In his beautiful homily for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Father Hanly helps us understand what Jesus was teaching about death.
Readings for Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
- First Reading: Second Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15
- Second Reading: Second Thessalonians 2:16–3:5
- Gospel: Luke 20:27-38 or 20:27, 34-38
This passage is a little difficult, because you have to know a little bit about the background of who certain people are and why they’re asking this question and a variety of other things. But the first thing is it’s two religious groups at the time of Jesus: one, the Sadducees; and the other, the Pharisees.
We are very familiar with the Pharisees because Jesus himself, his whole style and his whole commitment to the history of the Jewish people made him a Pharisee. And that’s why he gets so mad, because he’s talking to his own brothers and their families and he wishes they were better than they actually are.
The Sadducees were quite different. The Sadducees were from the time of the Babylonian captivity. They were the priestly class. Now, when we say the priestly class, we mean a huge class of people, not just the High Priest but all of the priestly class that belonged to the (inaudible), whole tribes, and large, large numbers of people who, by blood, were related to King David perhaps.
And when they came back to Palestine, they dominated the political world, as well as somewhat the religious world. But they were not loved by the ordinary people. These were the elite. They were smarter than everybody, educated better, plenty of money, rich and walking around as if they knew everything about everything including God and who God accepts as being the true, real Israelite.
Like most people like this, they were fundamentally short-sighted. They believed in the here and now, and they educated their children to thrive on the here and now, and everything was important that happened in the here and now.
And Jesus had come to tell them that the here and now is only like a great ocean where a wave rises to the top and the little wave says, “Ooh, I’m going to die. I’m going to splash against the world. I’m going to die when I splash against the beach.” And then finally his father says to him, “You’re just a wave, stupid. You know, you belong to the ocean, the whole ocean is yours. That is your life. Don’t be excited just because you have a little element up to the top.”
Now, the reason I use that example is because we tend to look at our daily lives very seriously and we think that the world was created when we were born and it’s going to die when we die.
We forget that we belong to an incredible tradition, not only religiously but all the way back to Adam, that we are part of a generated life of God that spreads itself throughout all nations and peoples and the world and allows us to say, we who are one with Jesus, that the whole world is our brothers and sisters — their history is our history, their importance is our importance.
And here come the Sadducees, because they are kind of like the rich and dangerous. They were friends of the Romans which is a tip-off. They were friends of the Romans because they were very practical people and they knew that to go against the Romans was not a good idea.
After Jesus dies, thirty years later, the Roman armies come down – the friends of the Sadducees – and level the whole of Jerusalem, the temple and the city, kill everyone in sight, and leave one little wall up there which you can still see, the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem, because the Jews congregate there. The Romans said to them, “Remember, if you revolt against our power, we will come back. And this wall will remind you of our strength, our power when ruling the world.”
Now, at the end of that total desolation, out of the dust and ashes arose a group, and they put together the whole Jewish people once again. They sat down and they held the Scriptures and the beliefs and they held them tight and they resurrected the whole of the Jewish people.
Do you think they were the Sadducees? Nobody ever hears of the Sadducees after that war. The Sadducees disappeared. Why? Maybe because they thought today is important, the future is worthless and history means nothing.
And it’s a great lesson for us. We think that it’s so important what’s going on today in the various nations, but it’s only a drop in the ocean. “This time will pass,” as the famous saying of the Arabs goes. “All these things will pass.”
Now, why is this important to us? It’s important to us because it teaches us what Jesus came to teach us. He lived with us, he cared for us, he showed us how to live. He showed us how to live, how long? Two thousand years ago Jesus came. And today the whole world speaks of Jesus and comes to him.
He is not a Sadducee but he is a Pharisee because, if you go to the Jewish ceremony as I did a couple of weeks ago in this very city and you sit down with the Jewish people on the day of Atonement, you are drawn to this very gospel and preaching of Yahweh God and the future as well as the past.
So what this gospel is telling us is, don’t be so short-sighted. Don’t be afraid of what’s going to happen tomorrow. Tomorrow is just a drop in the bucket. It’s not important. What’s important is that you know where you are, and you are on a journey, a journey as old as Abraham.
God called Abraham and then He called Jacob and then He called Isaac. And He called them one by one to walk with Him through life and to look at his history as part of a history lived with God, and to look to the future as a hope to live with God, not just now, but for all eternity.
And this is what Jesus says to the Sadducees, he says, “You do not know what resurrection means. You think it’s something like just carrying on, maybe a resuscitation or something like that. But it isn’t.”
Halloween is the time where we see all the resuscitated bodies coming out of the graves, and believe me nobody wants to end up like that. The imagination of man is so limited and small and we build up fears about ghosts and all the things that go bump in the night. It’s all nonsense.
When we die, we die. We die as human beings, but it is not the end, you see. It is not the end. Jesus died. Three days he was in the grave. He didn’t resuscitate. He was transformed into the new world, a new reality, the reality that all the ancients had prepared us for. And this would be the victory of God over evil, the victory of God over death. And so when he rose from the dead, the whole world changed.
And that is why we sit here today. We do not believe that God has lost, that God’s life is gone, that everything depends on us now. The journey continues. The waves keep bashing at the shore but the ocean gets stronger and larger and full of life to keep it.
So let us this day be very happy. Why? Because Jesus, as he said to the Pharisees…
“I am the God,” God Himself says this, “I am the God of Abraham, two thousand years in the grave. I am the God of his son Isaac. I am the God of Jacob and the twelve tribes of Israel. I am the God of Jesus Christ. And all is alive and nothing is dead.”
And so the Pharisees move on. Why? Because the Pharisees believed in life, not just life here and now, not just success here and now, but life, life itself that comes with streams of centuries and centuries, and is still alive as it moves forward to its ultimate destiny.
And in that destiny, for all mankind, God has resolved that the Risen Jesus will show us the way. We open our hearts every day and walk with the Risen Lord. We pray here every Sunday and we pray with the Risen Lord.
And the future, as we too will be like those of Jesus, we pass from this stage and we die in a physical way, but we do not die, because God raises us up to the life of all eternity with Him.