“I made it!” That’s what graduates can shout with diploma in hand, or soon to get one. “I make it. I passed”
For some it may have been like a walk in the park; aced every exam. For others it may have been a challenge to get the accumulative score, or the letter grades to pass. For still others it may have been a cliffhanger from class to class and year to year, especially if the grade was Pass/Fail!
At first, Pass/Fail was offered as a way to master some areas of a subject if not all, to work to gain information rather that cramming for a test to get a letter or numerical grade.
Sounds good until a student gets to the university level of a friend of ours who, at the end of five years, had to take a Pass/Fail comprehensive exam in all the subjects, with a “Pass” required in each. To get a “Fail” in one, meant waiting another year and taking another exam and hope the mark would be “Pass,” which our friend did.
When it comes to living our way through life, we seem to be hearing Jesus say there’s a Pass/Fail course with the scary title: “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” Blaspheme and you fail, really fail at escaping God’s judgment and earning an eternity in hell’s fire, or, in the Hebrew description of a cooler, foggy place of nothingness, void of any meaning.
Either description makes the grade of “Fail” a dreaded, no second chance, no extra assignment, no bargaining with God a reality with no possibility to turn a “Fail” into a “Pass.” To blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is a guaranteed grade of failure.
So, what exactly is Jesus talking about? How would this course when written up in a catalogue or posted on a board, be described? To blaspheme, in plain English, is to deny, to reject, to close out; and to blaspheme the Holy Spirit is, to take a deep breath and not trace it back to God, to take a deep breath and not honor every other human being who is animated with the same gift of life; to live in a personal hell- by Hebrew definition – of
meaninglessness, of no sense of feeling a personal obligation to care for the earth and others, of not being grateful for who you are because of other people, of being described in John Ruskin’s words: “A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small parcel.”
Jesus, Whom even His enemies called “rabbi” – teacher, turned His listeners away from fearing they’d be denied God’s passing grade, by saying “Receive the Holy Spirit,” be open to the life I am showing you and living and dying to give you. Be saved from the grade of “Fail”– not by what we strive to do, but by what God has done –made us a new creation through and in Christ Who, through today’s Gospel is seen
looking at those who sat around him, and is heard saying,
“Here are my mother and my brothers!
Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
To do “The will of God” – is to be open to God we know in Jesus Christ and being open to Him, be open to one another, brothers and sisters in and through Christ, who serve God by serving one another.
It’s what keeps us from ever being irrevocably guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit; it’s what gives us a “Pass” in the course of life.
M. H. Schubert shares the story about a group of fishermen in the Scottish highlands who got together for tea and discussed the day's catch. As a waitress set down a cup of tea, a hand accidently knocked it against the wall. It left an ugly stain.
One of the guests got up, went to the wall, and began sketching around the stain with a crayon. What emerged was a stag with magnificent antlers. The man was Sir Edwin Landseer, England's foremost painter of animals.
The person who told the story added, “If an artist can transform an unsightly stain into a beautiful masterpiece, think what God can do with our sins.” (James Weekley, Tilted Haloes, CSS Publishing Company)
Think of God redesigning un into a new creation modeled after Jesus Christ.
Come, let us receive the assurance of escaping being marked will the grade ‘Fail’ as we let ourselves be open to the grace of God tasted at this table fellowship where we are the guests of Christ, and brothers and sisters through Christ. Amen.