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 divisive 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 a life after death for man, that is, personal immortality, and thus they totally rejected a belief in a bodily resurrection as well. The Sadducees were great scholars and experts in the Jewish Law which governed the whole life of Israel, both secular and religious. For them, their law must be derived solely from the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, and they found no evidence in those books of any resurrection or personal immortality. Since the Pentateuch was the hallmark of God’s revelation, they also rejected any contrary evidence in later writings of the prophets affirming such beliefs as personal immortality and resurrection. In the end, they were the hardened materialists of their religion and culture.
On the other hand, the Pharisees firmly believed in a life after death and in the resurrection of the body. These men were mainly from the priestly class connected with the temple, and these doctrines were an essential part of their religious teaching. The division between these two Jewish groups of religious leaders, the scholars and the priests, was sharp and irreconcilable. In today’s Gospel we witness this conflict when these scholars of the law try to ridicule Jesus because He sided with the Pharisees by openly preaching the resurrection as part of His doctrine.
So the Sadducee decide to trap Jesus by presenting to Him this problem of the woman who had seven successive husbands, all of whom died leaving her childless, and so they ask Jesus whose wife she will be in Heaven. Polygamy had existed early on among the Israelites, but by the time of Jesus Jewish society was long since a soundly monogamous culture. Since Jewish law and culture had never tolerated polyandry, one woman and many husbands, the solution to this problem could only be one husband, but whom? Thus the Sadducees figured they had a clear cut case demonstrating the kind of absurd situations that would occur if every one rose from the dead. Polyandry being ruled out, how would the heavenly authority determine who deserve to be the husband in the case where one woman had several spouses successively in this world. They were convinced that such cases would prove the ridiculousness of doctrines like the resurrection.
But Jesus is not to be silenced by their problem, and he quickly denounces their profound 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 little about the God they profess to believe in. If they did, they would know that the God of Abraham is always 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, the God who creates and sustains life in this world – and beyond this world for men.
Because they do not understand the God of Life, they do not understand His will and power to keep all human beings alive, even when they have died in this world. The truth of God’s creative power assures us that man will never cease to live once he has been given life; even biological 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 for all that, man does not cease to live, for God does not permit that the created existence He alone gives to man should ever totally cease. The mode of man’s life will change, dramatically, when bodily death takes place and the soul departs the body. But the existence of a person, rooted in his soul, the principle of life, never ceases, while the life form changes in mode only. In short, no person created by God, angelic or human will ever cease to live. For man’s life, his existence, is a permanent gift by the God of life, and to suggest it would cease is a complete misunderstanding of the God who creates living man.
Because the Sadducees were not open to the truth that man’s life is not totally destroyed by death, but only substantially changed in mode, 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, if it were a fact, would have to be like life on earth, and this too Jesus must correct.
Moreover, their proposed “problem” is quite meaningless since man will not marry in this new mode of life. In this world, marriage has its defining purpose in in connection with procreation and the perpetuation of the human race, indeed its very survival post Eden because of the introduction of sin and death. Marriage is necessary for the human race from the beginning, but even more so now in this dying world, in order to continue to exist in the way that God has ordained from the beginning.
However, in the radically new life beyond this world, things change dramatically 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 and for God with a whole new mode of life.
Indeed, this new mode of heavenly life, Jesus teaches, will be like that of the angels, yet not in the sense that it will be bodiless, for that would not be a truly human mode of life. The blessed will rise from the dead, and their whole being, body and soul will then be totally oriented toward God and will participate in the divine life totally. And note that Jesus directly affirms that this life will include the body, for he says that we will be “sons of the resurrection” as well as God’s own children. In Heaven, each of the blessed will be completely fulfilled in a way that he or she is never complete in this world, because the beatified will no longer be simply man, but a true son of God.
Marriage, then, which is truly 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 once they are subjected to the consequences of sin – isolation, suffering and death. Man is in need of the other person in order to more 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 limited purposes of marriage related to children and human survival will cease, and so will the purpose related to the striving for completion, for personal fulfillment. Total fulfillment takes place only in God who will bring us to a fulfillment that marriage can only imperfectly strive for in this world, even 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 half-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 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 the Saducees’ 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. Jesus 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 in his passion but also in 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, who persecuted Him and put Him to death. He knew that what caused their ignorance was the same thing that causes their suffering, and wil cause their death. It is sin, and for this purpose He came, to deliver us all from its consequences so we might be, in Jesus, sons of the Resurrection and not children of darkness..
We live in a deeply materialist and blind culture today, and we must have compassion as Jesus did for those who cannot yet 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 finally life in God, and death is truly no more.