The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said of Jesus, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons” (Mark 3:22).
The scribes experience for themselves Jesus exorcising demons, and do not understand how he is able to cast them out to heal those possessed. They judge that he does this feat, not by the power of God but, by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. Could their purpose be to delegitimize, or literally demonize, Jesus in such a way that those beginning to follow him will begin to doubt or outright turn away from him? If Jesus is who he says he is, then the scribes are actually the ones serving Satan in aligning with him to sow discord and disunity.
Jesus provides an invitation to build bridges of reconciliation and healing to restore the unity that has been lost by those choosing to sin, to put self first over God. He also meets those on the peripheries, those who have been kept at arm’s length, healing those conditions which have been used to justify their separation. Yet Jesus does not impose, he proposes. Even so, Jesus demands a choice.
Jesus shows over and over again by word and deed not only how he is creating bridges of connection between the human and the divine, he is in actuality the bridge, the kingdom of God in our midst, and yet, he is not going to drag anyone over it against their will. Jesus calls all who encounter him to make a choice, there is no middle ground, we are either for him or against him.
We have witnessed in the Gospel accounts how some of the scribes, Pharisees, and even some of his relatives reject Jesus. He is able to perform only a few miracles in his own hometown. Those who say no to the invitation cut themselves off, separate themselves from the very source of their life, the very core and sustaining force of their being. Those who say yes and repent, like those that receive his healing, will be transformed, and are freed from their enslavement to sin.
They align themselves with the very source and communion they have been created for, God the Father, when they continue to say yes, day by day, decision by decision. This is no one revelatory moment but a daily commitment of saying yes to Jesus. Even in messing up or falling down, we refuse to stay down but arise, repent, and begin again and again. We must always and everywhere reject the lie that echoes in our minds that we cannot be forgiven. Jesus loves us more than we can ever mess up, he loves us more than our worst choice or mistake.
If this is true, then what does Jesus mean when he says that “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an ever lasting sin” (Mk 3:29)? Jesus refers here to our free will to accept or reject the free gift of his grace. We can observe this played out in the choices of Peter and Judas. Peter repented, was forgiven, and transformed. Judas withdrew within himself, cut himself off from Jesus, did not believe that Jesus would forgive him, and took his own life. Jesus would have forgiven Judas as he had Peter, but Judas kept himself at a distance. He refused to accept the love of the Holy Spirit.
We have a choice to make each day. We can let ourselves be defined by our sin and our worst mistakes, believe the father of lies and division who wants us to help him build up walls separating us from Jesus and each other. We can walk the path of darkness which consists of living defensively, keeping those who we deem as different at a distance, or worse, demean, belittle, and degrade others. We can live in the shadows of indifference and cynicism.
Or we can surrender our will to Jesus and repent from our pride, prejudice, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, sloth, and wrath. We can believe that Jesus is who he said he is, refuse to build walls of separation but instead align ourselves with him and join in the task of building bridges of unification and communion.
We will take steps forward and steps back, and we will fall, but through each experience, the hand of Jesus is still there to help us back up and if we are willing, we can begin again and again and again. We are not alone. Mary the Mother of God and all the saints said yes to Jesus’ invitation. They understand what we are going through. They are also cheering us on, guiding us, empowering us, so that one day we too will be where they are, seeing God the Father face to face.
Jesus invites us to be unified in his love. May we place our hand in his, follow him, and live our lives in communion with others committed to his mission. By doing so we will radiate his light, in our own unique way, like a rainbow, expressing the gift of glory that God has given us.
Photo: Rainbow at Cardinal Newman HS, sometime in August 2018