Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
32nd Sunday of OT, Year C
November 11, 2001
2Macc7:12-9-14; 2Thes2:61-3:5; Lk20:27-38
1) Jesus focuses on the reality of the resurrection of the body, of heaven, and of how marriage fits into that plan.
2) Setting of dispute with Sadducees. They didn’t believe in resurrection of body, because they only accepted the first five books of the Bible, what we call the Pentateuch. Most of what we find in the Old Testament prophesying the Resurrection of the Bible we find in the prophets and in Wisdom literature. Jesus’ response was extraordinary. He beat the Sadducees at their own game, using the passage from the calling of Moses in the Book of Exodus to show them clearly that there is eternal life. Either God were a good of a cemetery or God were the God of the living, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God was clearly not the God of a cemetery and hence they had to be alive. God is the God not of the dead but of the living.
3) Why did the Sadducees choose the example of marriage? Because from the Book of Genesis onward, there was the teaching of husband and wife being one flesh. As God said in the second chapter of the Bible, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” If a woman were “one flesh” with seven successive husbands, with whom would she be one flesh in heaven? It’s actually a pretty good question.
4) The question, of course, presumes the clear teaching about the resurrection of the body. It’s not just a question of a soul living on after death, because our souls are necessarily immortal, but of the resurrection of our body to be reunited with our souls.
5) The problem with the Sadducees question is that they were misinterpreting the reality of heaven and misinterpreting the role of marriage in heaven. Marriage was part of God’s plan from the beginning, to teach us how to love, to love another, to love oneself and to love God. To increase that love in the world, by making love and producing other human beings to share in that love. Marriage was a good from the first marriage in the beginning. Jesus came and elevated marriage to the dignity of a sacrament. All seven sacraments are means of imparting God’s life to us and helping us to live in accord with our dignity and achieve our vocation to heaven. But the sacrament is meant for this world. It is meant to help each spouse get to heaven. Even if a marriage lasts for 60 years, if one or the other of the spouses doesn’t make it to heaven, the marriage has failed. The first obligation of spouses is to help the other become holier through loving and serving God and keeping His commandments and imparting this faith to children. In the marriage rite, the question is “Will you love and honor each other for the rest of your life?” The spouses say, “I, Bill, take you, Jane, to be my wife. I promise to be true to you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life?” And the life we’re talking about is life in this world.
6) In heaven, as Jesus says, there is no taking and giving in marriage. There is no marriage in heaven other than the marriage of Christ with the Church comprised of every one of us. This teaching of Jesus might strike some of us as a little sad, because our notions of heaven are sometimes a little bit too influenced by images of human happiness. We can’t imagine being happy without our spouses. We want this to last forever. Why isn’t there marriage in heaven? Because our love is no long exclusive. Here on earth, when we say yes to our spouse, what it means is we say no to everyone else to love them in the same way. In heaven, we’re all going to love perfectly, to love God and to love everyone else in God, without this exclusivity. Moreover, and this has to be said, there will be no sex in heaven. Human sexuality is a great gift, but it is meant for this life, because making love is designed to increase love between a couple and to procreate children in love. But in heaven we will love perfectly and there is no procreation. Thus, in heaven, there is no marriage, no giving or taking in marriage. Hence, as Jesus says, the question of the Sadducees about the woman with seven husbands is mute, because, if all of them are in heaven, there will be perfect love among all of them, a love that is perfectly chaste. The witness given by heaven by people who live apostolic celibacy and chastity “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” We anticipate that complete love of God here on earth and point to it.
7) This brings us to a very important point about heaven. It is impossible for us to imagine here how joyful it will be. Heaven will blow our mind. The joys of heaven will far exceed what we can comprehend. If we try to make it too much like earth, we’ll distort it. The best analogy to heaven on earth is the ecstasy that people have experienced in prayer, when one is completely lost in the burning love and closeness of God. Many of the great saints have experienced this ecstasy here on earth. Too often we can bring heaven too much down to earth by earthly loves and concerns. People will ask, “Will my dog be in heaven?” “How could I be eternally happy without my dog?” Sometimes we can say that this is real love for animal, but it is really a dependence on the animal. The Church has never officially pronounced on the presence of animals in heaven, but really, the amount of joy we will experience in heaven will make the question irrelevant.
8) The best way to prepare for heaven is to not just to do what we need to do to get there, by responding in faith to God’s love, commandments, etc., but in prayer. Heaven will be an eternal participation in the love of God, union with God and with all those in God in love. We do that here in prayer. Heaven will be an eternal liturgy around the lamb looking as if he has been slain, when we’ll be singing hymns of praise to him forever. Some people might think, “Well, heaven, then will be really boring.” No it won’t, because we’ll all recognize just how awesome such stuff is. If we recognized that now, we’d approach prayer and Mass completely differently here. We’re already participating in heaven. How much is our heart participating though?
9) The final thing is that heaven is worth everything. The eternal love of God is why we were created. God the Father sent His son to die for us to make this eternal life possible for us. He compared it to a precious treasure buried in a field that a wise person sells everything to buy. We see this in the first reading from today. Seven sons gave up their lives, through terrible torture, rather than violate God’s law in the Old Testament of eating pork. The first brother was burned alive. Another was scalped and had his hands and feet cut off. Another was fried in a pan. Another had his tongue cut off. None, despite facing these terrible deaths, was willing to do what was wrong, to sin, even though it might seem like a small thing. “We are ready to die,” they said, “rather than trangress the laws of our ancestors,” the laws given by God to our ancestors. They recognized that heaven was worth everything, that heaven was a bargain worth more than all of the suffering they could possibly receive here on earth. The martyrs in the early Church often suffered just as horrible fates, but they had the motto, “Better to die than to sin!” They recognized that not even all the sufferings in the world equalled the joy that God has waiting for those who love Him. And we saw from Christ, just how much heaven is worth, because he underwent freely all of his sufferings on account of the glory and joy of the resurrection.
10) So the question for us is what’s our attitude toward heaven, toward the God of heaven, and toward the moral life. Would God, honestly, be able to say about us, that we prefer to die than to sin, that we are ready to die rather than transgres the laws God gave us through our parents, through the Church? Most of us will probably not have to die for the faith in a bloody way like the Maccabean brothers and like the martyrs, but God calls us to die to ourselves every day, die to sin, so that he might live within us. He calls us to deny ourselves and everyday pick up our Cross on which we’re crucified and follow Him all the way through the Cross to the joys of heaven. Dying in these little things is often harder than dying in big things. Many of us who would probably give our lives for Christ if we were put on the spot often cannot get out of bed in the morning, cannot control our temper when someone tests us, allow ourselves to commit all types of little sins. God asks for more. During this month of November, we’re called to focus on heaven, on the reality of heaven, on our call there, and whether we’re headed there or heading in the opposite direction. We’re called to examine if our marriages are helping us become truly holy or are taking the place of God. This is a time for our conversion. Let’s take advantage of it.