"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

32nd SUNDAY -C- November 10, 2019

2 Maccabees 7: 1-2, 9-14, Ps 17; 2 Thessalonians 2: 16- 3:5; Luke 20: 27-38

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

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:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/111019.cfm