Jesus and his companions have been traveling to Jerusalem, teaching as they go along and attracting large crowds. He has made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem (19:29ff). Along his journey he has frustrated those religious leaders opposed to him and his message and they are looking for ways to trap him. Today’s gospel passage is one more attempt by his enemies to find objections with Jesus and discredit him.
This time it is the Sadducees who are the ones trying to trip up Jesus. Their hypocrisy is evident since they are asking a question about the next life. Luke alerts us to their deceptive motives. The Sadducees were "those who deny that there is a Resurrection." What do they care about relationships in the next life? They already have their answer to the question they put to Jesus: they do not believe in the resurrection.
In an attempt to set Jesus up the Sadducees suggest what "Moses wrote" was an argument against the resurrection. They pose an imaginary situation: seven brothers married the same woman, had no child and all seven died. The Sadducees ask, in the next life, "whose wife will that woman be?
Surely there were women listening to this exchange. I wonder what they heard in the so-called religious discussion posed by the Sadducees, about one woman being passed from one brother to the next? The Sadducees would not have had any notion of women’s feelings – women didn’t count, even in their religious world. But it is clear from the gospel stories that for Jesus, women did count.
In all four Gospels Jesus had faithful women disciples. His male disciples flee when he is arrested, the women disciples don’t and are with him at the cross. And more: since the Sadducees are arguing against the resurrection, it was the women who were the first to discover the empty tomb. In Matthew and John women were also the first to whom the risen Lord appeared. In all four gospel accounts women were charged with bringing the news of the resurrection to the other disciples.
The Sadducees use Moses’ teaching (Dt 25:6-10): when a brother dies and does not have a son, his brother is to marry the widow. Moses’ was teaching against the effects of death on the community. Death could defeat the people, a small and fragile community. But, even in a little way, a brother marrying his dead brother’s wife and begetting children would be a victory – a small victory – over death.
Jesus’ is not challenging the Mosaic law, nor describing the details of people’s relationships in the next life. Instead, he speaks about the contrast between the children of "this age" and those who belong to the "coming age." Moses was addressing circumstances in this life – while in the resurrected life, everything will change, everything will be different. Death does not have the final word over our lives. Our relationships to God and God’s people will continue after we die. Jesus then uses Moses to support his claim: the God of Moses is the God of the living, even for those who seem to be dead, like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. All who have life from God are alive. God is the God of the living and "to God all are alive."
Luke’s Gospel was not written to prove theological matters to just a few Sadducees. His audience was, and is, the Christian community. Like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and all the women and men who are our ancestors in faith, our God is the God of the living. God will not allow our relationships to dissolve after death. God is the source of life, the sustainer of our life, and the guarantor of resurrected life. We may not know the furniture arrangements at the heavenly banquet table, nor what foods will be served, but we do know that we will have life with God and one another. In fact the resurrected life has already begun for those who have placed their faith in Jesus.
Death seems to have split asunder our relationships with loved ones. But Jesus assures us that the God who gave life to humans, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, gives us eternal life in Jesus. Indeed our new life begins now through Jesus Christ. He is telling the Sadducees, "Your problem is that you think of resurrection simply as a continuation of this present life. But it is totally different." Those who experience resurrection, Jesus says, can no longer die, but are like the angels. If those who preceded us are just dead, then God is the God of the dead, nothing more than a God of the empty shadows of death. But the life Jesus gives us from our God of the living is a radically transformed life.
How painful it is to remember the lives of those who have died. What helps us is Jesus’ invitation to believe that our God is the God of the living and has not created us for death, but for life. In Jesus, God was willing to suffer our human death in order to help us overcome our fears and strengthen our hope in God’s power to save us from sin and death.
Our God of the living, then that is not just for the next life, but also for this life, whenever we are confronted by death. Today’s gospel is appropriate for the month of November, when we remember and celebrate those who have gone before us. The longer we live, the longer the list of our dead grows. Is that the final chapter of our personal history? When we die is the book of our lives closed and put on some dusty shelf with all the lives of those who have gone before us? Or, is there a life waiting for us on the other side of death? And more. Is there life for us here as we go through the other deaths, more than one or two, we experience in this life?
Is there life after a spouse dies; not mere existence, but life? Is there life after a diminishing illness that limits us? Is there life waiting for us when a long-relationship crumbles, or divorce dissolves our marriage? Is there life for us now as we age and find daily living more and more limiting? Is there life for us when a career collapses, forcing us to sell a home? Is there life for us when a job change forces us to move to another part of the country where we know no one? Is there life for us after the kids move out and we are not sure how to adapt to our new life? Is there life for us when we graduate from school and leave behind friends we’ve shared so much with?
The Sadducees who confronted Jesus would have shrugged their shoulders in ignorance. They wanted Jesus to prove the resurrection to new life by posing a hypothetical question to him. Jesus does not describe the social world of the next life the way they wanted him, nor does he address any curiosity we might have about the next life. What is more important he says, is that we are now and will be, in the hands of the God of the living, the God of our Jewish ancestors and the God of Jesus who loves us with a love that Jesus proved to us by consistently preaching the God of love, healing and forgiveness for all. "God," he tells us, "is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living."
Was Jesus describing the details of the next life for us? No. He was assuring us that we can trust his words and the life-giving God he revealed to us. God does not wait till the next life, but has already poured out on us new life, with the hope it gives us. That’s the God we learn about in these Scriptures stories and celebrate at the altar today. The God who raised Jesus from the dead and promises to raise us as well.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
You are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.
---2 Maccabees 7:9
It may surprise you to learn that many Pharisaic Jews at the time of Jesus believed in Resurrection. In this story in Maccabees, written in the second century B.C., we see the belief expressed.
Resurrection. What a wonderful word to contemplate. I recently read about a date palm seed that was one of many discovered at an archaeological dig at Masada, a 2,000 year-old fortress in southern Israel. One of the seeds, now named Methuselah, sprouted in 2005, when agriculture expert Elaine Solowey, of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel, germinated his antique seed. In 2015, she wrote to National Geographic, "He is over three meters [ten feet] tall, he's got a few offshoots, he has flowers, and his pollen is good; we pollinated a female with his pollen, a wild [modern] female, and yeah, he can make dates." (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/tree-grown-2000-year-old-seed-has-reproduced-180954746/#TvEGhIzykZQzclzS.99)
Wow, think about that. If God can resurrect a date palm tree with a 2,000 year-old seed, imagine what God has in store for us!
This leads me to think about another topic that is near and dear to my heart--trees. There is a brand new book called, Reforesting Faith: What Trees Teach Us About the Nature of God and His Love for Us by Matthew Sleeth, M.D. (Waterbook, 2019). When his pastor called him a tree hugger theologist for wanting to plant trees at the church property, Sleeth was drawn to study the trees of the Bible. He was overwhelmed by the quantity of references to trees from Genesis to Revelation, especially in the Wisdom books and Jesus’ own life. Sleeth was recently interviewed and one of the questions asked was about environmental initiatives and what Christians should do. He replied, "We have to recognize, first of all, in the United States we have the oldest, biggest trees. . .There is a link between poverty and trees. If you take the most deforested country in the Western hemisphere—Haiti—it also happens to be the poorest. . .I think we need to help those around the world who cannot afford to plant trees, and we need to take care of our own trees." As Sleeth states in his book, "Planting a tree is the only thing you can do in your own backyard that makes the whole world better" (122).
Get out your shovel!
-On --Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Director of Social Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
[Jesus said to the Sadducees]
"God is not the God of the dead,
but of the living, for to God all are alive."
Is death the final chapter of our personal history? Life not only awaits us on the other side of death. But there is new life for us now as we go through the other deaths, more than one or two, we experience in this life. Our God offers us life, not only for the next life, but also now, whenever we are confronted by death in its many guises.
So we ask ourselves:
"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/
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