In the readings today the Church presents us with a strong reminder and teaching on the resurrection. Jesus Himself leads the charge against those who would deny the resurrection from the dead, and the seven brothers and their mother from the first reading bring up the rear. Let’s take a look at what we are taught.
I. Ridicule of the Resurrection – The Gospel opens with the observation that Some Sadducees, who deny there is a resurrection, came forward and put [a] question to Jesus. They propose a hypothetical situation in which a woman is married seven times, to brothers who successively die, having no children by any of them. They suggest that at the resurrection there will be confusion as to whose wife she really is! We’re supposed to laugh, according to these Sadducees, and conclude that the idea of resurrection is absurd.
Jesus will dismiss their absurdity handily, as we shall see in a moment, but let’s consider why the Sadducees disbelieved the resurrection.
Fundamentally, they rejected the resurrection because they only accepted the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This is point is debated among scholars, but we can surely say that if something was not explicitly in the Law of Moses, the Sadducees were unlikely to accept it. All the other Old Testament books such as the prophets, the historical books, the psalms, and the wisdom tradition, were not considered authoritative sources.
They claimed that the resurrection of the dead was not taught in these first five books. While most other Jews of Jesus’ time did accept the complete Old Testament (and teachings such as the resurrection of the dead which are set forth there), the Sadducees simply did not. They were a small party within Judaism (Josephus said that they were able to persuade none but the rich). Nevertheless, they were influential due to their wealth and to the fact that they predominated among the Temple leadership. You can read more about them here: Sadducees.
Hence, the Sadducees approached Jesus to poke fun at Him and all others who believed that the dead would rise.
They are no match for Jesus, who easily dispatches their arguments using the Book of Exodus (a book they accept) to do it. In effect, Jesus’ argument proceeds as follows:
- You accept Moses, do you not?
- (To which they would surely reply yes)
- But Moses teaches that the dead will rise.
- (Jesus must have gotten puzzled looks but He presses on).
- You accept that God is a God of the living and not the dead?
- (To which they would surely reply yes).
- Then why does God (in Exodus) identify Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all of whom have been dead some 400 years? How can He call himself their God if they are dead?
- Obviously they are alive or He could not call Himself their God, for He is not a God of the dead but of the living.
- Therefore, they are alive to God; they are not dead.
In this way, Jesus dispatches their view. For us, the point is to see how forcefully and clearly Jesus upholds the fact that the dead are alive in the Lord. He powerfully asserts an essential doctrine of the Church. We should rejoice at how firmly Jesus rebukes their disbelief in the resurrection of the dead.
Rejoice, for your loved ones are alive before God! To this world they may seem dead, but Jesus tells us firmly and clearly that they live. And we, who will also face physical death, will live on. Let the world ridicule this, but hear what Jesus says and how he easily dispatches them. Though the idea is ridiculed, the resurrection is real.
II. Resplendence of the Resurrection – Jesus also sets aside the absurd hypothetical scenario that the Sadducees pose, by teaching earthly realities cannot simply be projected into Heaven. Marriage scenarios, perceived in earthly ways, cannot be used to understand heavenly realities. The saints in Heaven live beyond earthly categories.
Heaven is more than the absence of bad things and the accumulation of good things. It is far beyond anything this world can offer. Scripture says, No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human mind has conceived—the things God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9). The sufferings of this world cannot compare to the glory that will be revealed in us (Rom 8:18).
Do you see the majesty of this teaching? We have a glory waiting for us beyond imagining. Consider your greatest pleasure, your happiest experience, your most fulfilled moment. Then multiply it by a thousand, or a million, or a trillion, and you are still not even close understanding the glory that awaits.
And this glory will transform us. The Lord once told Catherine of Siena that if she ever saw the glory of a saint in Heaven she would fall down and worship, because she would think she was looking at God. This is our dignity: to be transformed into the very likeness of God and reflect His glory. The following is a summary of St. Catherine’s vision of the soul of a saint in Heaven:
It was so beautiful that she could not look on it; the brightness of that soul dazzled her. Blessed Raymond, her confessor, asked her to describe to him, as far as she was able, the beauty of the soul she had seen. St. Catherine thought of the sweet light of that morning, and of the beautiful colors of the rainbow, but that soul was far more beautiful. She remembered the dazzling beams of the noonday sun, but the light which beamed from that soul was far brighter. She thought of the pure whiteness of the lily and of the fresh snow, but that is only an earthly whiteness. The soul she had seen was bright with the whiteness of Heaven, such as there is not to be found on earth. “My father,” she answered. “I cannot find anything in this world that can give you the smallest idea of what I have seen. Oh, if you could but see the beauty of a soul in the state of grace, you would sacrifice your life a thousand times for its salvation. I asked the angel who was with me what had made that soul so beautiful, and he answered me, “It is the image and likeness of God in that soul, and the Divine Grace which made it so beautiful.” .
Yes, Heaven is glorious and we shall be changed. Scripture says, we shall be like the Lord for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2). He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified Body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself (Phil 3:19). I have written more on our resurrected bodies here: What will our resurrected bodies be like?
Too many people have egocentric notions of Heaven, where I will have a mansion, I will see my relatives, and I will be able to play all the golf I want. But the heart of Heaven is to be with God, for whom our heart longs. In God we will experience fulfillment and peace that is beyond earthly imagination. Heaven is far greater than golf, mansions, and family reunions. There is certainly more to it than clouds and harps. Heaven can never be described because it is beyond words. St Paul speaks of a man (himself) who was caught up into Heaven; he affirms that it cannot be described; it is ineffable; it is unspeakable.
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven …. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell (2 Cor 12:2-3).
Do you long for heaven? Do you meditate on it? Is there a part of you that can’t wait to get there? There’s an old spiritual that says, “I’m gonna ride the Chariot in the morning, Lord. I’m gettin’ ready for the judgment day, my Lord, my Lord!”
III. Response to the Resurrection – What difference does the resurrection make other than to give us joy if we meditate upon it? To see that answer, consider today’s first reading, in which the seven brothers are willing to accept torture and death rather than violate God’s Law. If there is a great reward awaiting those who remain faithful, then we will endure anything to get there. Notice how the vision of Heaven inspires them stand firm in their refusal to deny their faith:
We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors. … [Y]ou are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying. … Even the king and his attendants marveled at the young man’s courage, because he regarded his sufferings as nothing (2 Maccabees, 7:2,9, 12).
Their vision of the rewards awaiting them motivated them to endure the awful sufferings described in the 7th Chapter of 2nd Maccabees.
And what of us? Do we meditate on Heaven and value its reward enough to be willing to endure suffering to get there? We need a strong vision of Heaven to be able to endure and stand firm. Too many people today have lost a deep appreciation of Heaven. Too many pray to God merely for worldly comforts and rewards—but these will pass. We ought to ask God for a deep desire for Heaven and the things awaiting us there.
What athlete would discipline his body as severely as he does without the deep motivation of the satisfaction and rewards that will come upon meeting his goals? What college student would attend hundreds of hours of classes, read scores of books, and write lengthy papers if it were not for the rewarding career at the end of the trail? Who of us will endure the trials of faith if we are not deeply imbued with the vision of glory and deeply desirous of its fulfillment no matter the cost? Without this, our spiritual life becomes tepid and our willingness to endure trials falls away. An old hymn says,
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
Meditate on Heaven often. Although we can never fully grasp its glory, we ought not to let that stop us from imagining it as best we can. In particular, read Revelation chapters 4,5, 8, 21, and 22. But above all, ask God for an ever-deepening desire for Him and the good things that await you in Heaven. Look to Heaven; long for Heaven. Desire God and deeply root your life in Him. Heaven will not disappoint!
This African-American spiritual says,
I’m gonna ride the chariot in the morning, Lord.
I’m getting’ ready for the judgment day, my Lord, my Lord!
Are you ready my brother? (Oh yes!)
Are you ready for the journey? (Oh Yes!)
Do you want to see Jesus (Yes, Yes!)
I’m waiting for the chariot ’cause I ready to go.
I never can forget that day,
(Ride in the chariot to see my Lord!).
My feet were snatched from the miry clay!
(Ride in the chariot to see my Lord!)