Father Donald Senior, CP

Nov. 10: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The God of the living

2 Mc 7:1-2, 9-14; Ps 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15; 2 Thes 2:1 6— 3:5; Lk 20:27-38

As we edge up to the end of the liturgical year and the beginning of Advent, the readings for this Sunday take a deep dive into one of our faith’s most powerful convictions — the belief that there is life beyond death.

Most of the ancient world was convinced of life beyond death, as Egypt’s soaring pyramids and elaborate rituals of mummification testify. The Greeks believed that the soul was immortal and escaped when the scourge of death ultimately consumed the human body, the prison of the soul.

Paradoxically, for centuries the biblical people were much more uncertain of life beyond death. As the creation account in the second chapter of Genesis portrays, the human being was a body formed from the dust of the earth and became a living being only because God breathed into that lump of clay the divine spirit of life. As the Book of Ecclesiastes notes (12:7) once that divine breath was withdrawn, humans dissolved into the dust from which they came. That conviction of Ecclesiastes is quoted in the traditional formula for Ash Wednesday, “Remember, you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”

The belief in life eternal began to dawn later in Jewish and biblical history. We hear this growing conviction in the first reading for today from the Second Book of Maccabees, written a century and a half before Jesus.

The mother and her seven sons who refuse the command of their overlords to eat pork and violate the Jewish law are subjected to terrible torture but die heroically. They sacrifice their lives, convinced that “the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying.” There would be a resurrection of the just, but no such destiny for the enemies of God.

The debate about the possibility of resurrection beyond death is the backdrop for today’s Gospel passage from Luke. The aristocratic Sadducees were more traditional in their beliefs (but not in their lifestyle) and denied the possibility of resurrection. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were convinced that God would raise the dead, and Jesus himself shares their conviction. 

The Sadducees try to ridicule Jesus’ belief in resurrection by an elaborate story of an ill-fated woman who lost seven husbands in a row — each of them brothers — without having a child with any of them. This was a compounded tragedy in a traditional society where being a widow and childless was both a shame and a social problem. At the resurrection, which they did not believe in, the Sadducees smugly ask, “whose wife will that woman be?”

Instead of being drawn into their game, Jesus goes directly to the basis for the biblical hope in life beyond death: “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” Unlike the Egyptians who thought there was a technique for cheating death or the Greeks who believed that the human soul was immortal, Jesus puts his trust in the power of the God of the living. 

No biblical conviction is stronger than the belief that God is the source and endpoint of all life. The God who created the world out of love and fashioned human beings in his own image would never abandon his sons and daughters to the power of death.

The ultimate guarantee of life beyond death is the destiny of Jesus himself, God’s most beloved Son and the “firstborn” from the dead. On the cross Jesus experiences the full reality of death, even a most painful and ignominious death. Yet he is not abandoned by the God of the living and through resurrection his death is transformed into luminous new life eternal. Generations of Christians have placed their hope in the belief that what happens to Jesus — the “New Adam,” the “New Creation,” as Paul the Apostle named him — will happen to us. As the Song of Songs (8:6) puts it, “Love is stronger than death.”


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