Sunday, April 10, 2011

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

In Jesus times our Lord was followed by many types of people, there were the poor and the sick which came to him for healing and hope. There were the priests and scribes who came to him for his words of wisdom and authority. There were the Romans who every once in awhile crossed paths with him and his disciples. However the Gospels records two specific groups which interacted frequently with him: The Pharisees and the Sadducees. With the Pharisees our Lord had kind of a “love hate” relationship. On one hand, some of them found common ground with his teachings, like the resurrection of the dead; others showed admiration at his knowledge of the law and scriptures. And Jesus too was very fond of some Pharisees, like Simon who invited him to have dinner at his house. However, Jesus was not shy about condemning their actions and calling them hypocrites and “the blind leading the blind”. The Sadducees on the other hand… well…if there was a group that constantly antagonized our Lord it was the Sadducees.
In scripture we hear of them always trying to catch Jesus in a contradiction, or teaching doctrine which went against the Law. Who were these people that thought they could trap Jesus with their questions? And why where they always trying to entrap him in the first place? Well, the Sadducees were members of the priestly families of Jerusalem. They exercised an immense authority over the daily life of the people, an authority that was based exclusively upon their wealth and birth right. They were very strict in their beliefs, they only accepted the first 5 books of the bible and viewed the writings of the Prophets and other authors of in the Old Testament as less in value than the words of Moses. They were draconian in their interpretation of the Law. For them “an eye for an eye” meant just that, they had no sense of what proportionality in the way they administered punishment.
Because of all this there were many points of disagreement between them and Jesus. The Sadducees denied the concept of life after death, they thought that bodily resurrection, and most doctrines concerning the existence of angels and demons, where just plain non sense. So when Jesus went around teaching these ideas to the same people which lived under their religious yoke, they took it as a challenge to their authority and beliefs. So unlike the Pharisees which found common ground with some of our Lord teachings, the Sadducees, were often angered by his words, and did everything they could to antagonize him in front of the people.
In today’s readings we get a glimpse at the amount of contempt they felt for our Lord and His teachings. As we see in the first reading from the 2nd Book of Maccabeus, the teaching of the resurrection of the death was an ancient belief of the Jewish people. A belief which brought great comfort and hope for the Jewish nation in times of great distress. The certainty that some day they will become alive again and reunite with their loved ones made them capable enduring incredible persecutions and even dying horrible deaths for their faith. Not until the Catholic Martyrs of the first and second century will we see people suffering as much as these young men did for their faith. Why would the first Christians be willing to give their lives for their beliefs? Because Jesus confirms them in these same beliefs by teaching about the end of the world and the hope of an eternal reward for those who have faith in him. The Sadducees on the other hand take this hope and twist it, they mock it by asking hypothetical questions like what we hears in today’s Gospel: “If we are all to resurrect, how are we to sort out the obvious problems that arise when those who have lost loved ones continue living?” This question shows contempt and complete disregard of the only hope the poor and sick received from Jesus words.
I have to tell you my brothers and sisters, and I know I’m repeating myself but, in two thousand years things have changed very little. We Christians of the 21 first century still have to contend with the contempt and mockery of our beliefs, not from Saduceess but from atheists, secularists and agnostics. This is why Jesus answer brings great hope to us today. “Those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming world and to the resurrection of the death…they can no longer die…they are the children of God”
To me what is most important of these words is not what they say but what they imply. To Jesus, the resurrection of the death is a reality, it is an event that will happen, it is our destiny and our right as children of God. The sun and the moon might pass but His words will never pass.
As a member of the human race I can tell you, fearing death is natural, our bodies or perhaps the bodies of our parents and grandparents, or of a sick loved one, are growing old and slowly decaying. Some of us might be looking at the end of our lives or the lives of our loved ones with apprehension, perhaps we see this period in our lives as a time of suffering, hopelessness and misery, when in fact like the men in first reading show to us, the end of our life, of any life, is a period to test our faith in Jesus words.
The last thing we need, my brothers and sisters, is to be discouraged by the words of those who do not have faith, and do not believe in the promises or our Lord Jesus. Today’s two readings are a reminder of the reality of life, of the fullness of our life which do not end with our last breath but keeps going on, until the day in which we all will encounter ourselves together again in the great eternal celebration that awaits for us in heaven.
Old age and sickness are just parts of living; they prepare us for the life to come and allow those who are around us to show us their loved and fidelity. The end is just a wonderful beginning, promised by our Lord to those who hold to the end, and there is no, or atheist, agnostic, secularist or Sadducee in the world that can change that fact. Amen