32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life,
but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. 2 Macc. 7:9
One of the great dividing issues in the Jewish religion at the time of Our Lord was the question of personal immortality and the resurrection of the body. Our Gospel today makes it quite clear that the religious party of the Sadducees rejected any notion of life after death for man, personal immortality, and thus they rejected any bodily resurrection as well. The Sadducees were the great scholars and experts in the Jewish Law, both secular and religious, which governed the whole life of Israel. Their law was derived solely from the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, and they found no evidence there of any resurrection or personal immortality. Since the Pentateuch was the hallmark of God’s revelation, they rejected any contrary evidence in later writings of the prophets that indicated such beliefs as personal immortality and resurrection. In the end, they were the materialists of their religion and culture.
The Pharisees, on the other hand firmly believed in life after death and in the resurrection of the body. These men were mainly from the priestly class connected with the temple. The division between these two Jewish groups of religious leaders, the scholars and the priests, was sharp, and we see how the Sadducees totally rejected the idea of the resurrection in today’s Gospel where they try to ridicule Jesus whom they knew preached the resurrection as part of His doctrine.
So the Sadducee present to Jesus this problem of the woman who had seven successive husbands, all of whom died leaving her childless, and ask whose wife she will be in Heaven. Polygamy had existed early on among the Israelites, but it’s clear that by the time of Jesus theirs was a monogamous society. However, polyandry, one woman having multiple husbands at the same time was always considered an abomination. So then the Sadducees figure they have a clear cut case which shows the kind of impossible situations that would occur if every one rose from the dead. Polyandry being ruled out, how would the heavenly authority determine who would be whose spouse in the case where one woman had several spouses successively in this world. They figured that such cases show the ridiculousness of doctrines like the resurrection.
But Jesus is not silenced by their problem, and he quickly denounces their deep ignorance of God and his ability and determination to raise man from the dead to live forever. Jesus says they understand nothing about the matters they ridicule because they really know nothing about the God they profess to believe in. If they did, they would know that the God of Abraham is the God of the living, and that He keeps all men living, even those who have died in this world. Their materialism in the end was a denial of the living God.
Because they do not understand the God of Life, they do not understand His will to keep all human beings alive, even when they have died in this world. The truth is that man never ceases to live once he has been given life; even death does not contradict this will of God for man. Certainly man’s life changes substantially when he no longer lives in the body, but he does not cease to live, for God does not permit that the existence he alone gives to man should ever totally cease. The mode of man’s life certainly changes, dramatically, when bodily death takes place and the soul departs the body, but the existence of his soul never ceases, and the life created by God in the soul never ceases, but changes in mode only. In short, the no person whom God creates, angelic or human will ever cease to live.
Because the Sadducees were not open to the truth that man’s life is not destroyed by death, but only changed, they could not possibly have any true idea of what life after death might be like. As true materialists, they simply assumed that life after death must be like life on earth, and this too Jesus must correct. Indeed, their proposed “problem” is meaningless because man does not marry at all in the new mode of life, since marriage has its defining purpose in this world in connection with procreation and the survival of the human race in the face of death. Marriage is necessary for the human race, in this dying world, to continue to exist in the way that God has ordained it from the beginning.
But in the new life beyond this world, things change. For those who live in heaven, just as their will be no work in heaven to support life, so there will be no marriage, for man will no longer be subject to death, but will live in God with a whole new mode of life. This heavenly life, Jesus says, will be like that of the angels, but not in the sense that it will be bodiless, for that would not be human life. The blessed will rise from the dead, and their whole being, body ans soul will totally oriented toward God and will participate in the divine life. Indeed, note that Jesus says this life will include the body, for he says “they will be sons of the resurrection” as well as God’s own children. In Heaven each of the blessed will be complete in a way that he or she is never complete in this world, because the beatified will no longer be simply man, but a Son of God.
Marriage, then, a great good for man on earth, has to do not only with propagation of children in this world, but also with the existential incompleteness of men and women, especially when they are subject to the consequences of sin, isolation, suffering and death. Man is in need of the other in order to more easily strive for completion, either in marriage which has its ordination to family, or in human society at large – most especially in the religious communion of the Church. In Heaven, the purpose of marriage related to children and human survival will cease, and so will the purpose related to the striving for completion, for personal fulfillment, which will terminate in God who will bring us to a fulfillment that marriage can only imperfectly strive for in this world, while pointing us toward perfect fulfillment or completeness in God.
Obviously, we do not know exactly what this perfect human fulfillment will be like, but we know by faith that it can only take place in God. Men and women will live forever, but they will live either as a person perfectly fulfilled in God, enjoying the bliss of God forever, or as a terribly stunted person, forever unfulfilled, divided within, tortured by endless disintegration of his or her person, endlessly consumed by the internal and external sufferings of the damned. The fact that someone does not believe in this unending life after death with its dual possibilities, does not in any way affect its truth, its reality, its unavoidableness for him or her as for all mankind. Their unbelief simply makes them blind and unable to find and take the path that leads to fullness of life in God, life as a Son or daughter of God, and that is what so saddens Jesus about their unbelief.
The doctrine of the resurrection and life after death with its two diametrically opposite outcomes is not an open question, a debatable issue for the Lord, or for believers. He knows that these are the true facts of life, whatever man may think in his ignorance of God. Indeed, it was to teach us these “facts of life,” divine life, that Jesus endured the pain and suffering of this world, and not just his passion but the ignorance of men who spoke so confidently about things they knew nothing about, and that He knew everything about. He came to save all mankind, even his enemies, even those who ridiculed his teaching, persecuted him and put him to death. He knew that what caused their ignorance was the same thing that causes their suffering, and causes their death. It is sin, and for this he came, to deliver us all from its consequences so we might be in Jesus sons of the Resurrection and not children of darkness. Materialists don’t believe in sin because they don’t believe spirit or in the God of Life.
We live in a deeply materialist and blind culture today, and we must have compassion as Jesus did for those who cannot see the light of Christ and desire the life of Christ. We must pray always that He will lead us, and all mankind, out of this profound darkness of our world into His own wonderful light, where life is life in God and death is truly no more.