Ordinary Time 13 November 10, 2013
Maccabees 7, 1-2, 9, 14 + Psalm 17 + 2 Thessalonians 2, 16-3, 5 + Luke 20,
The journey of Jesus that began weeks and weeks ago with Luke Chapter 9 is now concluded. He made through Jericho last week where he invited Nicodemus and us to “Come down.” He is now in Jerusalem where he will fulfill his Father’s will, where all that he had promised would come to pass, where the temple of his body would be torn down only to rise again on the third day. Now Luke fine tunes his Gospel and begins to focus on life and the promise of Jesus. Who better to cast in this scene than the Sadducees whose position on death was that it was final. There are some who describe the Sadducees as a group who refused to believe in the resurrection. I think that description of them comes out of the negative. All that tells us is what they are NOT. The other way to think of them is that they believed in death. For the Sadducees, death was the end. There was no more. Not surprising then that when they come up against Life in the presence of Jesus Christ, there is going to be some conflict and surprises.
This ideology of the Sadducees is hardly a thing of the past. Judging from the way much of this world lives and behaves, it would be difficult to assume that many believe in or give much thought to the anything at all after death. We have an odd arrangement with death these days, a sort of denial that death will come, and with that comes a denial that there is anything after it. Denying death leaves us locked in the present going on and on as though there will be nothing more than what is right now. In refusing to believe in another life, which followers of Christ called, “The Resurrection,” death is refused. But is exactly what Jesus accepts and does in Jerusalem. He will not, he does not deny death. In this conversation with the Sadducees, he teases them with thoughts about a “Living God”, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and the prophets.
Without the resurrection, followers of Christ have nothing to say to this world. Like Jesus Christ, we stand in a relationship with the Living God, and that relationship will not reconcile with a culture of death, an ideology that refuses death, and the denial of death’s power.
Once the reality and inevitability of death is accepted there is something more to do, and something more to become. Our energy and our focus can be spent on something else, life; rather than on the denial of death. What happens, what we are, and what we do after death becomes a concern, an interest, even a motive for what we are doing here and now. We are a people of life, in life, and for life. Knowing that we shall continue to live even in the face of death changes everything. Knowing that we shall continue to live gives hope, and confidence, courage and joy. There is something to look forward to – something more than just the same old thing. This knowledge is not just some hunch or wish, or some way of hanging on in the face of death’s certainty. This knowledge is a relationship.
This is where Jesus steps in with his profound wisdom challenging the Sadducees and those like them in every age. He speaks of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the prophets and patriarchs. What do these people have in common? One thing: a relationship with Living God. What Jesus proposes is that when God has a relationship with someone, nothing, not even death, can destroy that relationship! A relationship with God is not like the relationships we have from time to time that come and go, that are broken and wounded, incomplete and fragile.
Here is the message of this Gospel. Here is where we can enter into the mystery of resurrected life. Here is where life everlasting becomes not only possible but a reality. This is the way to eternal life, the way to face death today and be around tomorrow; a relationship with the living God. I have seen people face the most impossible and terrifying things. I have seen people come through horrible and heart breaking experiences and rise up tall and strong full of life and free of resentment and anger. I have also seen it go the other way, and every time the difference between them is one thing: their relationship with the living God.
What will come for Jesus in Jerusalem is devastating and a disaster for his followers. In the midst of it, at the worst of it, he maintained his relationship with the Father. He rose from that death, and he lives. For the apostles, his death was something to be denied. It couldn’t happen. It won’t happen. They ran and they hid in denial of what did happen. Their relationship with the Father was not yet strong enough and not yet sealed. For Jesus of Nazareth, the Spirit came upon him in the Jordan. For the Apostles, there was denial, fear, and nothing but the grief of death until Pentecost, and then their relationship with the Father was sealed, and the denial was over. They preached Jesus crucified!
We are a Baptized people, Confirmed with the power and the gifts of the Spirit. We are people of life, living now and living forever because God has called us his own. With death completely tamed by this truth and this promise, there is only a life of joy and of peace for us to live. What gives us those precious gifts is not so much death, but that relationship with living God, the God who loves us. What Jesus says to those Sadducees and to anyone who lives as though death is the end of everything, there is simply one question raised: “How could God allow someone God loves to die?” In response we are simply but profoundly left to say, “He does not.” “Death is not what the Sadducees think it is. There is more, and Paul suggests that it is better. With this hope and with this promise, we might move deeply into the mystery of this Love and with the days we have work more consistently and sincerely for the sake of that love and life itself.