is no small thing, should be nothing less than the love and care and joy we should have in someone who shares our blood. We may fail at times but only for a moment, as we reach out our hands to the God who saves, the God who has made us all His own.
Sign up here to have newly posted homilies sent right to your email.
Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.