Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 6, 2016

Deacon Blaine Barclay

In recent years there has been a lot of talk about the, ’’Culture Wars’’.  About the widening gap between the ‘Culture of Catholicism’, and the ‘Culture of the Modern World’.  Our first reading today is a story about the culture wars writ large.  The Greek armies have invaded the holy land and wherever the Greeks took over they imposed Greek culture.  This process of ‘Hellenization’ was not entirely negative as there was much to be admired in the culture of Ancient Greece.  After all, did they not give us gymnastics, Homeric poetry, music education, Plato and Aristotle?  But some of the Greek officials were over zealous in the imposition of their own world view onto the local Jewish population, and there was a growing opposition to this process of Hellenization.  For example, imposing their own puppet high priest, setting up a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies in the Temple, sacrificing pigs on the altar, outlawing the practice of circumcision, and forcing people to eat pork.  The story of the torture and martyrdom of the Jewish mother and her seven sons is quite graphic.  Hands are chopped off, tongues are cut out, flesh is torn off, people are fried alive in giant frying pans.  Through all of this the fidelity and courage of the seven sons and their mother to the Jewish faith is exemplary.  Again, and again, in the face of an escalating brutal torture, they profess with both word and deed their faithfulness to God’s covenant and their hope in God’s promise of the Resurrection of the Flesh. That the suffering torture and death they are now experiencing is not the last word about their lives, nor is our suffering and death the last word about our lives.

For the first 1000 years of their faith the Jewish people didn’t have a very developed view of what happens after death.  They tended to believe that we survived in our children, and that we all ended up in Sheol, the place of the dead, not really heaven, or hell, or purgatory.  More like a place of shadows, very mysterious and undetermined, more of a half-life than an after life.  Later in their next 1000 years, leading up to the time of Christ, because of their own growth in insight into the implications of faith in the living God a God who keeps promises, the Jews began to form a more developed teaching about life after death.  For example, a growing belief in the life of the world to come, in judgment, in reward and punishment for our deeds or lack of them, in praying for the dead, and in the Resurrection of the Flesh.  Our gospel today reflects of this theological development within the Jewish faith.  The Sadducees believed only in the authority of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, in the earliest layer of the Jewish tradition, and not in the later, more theologically developed writings of the Prophets or the Wisdom Literature.  They did not believe in the Resurrection of the Flesh.  The Pharisees, on the other hand, because they accepted the authority of the later writings, believed in judgment, reward and punishment, and the Resurrection of the Flesh.  So did Jesus.

The human person is a body soul unity; the word soul actually means ‘the principle of life in a living being’.  The Sadducees in our story present Jesus with what they think is a theological puzzle. A kind of trick question. ‘A woman gets married and her husband dies without them having children, according to the Jewish custom of the time she then marries his brother, who dies, then the next brother, all the way down the line until she marries the seventh brother and he too dies. All without children.  Now this is the stuff of soap operas, or perhaps a murder mystery, or definitely a country song about being unlucky in love.  But the question is a theological one. ‘In the life of the world to come, in the resurrection of the flesh, whose wife will she be?’ Jesus’ answer puts them in their place. He quotes the Torah, an authority they believe in, to prove the Resurrection. He always gives good answers to trick questions.  But the question we’re left with is, ‘What does it mean to believe in the Resurrection of the Flesh?  The question is raised in both the martyrdom story of the mother and her seven sons, and in the question the Sadducees asked Jesus.  We also profess this profound truth in the Nicene Creed, ’I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.’ This is teaching us that God doesn’t just save our souls, he saves the whole person.  We are called to salvation, to the fullness of life in God’s presence, not in the abstract, on some spiritual level, but in the concreteness of our particular flesh.  Our wounded flesh is called to conversion, to transformation, to metamorphosis, and in the Incarnation and Resurrection pf Jesus, it is taken up into the very mystery of God.  God wants to save us right down to the bottom of who we are.  You and I are called to Resurrection.