Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Luke 20: 27; 34-38
27 Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward.34 Jesus said to them, ‘The children of this age marry and remarry; 35 but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry 36 nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.
That the dead will rise 37 even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out “Lord”, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; 38 and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.’
Dead and gone?
A reflection on Luke 20: 27; 34-38
Dr Elizabeth Julian rsm
Marcellin Wilson rsm, CNZM, 2013 Wellingtonian of the Year, my former teacher, is dead. Where has she gone? Is there life after death? What does resurrection mean? Will I see Marcellin again? How will she live on? These challenging questions are provoked by today’s gospel.
Our Christian faith, based on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, doesn’t provide the clarity we want. Instead, it calls us to believe in life after death and in God as ‘not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.’ We prayed at Marcellin’s funeral Mass, ‘Life is changed not ended,’ and in Sunday’s Creed, ‘We believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.’ For Christians, life everlasting or heaven has always been a symbol of hope; the risen Christ has conquered death. We live by faith in God and in hope of resurrection, of the transformation of every being. Heaven is not a place, it’s a theological way of speaking about our relationship with God.
In today’s gospel the Sadducees*, who don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, are as usual trying to trick Jesus. Before this passage they ask Jesus a ridiculous question based on Levirate marriage law (Deut 25:5-10) requiring the nearest male relative of a dead man to marry the latter’s widow and raise a son to ensure the dead man’s line. The Sadducees want to know whose wife the woman will be at the resurrection of the dead if she has been widowed seven times and eventually dies after having married seven different men! But Jesus knows his Scripture too well, beating them at their own game. He uses the burning bush story (Exod 3:1-6), so central to Jewish belief. God says to Moses, ‘I AM,’ not, ‘I was’, emphasising that God is the God of the living, not of the dead, that is, God’s relationship with us is everlasting.
So, in speaking of angels Jesus is inviting the Sadducees (and us) to stretch our imaginations. Indeed, we prayed for Marcellin, ‘May choirs of angels welcome you and lead you to the bosom of Abraham; and where Lazarus is poor no longer – and homeless women no longer homeless – may you find eternal rest.’
So to God, we are not just ‘dead and gone’. Marcellin lives on.
* The Sadducees were members of a Jewish priestly sect that flourished for about two centuries before the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. They were largely responsible for Temple worship. Mentioned throughout the Gospels they often approached Jesus to question him and trick him into contradicting the Scriptures.