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March 23, 2017

We shall be like Angels

Today’s Gospel provides a profound reflection on the resurrected life. It is a life that transcends marriage and the raising of offspring; a brand-new life not limited by any of the impediments of the present life. Jesus’ teaching on the resurrection is in response to a riddle posed by the Sadducees citing the Mosaic Law on the raising of children for a deceased relative. In their cunning attempt to entrap Jesus, they contrived a most unlikely scenario of a woman successively marrying seven brothers – to question the concept of rising from the dead. In ancient Jewish culture the maintenance of family heritage was paramount, such that if a man died childless his brother was obliged to marry his wife in order to raise children for him.(Deut. 25:5; Gen. 38:8-9). The Sadducees questioned Jesus on which of the brothers would marry the woman in the afterlife.

The Sadducees rejected any idea not expressly stated in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the OT). Thus, they did not believe in judgment after life, the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, or the existence of angels and spirits (Acts 23:8). No afterlife means they lived for this present life only. It is little wonder then that while a Pharisee like Saul of Tarsus (St Paul) turned to Christianity, there is no record in Scripture of a Sadducee ever becoming a Christian. However, as the political leaders in charge of relations between Israel and Rome, the Sadducees were men of considerable clout. This close collaboration with the Romans oftentimes meant compromises with justice and truth in order to consolidate their positions of power, influence, and wealth.

Their material comfort and close contact with pagan Roman culture contaminated their faith and distorted their concept of God.  One wonders whether the Sadducees began to live worldly, pleasure-centred lives because they had lost faith in the resurrection, or they lost faith in the resurrection because they had given in to a life of money and pleasure. There is a saying that when we stop living according to our belief, we start to believe according to how we live. This is a danger for us in the Church today.

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The Sadducees were probably sincere in their belief even though they were dead wrong. So, is it possible that we have become like them in some aspects of our life? Is it possible that although we seem like decent Christians on the outside, we have in fact cut God down to our own size and thereby weakened our friendship with him without realizing it? So many Catholics today are like the Sadducees, with their faith stifled by the anti-Christian sentiments that pervade modern culture. Many have become fussy believers who pick and choose what to believe and what not to believe. They accept the doctrines that align with popular culture, like human rights and social justice while rejecting those that run counter to it, especially when it comes to marriage and human sexuality.

Nevertheless, Jesus emphatically asserts almost everything denied by the Sadducees. He affirms the existence of angels and cites the Pentateuch (Ex 3:6) to demonstrate the continuity of life beyond death. He makes a distinction between “this age” where marriage is necessary, and “that age” where the elect would not need to marry, “because they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels” (Lk. 20:36). Like the angels, we will be clothed in glory and immortality.  Our God is infinitely transcendent and in the resurrection, we will share in that transcendence more fully than we now do. The Resurrection is a central pillar of the Christian faith and one of its glorious qualities is that of impossibility (not subject to suffering). The Scripture is clear that, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away” (Rev. 21:4) This is a blessed assurance that pain, suffering, poverty, and disease will have no power over us anymore.

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Brothers and sisters, heaven is real and so is hell! Jesus taught this many times and the New Testament affirms it many times too! In fact, the entire Christian faith hinges on it. St Paul is unequivocal that: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). This point is manifest in the extraordinary courage of the seven brothers in the First Reading who defiantly submitted to death, fired on by their hope in the resurrection. In the middle of being tortured to death, one of the young men exclaimed: “You may discharge us from this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up, since it is for his laws that we die, to live again forever” (2 Macc. 7:9).

But modern history has seen the rise of different ideologies which negate the Christian view of resurrection and eternal life. The Marxist ideology promised the Communist Utopia, while the Nazis promised the Third Reich. We had Fascism in Italy, and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, among others.  In the end, all these alternative systems have shared one thing in common –  the trail of sorrows, tears and blood; the dehumanization of peoples, and the destruction of life and property on an industrial scale. Today, we may face no communist threat or military invasion but we live in an age of relativism, a hideous ideology that denies the objectivity of truth and morality – everyone makes up their own morality. The result is the ascendance of a culture of death with a radical set of human and social values: marriage is no longer just between a man and a woman; the medical destruction of life becomes normal; and all manner of absurdities become mainstream – polygamy/polyandry, open relationships, bestiality, the lowering of the age of consent, etc.

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Beloved, this sobering reality calls for a re-dedication to the cause of the resurrection!  And let this consciousness transform us and transform society, because any culture lacking in the vision of eternity is a culture in decline and a culture on the brink of extinction. When we stop believing, that is when we stop living. And when faith no longer transcends this present wretched existence, it is simply dead! May the Good Lord help us to shape our lives as sons and daughters of the resurrection…Amen!


 

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