NO FORGIVENESS FOR A TYRANT
This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news
1 Corinthians 16:10-24
10 If Timothy comes, see that he has nothing to fear among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord just as I am; 11therefore let no one despise him. Send him on his way in peace, so that he may come to me; for I am expecting him with the brothers.
12 Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but he was not at all willing to come now. He will come when he has the opportunity.
13 Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. 14Let all that you do be done in love.15 Now, brothers and sisters, you know that members of the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints; 16I urge you to put yourselves at the service of such people, and of everyone who works and toils with them. 17I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence; 18for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. So give recognition to such people.
19 The churches of Asia send greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, greet you warmly in the Lord. 20All the brothers and sisters send greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
21 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. 22Let anyone be accursed who has no love for the Lord. Our Lord, come! 23The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus.
Although the end-of-letter greetings seem to be the most banal parts of Paul’s correspondence, this is not so, for two reasons:
- We cannot rely on the text of these any more than any other part of the letters. There seems to be evidence of confusion in some instances.
- Precisely because they are ordinary, they reflect taken-for-granted aspects of church life. In this instance, for example, the casual mention of Aquila and Prisca and the church in their house speaks volumes about the equality of men and women as leaders within the first churches, and the existence of house churches. Moreover the deliberate mention of individual names points to the interpersonal connections of faith across distance. Finally the use of the Aramaic phrase, Maranatha, Our Lord, come, reveals the expectation of these believers that Jesus will return.
One of the difficulties revealed here concerns the contrast between the outgoing attitude of believers to non-believers-these are missionary churches-and their harshness to those of their own membership who transgress: “Let anyone be accursed who has no love for the Lord.”
Of course, different relationships are involved in the case of fellow members of the church but in general if the church had treated its members with the same evangelical understanding as it has treated non-believers, much harm could have been avoided.
22 Then they brought to him a demoniac who was blind and mute; and he cured him, so that the one who had been mute could speak and see. 23All the crowds were amazed and said, ‘Can this be the Son of David?’ 24But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, that this fellow casts out the demons.’ 25He knew what they were thinking and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? 27If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. 29Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered. 30Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
Matthew, following Mark, depicts Jesus as angered and dismayed by the accusation that he gets his power from the devil. The assumption in Jesus’ reply is that in the goodness of God’s Spirit he can enter the realm of evil, control the power of evil (the strong man) and plunder his property (set his prisoners free). The Holy Spirit is God’s goodness made available for the rescue of human beings from the evil which afflicts them. Those who can dismiss God’s goodness are dismissing the only source of forgiveness and are therefore in real danger. The doctrine of unforgiveable sin has had a destructive history in the church and I do not believe Jesus said these words as reported. My own understanding is that Jesus was sharply aware of the malevolence of those who rejected his healings-he was “grieved by their stubborn hard-heartedness” -and probably did warn against it in strong language. But the one who prayed for the forgiveness of his crucifiers is unlikely to have taught that anyone’s repentance would be refused. There are very grave sins but none are unforgiveable.