Nov.6th, 2016: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.
2 Thessalonians 2:16B3:5; Luke 20:27-38.
AIM: To explain Jesus teaching about life beyond death.
What will happen to us when we die? Is death simply the end, like the snuffing out of a candle? And if there is life beyond death, what will it be like? Which of us has never asked questions like those? What better time to consider them than on this Sunday, when the gospel reading contains Jesus= teaching about life beyond death?
Jesus= critics present him with a hypothetical and deliberately absurd case about a woman who has been married to seven husbands. Jesus might have told his questioners that the case was too frivolous to merit comment. Instead Jesus shows himself, here as elsewhere, to be a model teacher by using his opponents= attempt to show him up as the occasion for serious teaching about the future life.
Which of the woman=s seven husbands will have her as his wife after death, Jesus= critics want to know. Jesus= answer falls into two parts. First, he says that life beyond death is not a prolongation of life on earth. It is something completely new: not merely life after death, but rather life beyond death. That is the meaning of Jesus= statement that Athose who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.@ A fundamental purpose of marriage is the continuation of the human race through the procreation of children. Beyond death there is no need for more children to be born.
The second part of Jesus= answer addresses his critics= contention that the idea of a future life is absurd. On the contrary, Jesus tells them, our own Scriptures clearly imply the resurrection when they represent Moses addressing the Lord as Athe God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.@ Those final words are crucial: all are alive to God, even those who have died. Before him, Jesus is saying, those long dead patriarchs remain alive.
Jesus= way of interpreting Scripture may not be ours. But his teaching is not hard to grasp. His fundamental point is that our hope of life beyond death is not based on wishful thinking, but on the nature of God himself. He is not just a philosophical Afirst cause,@ an Aunmoved mover,@ or the Agreat architect of the universe.@ God is all those things, yet he is infinitely more.
The God whom Jesus reveals is our loving heavenly Father, who enters into a personal relationship with us B a relationship of love. This love relationship cannot be terminated by death, any more than God=s relationship of love with his Son was ended by Jesus= death. I learned this very early, through my mother=s death when I was only six years old. A few days after my mother=s funeral, my father told me: AOur love for Mummy continues, and her love for us. We must continue to pray for her. She is with God. He is looking after her. Our prayers can help her.@ That made sense to me when I was only six. It still makes sense to me more than seven decades later. I pray for my dear mother by name in every Mass I celebrate.
Paul is referring to this love relationship when he prays in our second reading: AMay our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.@ And in his letter to the Romans Paul says that this love extends beyond this world: AI am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor powers, neither height nor depth nor any other creature, will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord@ (8:38).
This much is certain, then, about life beyond death. It is not a prolongation of present existence, but something totally new. And it is based not on wishful thinking, but on the nature of God himself as a God of love. Everything beyond that remains uncertain. The resurrection life lies so far outside our experience that it can be described only in symbols and images. Jesus mentions one in today=s gospel: Aangels.@ The Book of Revelation, which is an extended vision of the life of heaven, used other images: white robes (6:11, 7:9), stars (12:1), and harps (14:2). Those images are poetry, not prose. Like all poetic images, they are not meant to be taken literally.
Jesus Christ does not offer us a faith that answers every question curiosity can propose. He gives us a faith by which to live and die. Central to that faith is Jesus= assurance in today=s gospel: ATo [God] all are alive.@ When Jesus says Aall@, he really means it. He is speaking not only about us who await death. He is speaking also about those who have already gone home to God, to live with him forever. In John=s gospel Jesus says he is going to his AFather=s house ... to prepare a place@ for us (14:2). When we come to die, we shall find that Jesus has gone ahead, and is waiting to welcome us to the place he has already prepared for us.
Meanwhile our task is to prepare for that great encounter and homecoming not by worrying about the details, but by living to the full here and now. To help us do this Jesus offers here at the Eucharist the treasure of his truth at the table of the word, and the treasure of his love at the table of his body and blood.
When we encounter Jesus at the end of life=s journey, will we be meeting a familiar and well loved friend? Or will he be a stranger at whose approach we shrink in fear? The answer to that question lies in our hands, right now. Out of his great love for us God permits us to choose what that great final encounter will be like.
It is the most important choice we shall ever have.