Liberation from all our collective demons

Liz Stuart, 6 June 2021

Genesis 3: 8–15; Mark 3: 20–35

Jesus’ whole ministry was about liberation, liberation from sin, liberation from sickness, liberation from the power of demons. His propensity to declare to people that their sins were forgiven and then to manifest that in various types of healing got him in constant trouble. Some just could not cope with the wildly and widely merciful God he proclaimed and manifested, and so they thought the worst of him. His family tried to forcibly remove him; some thought he was out of his mind; some scribes, proving that their reaction to Jesus put them beyond reason, concluded that he must be possessed by Beelzebub. Jesus pointed out the absurdity of their argument – why would Satan try to cast out Satan? He would destroy himself.

Jesus compared himself to a robber who enters a strong man’s house and ties him up so that he can rob him of his possessions. John the Baptist has already referred to Jesus as the one who is stronger than him (Mark 1: 7). Jesus is stronger than Beelzebub/Satan; he has bound him and he is emptying his house of those he keeps captive.

Then Jesus says something shocking: all sins can be forgiven except one, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. What does that mean? Throughout the centuries people have tended to read their favourite sins into what Jesus said. Thomas Aquinas and other Catholic theologians thought that there were actually six sins against the Holy Spirit: despair, presumption (the opposite of despair), resistance to truth, envy, impenitence and obstinacy. What we know about the Holy Spirit from Mark’s gospel up to this point is that it descended upon Jesus at his baptism, and drove him into the wilderness. The Holy Spirit has come upon Jesus and drives his actions. It is reasonable then to conclude that to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is to do exactly as the scribes have done and to deny that Jesus has the divine authority to liberate people, and seek to stop him. Those who cannot cope with Jesus’ ministry will conspire to have him tied up and destroyed. The only sin that cannot be forgiven is the sin of stopping sin being forgiven.

The only sin that cannot be forgiven is the sin of stopping sin being forgiven.

In our culture currently, social media is now the dominant form of communication, and it can be pernicious. People can say things about others without restraint and without repercussion. Motives are impugned, good questioned, falsehoods and absurdities spread. It has addictive qualities. I could quite easily believe that the Lord of the Flies, Beelzebub, does his most effective work through social media. It can present as a toxic wasteland devoid of charity, mercy, forgiveness and redemption. It lays bare our collective soul.

I had almost stopped believing in original sin before social media exploded. It reveals us to be as panicked by goodness, mercy and the possibility of forgiveness and redemption as the sages from Jerusalem, and as judgemental as Jesus’ family. I now wonder if original sin evidenced by the behaviour of the man and the woman in the garden is lack of faith in the possibility of forgiveness, and therefore thinking the worst of God as well as each other.

In such a cultural context, the Church is called to step up as Jesus’ family of choice to attest to the forgiveness of God that flows indiscriminately and unstoppably through Jesus into the world, offering liberation from all our collective demons. In contrast to the toxic wasteland of social media we should be offering flourishing, green pastures of love and affirmation, symbolised by the liturgical green we now wear. That is the theory, anyway. We fail. That is okay. The important thing is that we believe in repentance, in the constant commitment to change our minds and hearts, and that we accept forgiveness. In fact, there could be no greater or more powerful testament to the wildly and widely merciful God revealed in Christ than the Church presenting primarily as a family of joyfully repentant, forgiven and liberated sinners who want the whole world to share in that liberation.