Jesus continues to prepare his disciples for trials to come in the future. He encourages them to be faithful to their Christian commitment and to their faith in Christ as Lord. When we publicly acknowledge Jesus as Christ and Lord, Jesus too will acknowledge us as his faithful disciple. Of course, it will be difficult during times of abuse and persecution but they must always be ready to acknowledge their allegiance to Jesus. To deny that allegiance may win them a reprieve in this life but not in the next. “He who saves his life will lose it,” as Jesus said on an earlier occasion. The word for ‘deny’ here is the same word used in Peter’s denial and disowning of his Master (Luke 22:34 and 61).
There comes now a saying which can cause difficulty to some. “Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man will be forgiven but whoever blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven.” Why should there be just one exception to the forgiveness of sin? And why is speaking against the Son acceptable but not against the Spirit?
To speak against the Son is clearly wrong but, with repentance, there can be reconciliation. But to sin against the Spirit is to go against Truth itself. This was basically the sin of the Scribes and Pharisees. They not only criticised Jesus; that could be understood. But they locked themselves into a situation where they shut out any openness to the truth, the Truth that others could so easily see present in Jesus. As long as they were in that situation, there was no possibility of reconciliation. Forgiveness in the Gospel is not just a unilateral move on one person’s part. It always involves a coming together of two opposing parties in reconciliation. To sin against the Spirit is to close the door on reconciliation.
It seems that in Luke’s context he may be applying the saying to those Christians who are under attack for their faith. If they deny the Spirit of Truth they too lock themselves out from being reached by God. In times to come, Jesus’ disciples will be dragged before civic and religious authorities. They are not to be afraid or worried about how to defend themselves or about what they should say.
People who have been in this position have attested that the words do indeed come and with them a certain peace and strength, provided one retains one’s integrity and wholeness. And it is the presence of that Spirit, the Spirit of God and of Jesus, that is at work.
Most of us will not have to suffer severely for our faith. But there will likely be times when we may find our religious beliefs and practices ridiculed and made fun of. We can be tempted at such times to go into hiding, to conceal our Christian identity. We may even fail to come to the support of people who are under attack, refuse to stand by them, refuse to stand up and be counted as committed followers of the Gospel.
If that has happened in the past, let us ask forgiveness. Let us pray that in future we may have the courage and integrity in word and deed to let people know who we are and what we stand for.