The Unforgiveable Sin: Failure to Repent

Jesus occupies the templeMark 3:20-30

Jesus went home, where a crowd gathered before they could even finish dinner. When his family heard about it, they came to put a stop to him. He’s gone mad, they said.

Then the agents came from Jerusalem repeating over and over the charge: “He’s possessed by Beelzebul. He exorcises demons because he’s working for the king of demons.”

Then Jesus called them together and gave them a koan:

How can Satan exorcise himself?
A nation in civil war is a nation falling apart.
A family rent with division is a family falling apart.
If Satan is schizophrenic he won’t be in business much longer.

Nobody breaks into a powerful person’s house and steals his stuff without tying him up first.
But once he’s tied, his house can be plundered at will.

Trust me, people can be forgiven just about anything:
Wrongs and mistakes of all kinds.
But those who curse the means of their salvation
Are truly doomed forever.

(He said this because the agents had accused him of being possessed.)

First, it’s a koan. Don’t let the metaphysics get in the way. Here and elsewhere in Mark, the apocalyptic rhetoric is a lens, not the thing itself.

Second, yes, Jesus is talking about a home invasion here. And Jesus is the invader.

It’s not that Satan is schizophrenic. On the contrary, the forces of evil are powerful. It’s that Jesus is breaking and entering, and taking away and setting free the people who have been held captive by satanic forces – namely the agents who have come to shut him down. Jesus is talking about his eventual occupation of the Temple, their house, and his setting the people free from the legal, economic and social system they have constructed to keep them in submission. Note that the Temple has now become the house of Satan.

In my years of pastoral ministry I’ve heard a great deal of hand-wringing over what is the “unpardonable sin.” Most of it centered on what one can or cannot say about the Holy Spirit, or God in general, or whether you can “lose your salvation.” All that misses the point. To quote brother Ched:

To be captive to the way things are, to resist criticism and change, to brutally suppress efforts at humanization – is to be bypassed by the grace of God.

Simple. Except that the places and things that we ordinarily think of as the most holy (the Temple, the church building, “we’ve always done it that way,” even the Bible itself) are the ones most likely to turn out to be the home territory of the unholy.