Based on the Mass readings for Saturday 21st October 2023
Jesus does not usually call attention to himself in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke – The ‘I AM’ sayings in the Gospel of John are another study). On the rare occasions that he does he is referring to his mission to proclaim/make present the Reign of God and to reveal his relation with his heavenly Father. The Reign/Kingdom of God is the central and continuous reference point for the preaching and practise of Jesus. This revelation of his mission is the fulfilment of the faith of Abraham spoken about in today’s first reading, faith the Psalmist proclaims that God ‘remembers his covenant for ever, his promise for a thousand generations’.
Today’s Gospel from Saint Luke contains three sayings of Jesus, referring to himself and to the Holy Spirit. Each saying includes our involvement with Jesus and the Spirit respectively. Firstly, declaring openly for Jesus in public in contrast to denying him shows faith and serves hope in his mission. Secondly – in the first of two references to the Holy Spirit – Jesus’ statement that whoever ‘blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven’ sends a shudder while the surety that the same Spirit will stand by those who are indicted for identifying and insisting on their faith is a source of consolation. Clearly the evangelist was conscious of the opposition – both religious and civil – that the fledgling church was facing, a situation that is not unknown to the church today in different parts of the world.
Pope Francis issues the invitation to identify Jesus and with his mission:
‘Just as you cannot understand Christ apart from the kingdom he came to bring, so too your personal mission is inseparable from the building of that kingdom: “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Mt 6:33) (Rejoice and Be Glad, par. 25).
Inseparable from his mission, the kingdom is the meaning of Jesus’ own identity as Son of God, to the extent that Origen once called him ‘the kingdom-in-person’. In his Gospel Luke insists that this is a kingdom unlike others in the world and history, the Reign of God represented and realised by mercy not mastery, compassion not control, hospitality not harm, inclusion not exclusion. This call to identify with Christ is a ‘personal mission’ which involves ‘a commitment to build with him that kingdom of love, justice and universal peace… committing yourself, body and soul, to giving your best to this endeavour’ (par. 5).
To blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is to block the mission of the same Spirit whom Saint Pope John Paul II wonderfully called ‘the principal agent of the whole of the Church’s mission’. In his encyclical Mission of the Redeemer (1990), he states that ‘the mission of the Church, like that of Jesus, is God’s work or, as Luke often puts it, the work of the Spirit’ (par. 24). This ‘work of the Spirit’ sends us out today (and tomorrow) to be missionaries, witnesses who publicly declare for Jesus the Son of Man, Son of God, who promote (and not prevent) the power of the Holy Spirit through our graced efforts of goodness. As John Paul II puts it succinctly, ‘mission is based not on human abilities but on the power of the risen Lord’ (par. 23). Therefore, ‘it is the Spirit who is the source of the drive to press on, not only geographically but also beyond the frontiers of race and religion, for a truly universal mission (par. 25). This is the mission ad gentes, the mission of the church to all peoples that ‘the kingdom of God be proclaimed and renewed throughout the whole world’ (Vatican II – Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity, par. 1).
We can imagine mission as the golden thread of grace that comes from Jesus through the Spirit, sent not to tie us up but free us to witness to and work for God’s truth, peace and love among people(s).
Holy Saturday is celebrated once a year, after Holy Thursday and Good Friday, before Easter Sunday. While it does not have a liturgy of its own, spiritually it is the day of surrender, of deathly silence, of descent into hell, the sign of the complete offering by Jesus in obedience to his mission. Having once spoken of the need for the seed to die, Jesus lays down his life, leaving it to his Father to fulfil his mission through his resurrection and the releasing of the Holy Spirit. This day is Holy because it offers the space in history to be filled by the Holy Spirit, sanctifying every other Saturday/day and sending us out to share the Good News.
(Readings: Romans 4:13. 16-18; Psalm 104:6-9, 42-43; Gospel of Luke 12:9-12)
Fr Kevin O’Gorman, SMA