Because Jesus exorcises demons in His ministry, the religious leaders accuse him of being possessed by Beelzebul (the devil). Jesus responds by pointing out how ridiculous to accuse Him of casting out a demon by the prince of demons (the devil). He then pronounces a judgment on those who so accuse Him. They have committed an eternal sin against the Holy Spirit that will not be forgiven.
The passage about the sin against the Holy Spirit is framed, a narrative technique of the Gospel writer, by the story of Jesus’ family coming to seize Him in fear that He had gone out of his mind. The segment that comes after the story about the unforgiveable sin tells of Jesus, after realizing that his family was there to take Him, looks on the crowd and says that they are His mother and brothers. The point is that those who seek the kingdom of God constitute a believer’s first and foremost family.
Let’s refer to I Peter to further the point. Peter describes the identity of Christians as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, . . .” (I Peter 2: 9 ESV) It is clear throughout this section of the apostolic letter that devotion to God in Christ is a Christian’s foremost responsibility. But, we are also reminded of our obligations as we “exiles” live out our lives in this world. Peter also describes our duties towards those in authority and our families.
What follows from Peter’s setting forth Christian identity is his description of suffering resulting from righteousness. We are not to engage in activity that brings punishment for wrongdoing; but, we are obligated to suffer for Christ’s sake. It is in this context that the thematic verses for this blog are found. “”But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you ; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (I Peter 3: 14-15 ESV) No greater mandate exists for Christians than following Christ who calls us by His grace and mercy, the basis of our salvation, into His kingdom.
The New Testament describes a hostile social and political situation for Christian believers. “And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to end will be saved.” (Mark 11: 11-13 ESV) We are to confess Christ in opposition to anyone including family who stands against Him even to the point of a breach between us and blood kin. In other words, the water of Baptism is thicker than blood-relatedness.
‘Blood is thicker than water,’ is the original saying. Some say that it means that blood shed by comrades together on the battlefield is thicker than the water of the womb. Those we choose as friends have priority over the families we come from. Or, the saying may mean that family has priority over every other relationship. Let us invert the expression and give it a new meaning. ‘Water is thicker than blood’ means for us the priority of devotion to Christ and belonging to His eschatological family. The water of Baptism is more important to identity and obligation than blood relationships as the New Testament so clearly points out.
When our Christian faith is challenged or opposed even by family members, we are to stand fast with Christ. This does not mean that one must despise and forsake family. In fact, as Christians we have obligations to our family commanded by the Lord; but, those obligations should never compromise our relationship to God in Christ. This view does not mean that a religious leader may make inordinate claims on our loyalty to him or her. No religious leader has the right to make demands counter to the biblical witness. If he does, he is a false prophet and priest.
When we witness or defend the faith we must always keep in mind our loyalty to Christ that, in fact, is a keeping of the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.’
Michael G. Tavella
December 14, 2023
Saint John of the Cross