Nov 9, 2013

32nd Sunday - To think outside the box

(In light of recent developments by the Vatican concerning events at Medjugorje, the link below concerns an excellent article that uncovers some important facts on the history of what has become nearly a household word for Marian devotion. Although written about a year ago, the facts have not changed.  Although the jury is still officially out one must be very cautious for the skeptics, of which I have always been for good reasons, are certainly justified in their position. Is this truly of God? Read with an open mind and heart):
"He is not God of the dead, but of the living . . . all are alive."

2 Mac 7: 1-2, 9-14
2 Thes 2: 16 – 3:5
Lk 20: 27-38

To “think outside the box” is a popular expression which challenges our same-old-same-old way of doing things.  Essentially, one who “thinks outside the box” is open to new ideas, new opinions, and a new direction.  To remain in the box would be to maintain the status quo, sometimes at all costs, be closed minded and fearful of new ideas or ways of doing things.  “Plan B” would never be an option. 

One of the well-known auto insurance companies which advertise frequently on television, recently showed a commercial in which this same point was made.  In a large room, about ten people were literally crammed side by side into a box which came up to their waist level.  The narrator challenges them to think differently about how they insure their car.  One member of this boxed in group decides to “go for it” and gingerly steps over the barrier to consider a new choice but then suddenly pulls back into the box after his foot hits the floor.  The lesson is that if you remain with your old insurance carrier you won’t have the advantages of this new one.  Point made.

Today’s Gospel from Luke 20 presents an argument both from the Sadducees and a counter response from Jesus.  This passage is not a miracle story or preaching from the mountaintop.  Rather, we see Jesus engaged in a legal discussion with religious experts of Jewish Law, or at least their interpretation of that law. 

The matter at hand, despite a somewhat absurd example about marriage and remarriage and the afterlife – “Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?” – is not about marriage but rather an attempt by the Sadducees, who did not believe in resurrection, to reduce Jesus’ teaching to something meaningless.

Our Lord, never to be boxed in, counters with a new perspective; a challenge to think outside the box about the afterlife. What is of this world, marriage for example, is not of the next because the next life is a whole different sort of reality: “The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage . . .” In other words, Jesus implies his teaching calls disciples to think differently about the meaning and direction of this life; to step outside and imagine a new reality. Belief in resurrection implies a new way we look at life - that there is hope for the future.  But also, as one writer put it: "Through the cross and resurrection of Jesus also led to new formulations about God. In the sacred texts, resurrection is represented as the apex of the biblical saga of salvation, beginning with human need and culminating in God's deliverance from every evil, even death." (Pheme Perkins: Resurrection) 

While one concept of God may be more earthly than heavenly, as the Sadducees rejected the possibility of life resurrected, Jesus opens the truth of life after life and a God who stands among the living.

For the Sadducees, it really isn’t the threat of new thinking so much as it is a threat to their own authority over the people.  Along with the Pharisees, who believed in a time of resurrection, they were the grand overseers of proper Jewish obedience and righteous living.  It is the law, given by God, which governs their lives.  Yet, because that law never changes so too their concept of God.

Jesus quotes from the Book of Exodus 3: 6 a vision of God who is Lord of history and ever calling us to hope and assuring us that his promise of the future is not merely a theological opinion but a true reality: “That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out ‘Lord,’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead but of the living . . . all are alive.”

Belief in bodily resurrection was a relatively new concept in the Jewish faith by the time Jesus appeared on the scene. Still, the broad inclusiveness of Jesus’ teaching challenged the status quo and even more the authority of those who did all they could to stay in the box and to keep the people with them. 

In this month of prayer for all the faithful departed, do we truly believe they are not dead but alive? We pray for living souls, for those who lived and walked and served among us in human bodies but now live, through the mercy of God, in a new form of existence.  While our lives, even after the sad loss of a loved one, move on let us not forget that our prayers do indeed make a difference on their behalf.

Our first reading from Maccabees reinforces this ancient Jewish belief in resurrection and the active afterlife in the example of seven brothers and their mother who were willing martyrs for the faith: “The King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying . . .”

So, maybe a good reflection is for all of us to ask the basic question about what we believe, particularly about the “resurrection of the dead.” Are we standing in the box, fearful to embrace a deeper understanding of those beliefs and how it applies to our life here? What is my belief about those who have died? Are they just gone? If I believe they are alive, what does that say about the way I live my life knowing that no one will escape death? As we receive Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist, do we truly believe this is a living presence?
Some food for thought . . . 

Almighty and merciful God,
graciously keep from us all adversity,
so that, unhindered in mind and body alike,
we may pursue in freedom of heart.

(Roman Missal - Collect for Sunday)