Monday 24th January
(This can also be celebrated as the feast of St Francis de Sales, with a different set of readings)
Hebrews 9:15ff. Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice once for all, and so puts an end to the many sacrifices in the temple.
Mark 3:22-30. Jesus does not cast out devils by the power of satan. Only sins against the Spirit cannot be forgiven.
The High Cost of Unity
Unity, its high cost and its great reward, is the centerpiece of today’s readings – very suitably, during the Octave for Christian Unity, which ends tomorrow, with the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul. According to Hebrews, Jesus unites and finalizes all the temple sacrifices, even the yearly Yom Kippur ceremony, by his one sacrifice on Calvary and his return to the right hand of the heavenly Father. As we read in Second Samuel, David creates a single kingdom out of the rival and jealous groups, the people of southern Judah and those of northern Israel. Finally, Jesus summarizes our thinking in a very practical way, “A household, divided according to loyalties, cannot survive.” The high cost of unity is particularly evident in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Through the blood of Jesus, poured out on the cross, we are united as one single community of faith and united with God in the heavenly Holy of Holies. Today’s reading returns several times to the subject of death and of blood.
In the gospel Jesus puts the cost of unity in terms of a strong and continuous loyalty to the Holy Spirit and an unswerving rejection of Satan. In fact, Jesus solemnly warns of the one sin which “will never be forgiven,” namely blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Those who sin against the Spirit will “carry the guilt of their sin without end.” Persons who sin against the light, blinding themselves to the evident goodness of others, ascribing the good deeds of others to unworthy motives, closing their heart to the call for compassion and forgiveness – such persons close themselves to the presence of the Holy Spirit. In other words, then, there must be a unity and integral wholeness about ourselves: our intellect united with our eyes that see the goodness in others; our intellect united with our memory and so arriving at the solid wisdom of good experience; our intellect united with our flesh and blood and so judging with sympathy and compassion, able to forgive others.
There cannot be a bond of union and trust in a family, community, church or nation, unless each individual first strives to be peacefully united within the complexity of one’s character. We must be possessed by the Holy Spirit and through this Spirit find our inner peace, our sincere and kindly awakening to the world around us. We will not attribute the good deeds of others to Satan even if their actions threaten us in some way and seem difficult to harmonize with some of our own ideas. Once we have achieved inner peace and unity in the Holy Spirit, we are disposed to reach outward and strive for peace and unity in the local world of our family and neighbourhood, and to support good causes that work for peace in the larger world of Church and among nations. Our union with others should reach into the roots of our existence, our bone and our flesh, where no person is better or different than another person. Secondly, union cannot be just for one’s selfish advantage but for the common good and shared happiness of all.
Finally, from Hebrews we learn that all Christian attempts at unity must be founded, renewed and sustained in Jesus, the “mediator of a new covenant.” Jesus died that we may be united as brothers and sisters in the same family. The blood of Jesus becomes the vital element circulating in the veins in all of us, that brings us into a living bond with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. In fulfillment of the symbolism of Yom Kippur, when the high priest sprinkled blood toward the Holy of Holies, the blood of our High Priest Jesus now flows between us and the Father. In the mystery of this divine life, we become one family, all of us. As in a family, blood is thicker than water and holds its own secrets of love and reconciliation. In the blood of Jesus, by which we are drawn into the Holy of Holies and united with God, there are secrets which we will never understand on earth. Through Jesus we can learn to trust the most basic instincts of life and unity and reach out to our neighbour who is our bone and our flesh.
First Reading, Hebrews 9:15, 24-28
For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.
For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Gospel: Mark 3:22-30
And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” – for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”