2 Micah 7, 1-2 9-14 + Psalm 17 + 2 Thessalonians 2, 16-3, 5 + Luke 20, 27-38
November 6, 2016 at St Peter and St William Churches in Naples, FL
In my personal reflection on this Gospel text, I find it interesting that Matthew, Mark, and Luke report this same incident, which means that they were all being asked this question and were dealing with a response. What is most curious is that in all of my 49 years as priest I can’t remember any time when anyone asked me about this. I suspect it is simply because most people in our day and age do not even give much thought to the future, to what comes after death, and what it all means. For them life is too hectic, too demanding, and all too immediate for thinking about that future. This is especially so for people younger than most of us. They just can’t seem to be bothered about it. On my own part, I also recognize that I never gave it a lot of thought for a long time until really good friends, parents, and family members began to go ahead of me. The thought that I would “see them again” was a little comforting, but it gets a little too abstract when you get serious about the fact that there is no body and therefore no eyes with which to “see”. “How’s that going to work?” I would ask myself. When I got a little more serious about this, someone suggested that it’s not a matter of “seeing” but of “knowing”, at which point it became far too philosophical, and I put it off to think about another day. I never did buy into that idea of joining the choirs of angels and singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” for all eternity. The lyrics seemed a little monotonous, and sometimes the melody a little lame. If that’s the future for me, I should be standing over there practicing (pointing toward the choir) and not over here.
What the Sadducees reveal by their question is that they were thinking of the next life as merely a continuation of this present life. That was their problem to which Jesus responds in these verses. He never says what it will be like in the next life. He simply says that it will be different. What he does say is that our relationship with God will continue, and that death will not change that in the least. In fact, if you work with that idea long enough, you might come to the conclusion that the relationship with God will then be even better because there will be no distractions or competition for our time and attention.
With that revelation from this Gospel, we are face to face with a reminder that the time will come when there is nothing left but our relationship with God. Therefore, if there has not been one here, nothing will carry over. This Gospel, when taken beyond the superficial, which is what the Sadducees can’t seem to do, proposes that this life is the time for discovering, building, and nurturing our relationship with God, because all other relationships are going to be found in God when this is all over. The time we spend here and now at work with our careers, at becoming a success in terms of fame and finance, at our games and our pleasures will count for nothing in the next life because it is going to be very different. If that’s all we do is chase after those things, we are going to have a problem in the next life. Those things will not be there. The message that the Gospel leaves with us provides some ideas about what this life is for, and what ought to really matter for those who know and believe that there is another life to come. What Matthew, Mark, and Luke all suggest is that what will not be different in the next life is our relationship with God; and so these are the days and the times to build up that relationship for that is all that will carry us over. Nothing here will mean nothing then and there for eternity, and that would certainly be “hell.”
There is also a way of understanding the Gospel message that insists that the future is already present, and so we are called to live lives already transformed: lives that really do make the relationship with God the first and only one through which and in which all other things have their meaning and value. So, here we are still in this life, but already called by faith to live transformed lives. We can daydream, put it off because we’re too busy, in too big a hurry, and just be silly about it like the Sadducees, or we can embrace the transformation to which we are called and make the Covenant relationship with God we renew at this sacred table what matters most of all.