Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 10, 2018

June 10, 2018

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June 10, 2018

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Alison M.

Benders

“Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.”

 Harsh words! I used to puzzle over them, as if they were somewhat misplaced at this point in Mark’s gospel.  The scribes are accusing Jesus of consorting with Satan, his disciples are worried about his exhaustion and his family thinks he’s gone too far.  His stern rebuke to them is chilling:  “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness.”  What can this have meant then? And what does it mean now?

 Let’s start with the context.  In the liturgical cycle, we are in Ordinary Time. After Easter’s Alleluias and the Pentecost Spirit, we’re back to Ordinary Time. 

Before the resurrection, ordinary time for Jesus was filled with discord and protest as he challenged the injustices of his day.  He objected stridently to the way the religious leaders treated the ordinary people, ‘placing heavy burdens upon them and not lifting a finger to help.’  Although his own life was at stake, he did not waiver from witnessing God’s kingdom of mercy and justice.  Those who challenged his ministry blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, an everlasting sin. 

Discord has always been pervasive in human affairs. Today’s Old Testament story about Adam and Eve discloses that from our very beginnings people have been at odds, blaming each other, and dodging responsibility.  Over the course of history, the fissures between people have deepened and society has become even more inhumane and violent.  We continue to blame, condemn and censure each other.  We continually seek advantage over each other, even to the point of denying people the food and space they need to live.

Despite humanity’s ongoing history of conflict and oppression, we don’t always grasp the patterns of meaning over time.  From a vantage point of 2000 years, we effortlessly proclaim that Jesus came to establish God’s kingdom of mercy and justice.  We profess that the Spirit at work through him is God’s own Spirit.  But do we really make the connection between Jesus’ work and our ordinary times? Do we recognize the Spirit at work today?

Let’s set the gospel in the United States. Jesus is a preacher and a protester in the streets or under a bridge. His large following threatens church and government officials because he calls for a living wage for unskilled workers; for protection of African Americans from police violence and of women from sexual assault; and for respectful treatment for immigrants yearning for a safe haven.  Afraid of the growing public unrest, leaders in power will dismiss his message, silence the protesters and disperse the crowds. Maybe they ‘eliminate’ him for disturbing their peace. Those who claimed him as a savior wander away, feeling hopeless.  Nothing has changed, life continues as it ordinarily does.

With this scene, the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit starts to makes sense.  The Holy Spirit’s work cannot be reduced to comfort and consolation.  Rather, the work of the Spirit is turbulent.  The Turbulent Spirit upends our distorted priorities through the protests of the poor. Their cries for justice echo through Christ’s teachings and actions.  Their cries lay bare the anguish of the anawim throughout human history.  Now, the curse upon those who blaspheme the Spirit comes vividly to life: to avoid eternal condemnation, we must not deny – indeed, we will not be forgiven if we deny – the work of the Turbulent Spirit.  Jesus’ life is our model for this and he warns us that nothing is more important than the Spirit’s work, not even life itself. When we respond to the Turbulent Spirit, we experience the Psalmist’s assurance:  “And God will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.” 

Now, concretely, what are we to take from today’s readings?  Well, first, Jesus is absolutely serious, deadly serious, that our lives must be permeated by God’s Spirit.  The Spirit’s work must be our work.  Second, the Spirit’s work is turbulent.  We must embrace the dissent, discord and violence of every day life.  These are not breaches of the peace. The Turbulent Spirit inspires the raised fists that call us to make a just peace.  So, finally, we must examine our consciences: Where do we stand on the many injustices voiced urgently in every human community? How do we answer the Turbulent Spirit?  Will we impede the Spirit’s work or will we amplify the Spirit by living a faith that does justice?

Although now is ordinary time, now is also a turbulent time. It is the time of our redemption. The Kingdom of God is at stake for every one of us and for each of us.  Now, in ordinary time.

First Reading

Gn 3:9-15

PSALM

Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8

Second Reading

2 Cor 4:13—5:1

GOSPEL

Mk 3:20-35
Read texts at usccb.org

Alison M. Benders

Alison M. Benders, J.D., Ph.D., serves as Associate Dean and Senior Lecturer at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University. Alison earned her B.A. in Philosophy at Yale University, her J.D. at the University of Virginia, and her Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Boston College. In addition to administrative responsibilities, she teaches theological anthropology, emphasizing an intersectional exploration of human beings as enmeshed in society and culture.  Her research focuses on questions of racial privilege and social oppression.  Her prayer book, Just Prayer: A Liturgy of Hours for Peacemakers and Justice Seekers (Liturgical Press), received the 2016 Catholic Publishers Best Book Award for Spirituality.   Her most recent article, “Reconstructing the Moral Claim of Racially Unjust Mass Incarceration” was included in the edited collection Today I Gave Myself Permission to Dream: Race and Incarceration in America (Lane Center), University of San Francisco Press, 2018.

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