The Sadducees belonged to the priestly aristocracy during Jesus’ time. They exercised power and influence through the Sanhedrin, had many wealthy patrons, and generally supported the Roman authorities. Belonging to the upper class of society, they preferred to keep things as they were, to maintain the status quo. In their theological positions, they tended to be conservative, accepting only the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) as the authoritative word of God. As today’s Gospel says, they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. To them, this earthly life was all there is.
It is easier to think that this life is the only life there is if our life on earth is comfortable and smooth. Yet we all know from experience that life is far from that. The family in the first reading is a poignant example. The ruling foreign powers were forcing them to violate the law of God, according to which it was forbidden to eat pork. Because they chose to keep their faith, the seven brothers and their mother were all tortured and executed. The case presented by the Sadducees is similar: a woman who suffered the death of seven husbands. In a society that viewed marriage as a great blessing from God and widowhood as a great misfortune, this woman went through that up and down cycle seven times! Her life was far from comfortable or smooth.
Our life here on earth is filled with the ups of blessings and faith, but also with the downs of sadness and persecution. The earthly life of Jesus Christ himself was like this too. We look back at the ups and downs as we ponder the Joyful, Luminous and Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary. His earthly life comes to a most gruesome end in his dying on the Cross. Through all these vacillations of earthly life, Jesus points us toward the next life, in “the coming age.”
In today’s Gospel, he describes this place or state where we “can no longer die” and are “like angels.” In the coming age, those who are judged worthy live as children of God, under the care of the Eternal Father for all eternity. Jesus wants us to look forward to this, which is what our faith in the resurrection is about. Because Jesus is risen, we can hope to rise. In the Creed that we pray every Sunday, we proclaim: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.” We also express our hopeful anticipation in the words of today’s Psalm: “Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.”
In the meantime, what are we to do with our current life? We are all still here, after all. In proving to the Sadducees that there is a resurrection, Jesus refers them to the Book of Exodus, one of the books which they accept. He recalls for them “the passage about the bush,” the scene where God reveals himself to Moses, introducing himself as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” The point is that God is always present, always alive. “He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” For us, this is a reminder that as we look forward to our own resurrection, we must see our life now and always in relation to God. We are alive here and now for him, and in him is our hope of life for all eternity.
Jesus is also inviting us to look at the lives of the Patriarchs and to imitate their faith. In the account of the burning bush, God was asking Moses to do the nearly impossible task of liberating the Israelites from their servitude to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. This same God asked Abraham to leave his kinsfolk and hometown to go to an unknown place he had designated for him, without any guarantee or proof. This same God also subjected Isaac to being almost sacrificed. This same God also wrestled with Jacob. In other words, the lives of the Patriarchs were not easy. Just like us, they had to face the upheavals of day-to-day living. By mentioning them in the context of his teaching on resurrection, Jesus is teaching us to learn from them to endure life’s hardships and to persevere in faithfulness.
The sufferings of life are intimidating and painful to think of, but God gives us “everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace,” as St. Paul reminds us in today’s second reading. Because of God’s unending love for us, not only can we endure trials, but we can even become stronger through them, encouraged and strengthened “in every good deed and word.” Today’s reading concludes with Paul’s wise advice about two key elements that will guide us in bearing the struggles of our earthly life: “the love of God” and “the endurance of Christ.”
Jesus Christ’s earthly life was difficult, but he now reigns in unending glory. He invites us to unite all our sufferings to his so that he can give us his strength to bear them. When the coming age arrives, he wants us to share in the glory of his Resurrection. As the Gospel Acclamation proclaims: “Jesus Christ is the firstborn of the dead; to him be glory and power, forever and ever.”
How do I handle the ups and downs of blessings and persecutions in my life? Do I learn from the experiences of the Patriarchs how to endure life’s hardships and to persevere in faithfulness? Am I relying on the grace of God to walk through the sufferings of this life or on my own efforts?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 8. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.