Year C: Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Question About the Resurrection
Luke 20: 27-38
Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to him, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us, ‘If someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.’Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless. Then the second and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her.” Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry and are given in marriage; 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. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise. That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘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, for to him all are alive.”
- How does pursuing answers and certitudes from theology and church teaching inhibit the development of your faith experience as a not knowing and ability to live in the mystery?
- How are theology and faith different for you?
- Does the fact that you cannot fully know God or divine reality lead you more deeply into trust and faith, or into fear? Explain
- What difference does a belief in life after death make in the way you live your life?
In Jesus’ day, the political situation greatly affected the attitudes toward religion of the various elements of society. Two of the major political forces were Hellenization and the Roman Empire. Whereas Hellenism could be described as the cultural infiltration of Greek ways into every aspect of Jewish life, the Roman Empire constituted the power that dominated all lives in its jurisdiction and controlled their freedoms. In reaction to these political forces, various parties emerged, such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Herodians, Zealots, etc., each with their own method of dealing with the politics of the day.
While the Essenes’ choice was to withdraw from society completely, the Zealots favored active resistance that led to the Jewish revolt in A.D. 66. A short-lived group, the Herodians tried to promote Herod as the messiah who would save his people from all other powers. But the two major parties were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Their differing theologies formed the basis of the dispute featured in today’s gospel.
While the Sadducees accepted only the Pentateuch as normative, the Pharisees were open to and accepting of the development of doctrines found in later Jewish Scriptures, e.g., angels, resurrection, final judgment, afterlife, etc. The Pharisees had also developed an oral law called “the traditions of the elders” in which they interpreted and expanded the Torah to apply to every imaginable circumstance. Theologically, Jesus favored the Pharisaic point of view; however he considered the law as a bond of love rather than as a burden of minutiae. For this reason, he often clashed with the Pharisaic insistence upon parsing the law to the point of misconstruing its purpose.
On this occasion, the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, presented Jesus with questions intended to provoke an argument. But Jesus, not to be drawn in by them, offered them a counterchallenge, citing the only authority the Sadducees accepted — Moses. Jesus explained that when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3), God was identified as the God of the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Though they had been dead for centuries, if God is truly the God of the living, they must somehow be alive, argued Jesus.
Jesus’ statement implied that when God has a relationship with someone, as God did with the patriarchs, that relationship is never dissolved, not even by death. Asserting his conviction about the resurrection, Jesus challenged the Sadducees, who quoted the Mosaic Law on levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5; Genesis 38:8), to accept the same Mosaic authority on immortality. Jesus also explained that everlasting life is not merely a continuation of life on earth but an entirely new mode of existence where marriage to perpetuate the human race is no longer necessary. Those who rise to be with God forever are like angels, children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus who lived and died and rose again for us all. And … this is the rest of the story.
Alive in God
Deacon Ross Beaudoin
In the 1980s there was a musical and movie titled “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” A production written about today’s gospel might be titled, “One Bride for Seven Brothers.” Such a show might not fare any better at the box office than did “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” though!
The scenario of the seven brothers each in turn taking the same bride seems farfetched. Indeed, it was a very contrived story in Jesus’ time, too. The sole purpose of the Sadducees in making up this story was to trap Jesus. They had just tried to catch him up with the question of giving tribute to Caesar. Jesus eluded the trap and left them speechless.
The Sadducees did not accept resurrection in an afterlife. They tried to get Jesus to say that there was no resurrection because this woman would have seven husbands and that was against the law and couldn’t be allowed by God in the afterlife.
Of course Jesus saw through their scheme. In his response, Jesus gives an insight into what resurrected life is about. It is not giving and taking in marriage. It is not about limitation or dying. Resurrected life is about “being alive.” Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had all gone before. But God is their God even now. God is their God in this life and in the life-to-come.
The first reading from the Second Book of Maccabees tells the story of a mother and seven sons who willingly suffered and died because of their trust in resurrected life in God. In that passage, the mother says eloquently, “…the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.”
“The Creator of the world… who devised the origin of all things…” – gives us the context. As Jesus said, “God…is not God of the dead but of the living, for to him all are alive.” From the moment of creation, all are alive in God. All are called to remain alive in God.
These Sundays we are coming to the conclusion of the Church year and the conclusion of the Year of Mercy. Today’s readings also call to our minds the conclusion of our own years on this earth. They remind us of the unlimited mercy God has for us in this life and that comes to fruition in life with God forever.
The hope we have for eternal life in Jesus Christ is not a “pie in the sky when you die” kind of thing. It’s not a “just rough it out here because there will be a big reward in the end.” No, we have God’s accompaniment in Christ all the way through this life, not just at life’s completion. We are assured of this through our baptism into Christ. Because we are human and limited, we may not always have a “sense” of the presence of God as we go through life. We may even experience something of a “dark night of the soul.” That doesn’t mean that God is not with us and in us. Even Jesus Christ at the end of his earthly life called out, “Father, why have you abandoned me?” In those times, like the mother and sons in the Second Book of Maccabees, we hang on, trusting in the mercy of God.
Since Christ’s coming among us, we now see in him the mercy of God and have firm hope for our continuing life forever in God – with the assurance of his accompaniment all along the way.