Last Saturday’s Gospel reading in our lectionary was Matthew 12:30-7. Each verse is a challenging statement by our Lord. None of these are easy to process. So, I thought I would offer, by way of weekend edifications, a series looking at these verses, starting with verse 30. I am not going to offer exhaustive reflections, and my intention is not to provide “critical scholastic” analysis, but rather what I hope will be helpful, pastorally informed, Orthodox Christian starting points when thinking about these verses. On Monday, I’ll post the next post in the American Orthodox Christianity Series.
Here is the Gospel reading:
Matthew 12:30-37 (Gospel)
- He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.
- Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men.
- Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.
- Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.
- Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
- A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.
- But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.
- For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
So, let’s start with 30. What makes this tough from the outset is the very idea that simply not being with Christ is to be against him. This may well sound quite unfair, especially if one considers all the world’s populations and cultures throughout history. Is it really the fault of people who had never heard of Jesus to be considered against him? Such is a normal reaction but also a reaction that is not based on an accurate reading of this verse. Keep in mind that according to St. Peter, Jesus preaches to the dead in Hell, so this verse is not saying that all those who have never heard the message will be counted as against God and be damned forever and ever ad infinitum, Amen. Remember, we are co-workers with God, not replacement workers for God.
So, what the first part of verse 30 is getting at is that when encountering the Gospel and Christianity, someone who is not on the side of the Gospel, but not actively opposing it, is, nonetheless, in the way, and by being in the way, is against Christ’s message. The Gospel is not something about which one can be neutral. Neutrality is certainly a reality for much of the created order. Apple pie is “neutrally good,” we might say, but if we eat too much, it becomes bad for us or, if we’re helping someone who is malnourished, it becomes a real blessed dessert. Not so when faced with the Gospel, for the Gospel is not a created thing, but uncreated. It is the Son of God, who is fully God, deriving all that it means to be God from the Father, who takes on humanity and heals it. The Gospel is divine healing–the divine energies of God at work in humanity, and that is not created. When facing God, one is either on his side, or one is in the way (whether actively as an opponent, or inactively, as a stumbling block trying to be neutral). To put it in more personal terms, God wants to be in a relationship with you, but relationships are not neutral. If I am loving you and doing kind things to you, but you just ignore it all, there’s not much of a relationship, even if I continue to love you.
The second part of the verse shows exactly how this is to play itself out. We are to be co-workers, to help Jesus “gather” in the harvest. That is, to spread the Gospel and bring people to Christ. If, however, we seek to gather people around us based on some other message, it is like scattering seeds abroad. The harvest will not be. One cannot just go around throwing seeds here, there, and anywhere, and then expecting a field to exist. Goodness, even today, were I to fill up my grandpa’s old drill with seed, fire up the Massey (tractor), and run it up and down the roads wherever I desired, I’d have no harvest. It just doesn’t work.
It can be challenging to learn to that we can’t just sit back and be neutral. This can be all the more challenging when learning of evangelism. You mean I need to share my faith in Christ?? I need to proclaim the Gospel and inform them about the Church that Christ founded, the one over which the Gates of Hades shall never prevail?? Yep. No ifs, ands, or buts. Jesus loves you and will love you even if you prefer to ignore him and his calling, but why be in the way? Why become a stumbling block? There is much more open to us he says. “Paradise,” he called it when speaking to St. Dismas (the repentant thief who died on the cross to Jesus’ right).