Three men were having a conversation about death. They were expressing what they would like people to say about them at their Funeral Masses. The first one said, “At my Funeral Mass, I would like someone to point at my corpse and say, ‘This man was the best teacher in this city, and all his students loved him.’” The second man said, “At my funeral, I would like someone to point at my casket and say, ‘Here lies the best singer in this city. Whenever he sang, everybody and everything stood still in awe. We will forever miss him.’” The third man said, “For me, at my funeral, I would like someone to point at me and say, ‘Look at him! He is moving his legs!’”
Death is one subject matter we find uncomfortable to talk about as human beings. That is evident in the various euphemisms people use to downplay the reality of death. For example, when a person dies, people say things like, “He/She passed away,” “He/She gave up the ghost,” “He/She kicked the bucket,” etc. Every year, in November, the Church allows us to look at death straight in the eye and say, “We are not afraid of you. We know you are there, but we have conquered you in Christ Jesus. You are no longer an end for us, but a passage to a better life. You are not darkness anymore but the turning off of the light bulb because it is the eternal daybreak when we get the real light from the Sun, who is the Son of God.”
Today’s readings focus on the mystery of the resurrection of the body from the dead. At the end of the Apostle’s Creed, we say, “I believe in … the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.” Even though we express belief in the resurrection of the body, the mode of the resurrection remains challenging to understand. Are we going to keep all our physical appearances like height, weight, shape, and color in the next world? Carefully comparing today’s first reading with the Gospel passage, many questions remain unanswered as to how our bodies will look like at the resurrection of the dead.
In the Gospel passage, Jesus is already in Jerusalem. His triumphant entry to Jerusalem troubled the Chief Priests and the Teachers of the Law as they heard the people singing “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Jesus drove out the merchants who were turning the Temple into a market place, and a den of robbers. The Chief Priests and the teachers of the law questioned his authority. They sent spies to ask him about paying of taxes to Caesar to implicate him, but he silenced them with his answer. Then a new group, the Sadducees, decided to come on board to try him with more questions.
The Sadducees and the Pharisees are often mentioned together, but they have different beliefs. The Pharisees were entirely a religious body without political ambitions; they were ok with any government as long as they were allowed to follow their religious/ceremonial laws. In addition to the Law and the Prophets, they had oral tradition. The Sadducees, on the other hand, followed only the first five books of the bible. They were few but very wealthy. They collaborated with Rome since they never wanted to risk losing their wealth, comfort, and place. The Pharisees hoped for the coming of the Messiah, while the Sadducees did not since that will disturb their carefully planned lives. Another difference between the two groups is what we have in today’s gospel passage. While the Pharisees believed in the resurrection from the dead and in angels and spirits, the belief in another life was difficult for the Sadducees to take since they were already comfortable in this world. A formula to help you remember the difference is this: The Sadducees do not believe in spirits, in angels, and in the resurrection of the body, that is why they are sad, you see!
The Sadducees came to test Jesus, to know if he would take their side or the side of the Pharisees. They told the story of the woman, who married seven brothers, and each died without a child, they asked who would be her husband in the next world. They told the story to ridicule the doctrine on the resurrection. Jesus, in his response, showed that he was neither for the Sadducees nor for the Pharisees. Unlike the Sadducees, he preached the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, and unlike the Pharisees, he explained that life in the next world is not a duplicate of what we have here. There is no marriage as we know it in heaven. Since the Sadducees believed the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), Jesus quoted from the passage about Moses and the burning bush indicating that even though the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) were long dead, God referred to them like they were still alive, which is a pointer to the fact of the resurrection of the body. Marriage, family, and procreation have a lot to do with security. In heaven, security is to be found directly in God and not in one’s spouse, child, or parents. In heaven, we will see God as He is and will no longer need any intermediary; we will receive His love and security directly; no longer through a wife, husband, parent, sibling or child.
The story is told of an American tourist who visited the 19th Century Polish Rabbi Hofetz Chaim. He was surprised to see that the Rabbi’s home was just a simple room filled with books, a table, and a bench. He then asked: “Rabbi, where is your furniture?” The Rabbi replied with a question, “Where is yours?” The surprised American tourist replied, “Mine? But I am only a visitor here; I am just passing through.” The Rabbi said, “Same here; I am only a visitor in this world, I am just passing through” My dearly beloved in Christ, our understanding of life after death, defines the way we live in this world; our relationship with God and with one another. Remember, the word Parish etymologically comes from the Greek paroikia, which means, ‘sojourning/traveling.’ So, Sacred Heart Parishioners, for example, are travelers in the same caravan. Like the 19th Century Rabbi, let us always remember that none of us is a citizen here, we are just passing through this world to our real destination. May our participation at this Eucharistic Banquet make us worthy of the eternal banquet in heaven, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2022