Ordinary Time 32, Year C

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all (1 Cor. 15:19)

Had I been asked the same question that the Sadducees asked Jesus in connection with the hypothetical case of a woman ending up marrying seven brothers one after the other, I might have just answered without much thought: “If she cannot have all seven of them, then leave it to her to pick whom she wants.”

Such an answer on my part, though, would only go to show why I am not Jesus! Moreover, in my replying so, I would play into the Sadducees’ hands, implicitly adopting their presumption that human existence is limited to this world, or age, and can be thought of and talked about only in terms of this world or age. I would therefore be surrendering to their logic or lack of it.

Jesus, however, affirming what the Sadducees are precisely denying, brings to light their fallacy. Their fallacy ultimately results from a mistaken major premise.

It is clear in the Sadducees’ question that the conclusion they want to reach is that the resurrection is an absurdity because if there be such a thing, it would be impossible to make the determination, demanded by the practice of monogamy, as to which of the seven brothers should have the woman as his wife. This conclusion, however, is predicated upon the syllogism that goes (I hope I am formulating it correctly): life as we know it in this world or age will go on the same at the resurrection (major premise); but human beings marry and are given in marriage in pre-resurrection life (minor premise); therefore, human beings will marry and will be given in marriage in post-resurrection life (conclusion).

The conclusion surely follows logically from the premises. What vitiates it, however, is the falsity of the major premise. The truth is, according to Jesus, life at the resurrection is different. “The children of this age marry and remarry,” granted, “but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Like angels (whose existence, by the way, the Sadducees also deny—cf. Acts 23:8), the resurrected are immortal. And because they are immortal and they are God’s children and belong, therefore, to his family, there is no need for them to marry or remarry in order to raise up children and families in view of assuring the continuance of the family line. Jesus makes clear that existence for the resurrected in the coming age is not the same as existence in this age. Thus, the issue that is raised by the question posed by the Sadducees has no relevance at the resurrection.

The apostle Paul makes a similar, if not the same, case. He says in 1 Cor. 7:29-31: “I tell you, brothers, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away.”

But I would rather hold on to the belief that time in never going to run out and the world as we know it will always be here. At the worst, I go on my usual way, promoting and looking out for family and tribe, partying and grieving, selling, buying and owning, consuming and using, with little regard for either humankind’s or the world’s sustainability.

And at best, influenced somewhat by Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins, I share the worldly or natural religion of the Sadducees, showing concern for human society and the visible world but rejecting the existence of the spirit world. Never mind that this involves me in an absurdity or self-contradiction:—rejecting the spirit world but believing at the same time in God who is himself spirit; accepting the authority of only the five books of Moses but disregarding the Mosaic passages that affirm the continued existence of patriarchs long dead, for there it is said that God is, not was, their God (cf. [1]).

So, I would rather be selective in my listening to Moses or even the prophets. And in so being selective, I make certain that I am not persuaded by someone risen from the dead (cf. Lk. 16:31). Alas, the hazards of wealth and the elegance and the feasting that it may lead to! For one thing, the wealthy can become so insensitive and indifferent, he is not touched by the sorry sight right before him, let alone be captivated by the thought of another life in a transcendent world where roles and status obtaining in this age are reversed and which is so apart there is no crossing over to it from somewhere else.

And I would rather cling to dear life here, at all cost, even if there is every indication that it is time to go, and close myself to God’s everlasting encouragement and good hope. Much less, too, am I ready and willing to profess my belief in the resurrection by way of acceptance of a martyr’s death. No, I am not inclined to witness to the resurrection by dying for the faith. My tendency rather is to deny the resurrection by hurting and even torturing those I disagree with and do not belong to my tribe, giving away my unconscious conviction that this world is really all there is, so I either put them at a disadvantage or they put me in a disadvantage. Instead of being willing, as St. Ignatius of Antioch was, to be ground, as God’s wheat, so I may become the pure bread of Christ, I would rather do the grinding and the eating and thus make a lie, ironically, of my eating the body of Christ and my drinking his blood. For the Eucharist is supposed to be the doing in Jesus’ memory of what he did, of our washing one another’s feet as the Master and Teacher has washed ours.

Until there is no longer contradiction between my practice and my faith, then my logic, or lack of it, surely remains just the same as that of the Sadducees.