Nov 5, 2016

32nd Sunday - A look to future hope

They are like angels; and they are the children of God

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

The art of debate is skillful.  In this very emotional and political year, we have witnessed two candidates in a number of debates.  Earlier, we saw quite a number of debates which narrowed down the field considerably to the final two. As we watch two debaters go at it, we root for the side that seems to be best prepared, most on their feet to counter the position of the other side, and quick in rebutting those positions with a word or phrase that may change the direction of the lively conversation.  In our Gospel this Sunday, we witness what is in effect a moment of theological debate between the Sadduccees and Jesus.  Our Lord, however, always wins the day and this Sunday we see how wisely he gets to the core of the issue to  emphasize the truth of his argument. 

So, the Sadducees, with ill intent toward Jesus’ teaching on the resurrection, pose a hypothetical situation to him about a woman who married seven brothers successively as each of them died. According to Mosaic Law, the line of progeny must continue so marriage to the brother of a deceased husband was not out of the question. Poking fun in a sense at the concept of life after death, the Sadducees present this absurd scenario to Jesus for his comment. They state: “Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?”

Their intent was to dismiss Jesus’ teaching, and that of the Pharisees, on resurrection after death for the Sadducee imagined a kind of resuscitation rather than a spiritual existence as Jesus posed and so they mock the entire concept. Their focus was entirely of this world alone.

Still, it is somewhat surprising that after living so long among the Egyptians, the ancestors of the Jews did not pass on a solid belief in life after death.  The Egyptians held a very firm concept that life beyond this life continues and they made great efforts for each of their Pharos that their future would be provided for after their passing. So, the Jews, even to this day, do not have a clear definition of life beyond human death.

Yet, our first reading from Maccabees, about 200 years before Jesus, tells the great heroism of “seven brothers” and their mother who went to their deaths rather than defy Jewish dietary law. Their inspired faith reveals that of future resurrection three times in this reading.  Ready to die, the one brother proclaims: “the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever . . . the hope God gives of being raised up . . . for you (the pagan King) there will be no resurrection to life.”

As belief in life after this life circulated among certain segments of Jewish teachers, this naturally opened the door for our Lord to rebut the proposition posed by the Sadducees, as he always did so well.

As Jesus argues with the Sadducees, he expands their limited, material understanding of the relationship between the resurrected life and this life. He states essentially that the resurrected life is not a repetition of this one. After death there is a spiritual existence as the soul is separated from the material body to “live” in a different state of eternity, a place in which human relationships change from something of this material world, to something spiritual. It is a kind of transformation; a new life.
He skillfully uses the scenario posed by his detractors to explain that: “. . . those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither neither marry nor are given in marriage.  They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are children of God because they are the ones who will rise.” 

Stating further that even Moses implied continued life when he called out: “Lord, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” as the God of the living, thereby stating that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still live! Marriage, therefore, is something of this world and necessary for the continuation of the human race. But, in eternity it is no longer necessary so the Sadducees hypothetical case is just that – imaginary when applied to eternity and resurrection.
Now towards end of this liturgical year and in the month of November, we reflect about our future. We are remembering all month the faithful departed; our brothers and sisters who have died and now live in that future spiritual reality.

What do we believe? While we rarely ponder life after death on a daily basis, still this Sunday reminds us about this great truth of our faith; something we will all eventually experience whether we think about it now or not.

Faith should motivate us to step into a world beyond this one to imagine another type of reality that is not constrained by space, time, and the laws of the natural world. If there is no way to prove that life does not continue beyond this one, then it is possible that it does. This is where faith speaks to us.

Jesus states: “They are like angels.” Angels are pure spirits so our future has something to do with an existence outside of space and time; a place of pure spirit but an existence where we remain who we are.

As we reflect on the “end times” and future resurrection, we are reminded about our Hope as Christians.  It is hope based in a promise by Jesus, as he states in the Gospel this Sunday.  Our faith is not something of this world alone but the force that will carry us beyond, where life will be “changed not ended” as our funeral liturgy beautifully reminds us.

This offers us a perspective. That we should look at this life as pure gift that ultimately calls us to deeper trust in God and to believe that God’s desire is that we find that ultimate union with him in eternity.  That what we do now, how we live in this world as a Christian people, does make a difference and will in eternity as well. Letting go and growing in faith and trust sets the right direction to follow. While our readings this Sunday have the feel of a theological discussion we still need to wrap our head and hearts around what they imply, for we proclaim every Sunday: “I believe in the resurrection of the dead.” This weekend opens a door to deeper understanding of our future, for those who know Jesus and have embraced his Gospel.

The Eucharist we feed upon and the Word of God we hear offer us that road map and the spiritual strength to achieve this salvation.

Go forth, Christian soul, from this world
in the name of God the almighty Father, 
who created you, 
in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of  the living God, 
who suffered for you, 
in the name of the Holy Spirit,
who was poured out upon you, 
go forth, faithful Christian . . .

(Rite of Pastoral Care of the Sick)