HOMILY FOR THE THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (NOV.6)
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
For many weeks I have been telling you that we, through Luke’s Gospel, are on a trip with Jesus to Jerusalem to his ultimate death and glorification. We are finally there today. While he is in Jerusalem he deals with three or four controversies with the chief priests, scribes and elders of Judea. Our Sunday readings have skipped over the first two controversies in Luke and we pick up on the third one, so a little history is in order here. The Pharisees were trying to put Jesus into one of two schools of thought during his time regarding whether or not there was to be resurrection of the dead.
The Hebrew Bible really does not talk about, but only hints at such a concept. It was, however, by the time of the Maccabees which was two hundred years before Christ, expressed as a belief by many Jewish rabbis and writers. We see this in the first reading today and the rather horrible story of how the Maccabean brothers and their mother were put to death by King Antiochus. As each man died, they expressed the idea that they were more than willing to die for their faith or do something against their Scriptures – in this case, eat pig’s flesh – and by the second brother’s death we are told why they felt that way. The second brother said, “the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws. The third brother added these words about his physical body – “I got these [hands] …and from God I hope to get them back again.” Clearly, then in Maccabees there was a belief in not only reward after death but a resurrection of the body in some way.
What we need to know though is that Maccabees is not a book accepted as part of the Scriptures by the Hebrews, or today by Protestants. It was one of the books deemed Scripture by the Catholic church, however. So, what was the belief in Jesus’ time about the resurrection of the dead?
What you know is that some Jewish sects believed in it, and others didn’t. It so happens that the Sadducees who bring the question to Jesus today simply to bait him and find out where he stands, emphatically do not believe in resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees were of the religious class, quite wealthy and very conservative, believing only in what was in the first 5 books of the Bible. If it didn’t say it in the first five Books, they didn’t believe it. Most of the Pharisees, however, did believe in it because they believed not only in the Pentateuch, the first five Books, but also in the Prophets, and the other Scriptural writings as well as the tradition passed on by scholars and rabbis.
So, here we have Sadducees trying to bait Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t comment on their attitude of not really caring that they knew the answer in their own minds, but Jesus replies in two parts.
The question the Sadducees ask is based on a law in Deuteronomy which is all about how you are to handle the death of a brother.
First Jesus says that the question is out of place: “The children of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they are like Angels, and are sons and daughters of God, being children of the resurrection.” Basically Jesus is affirming that there will be a resurrection but we will be different than we are now – more like angels, and although he doesn’t dismiss our having relationships, he says that we won’t have the bodily sexual needs which bring about marriages.
Secondly, he makes the statement that God is a God of the living and not of the dead.And then states that the famous patriarchs of the Bible are not dead but alive right now. In other words, death might be seen as a transition to a new state. Years later we added the Greek idea of a soul to all this which I don’t believe the Jews had any idea of, though it makes some sense to interpret it that way. But Jesus says that when they died, they never stopped living. We are told in our tradition that when Jesus died, he went to the place of the dead and opened the gates of heaven for them. It is the same kind of idea.
So the two parts of Jesus’s answer show Jesus using first, reason, to explain why you can’t compare life in this world to life in the next because they are two different states. Then he uses the Sadducees own Pentateuch, quoting Moses in the Book of Exodus, to say that they should believe in resurrection of the dead.
In any case, the Sadducees are not happy with the answer, and they too plot to kill Jesus.
St. Paul also believes in resurrection of the dead and even in today’s reading we hear the words: “[God in Jesus] through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope.” That eternal refers to forever and covers both life and death.
So what can all this history mean for us who read this questioning of Jesus about the resurrection after death today?
I believe it should give us great hope. I have tried to imagine nothingness, and I not only can’t imagine it, but I find it a depressing thought. Our spark will survive our bodies and even if our bodies become resurrected bodies, whatever that may entail, the joy of knowing I will survive in some way is very heartening to me.
Jesus always says he came to bring good news and this to me is very good news. I want to live my life every day as we say in the prayer after the Our Father “in joyful hope” of the life to come. Let this be part of your Christian joy and not fear death, but only fear not being prepared for it by not living a good life. We know the path to eternal life and it is Jesus. God be praised for this Good news today as we get closer and closer the end of another church year cycle and the Passion and glorification of Jesus.