32nd Sunday Year C – Lectio divina on Lk 20,27-38
In Jesus’ time, belief in the resurrection of the dead was not very common. Even genuine believers, as the Gospel tells us, did not think that there was life after death. Something similar is true of us. According to recent polls, a large number of practising Catholics doubt if there is something or someone after death. The consequence is that they fail to live hopeful lives and face their death without hope. It is no surprise, then, if some of them spend their lives robbing others of hope. The worst thing is that they seem to be right, because, however painful and unfair it may seem, we know that a life that begins must sooner or later come to an end. Right from birth, life carries an expiry date. Death is a law of life. And we usually react in a curious way: since we cannot avoid death, we pass over it in silence. We try to hide it. When we are not looking death in the face, it appears less terrible, We tend to forget it, or we think it is far away. But what we lose is great – a God who is lives so that we all my live,
At that time: 27There came to Jesus some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, 28and they asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man must take the wife and raise up children for his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and died without children; 30and the second 31and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died.32Afterwards the woman also died. 33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.” 34Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; 35but those who are accounted to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36for they cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.37But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.”
I. READ: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
Immediately after his triumphant entry to Jerusalem (Lk 19.29 – 44), Jesus could not avoid direct conflict with the authorities. “The chief priests, the scribes and the principal men of the people sought to destroy him but they did not find anything they could do” (Luke 19.47-48 ). Today’s Gospel episode took place in this context of harsh confrontation. The dialogue with the Sadducees is not, then, a simple academic discussion, even though it may seem so. His opponents did not just want to know his opinion on a rare case of application of the law (Luke 20:28). They wanted to test him.
The Sadducees were an elitist and conservative group. They denied the resurrection, basing their argument on the most revered texts of the Old Testament. They presented this case to Jesus to show how illogical it was for people who lived according to the law, to believe in the resurrection of the dead. Because they did not believe, they invented a complicated difficulty, basing their case on the law of the levirate. Basically, they were incapable of imagining another life that was not a continuation of the present one.
Since they thought that people lived on only in their descendants, the law of levirate was an ingenious way to extend the life of those who could not pass on life to others. Jesus responded by correcting the very basis of their objection: the new life will not be an extension of the present life. The laws of life before death will not apply to life that has no end. In the life to come, people do not marry and there will be no need to pass on life to anyone, because there will be no more death (Luke 20:35). Jesus does not deny the validity of the law in this life, but he says it does not apply in the next life. Since God is a God of the living, he cannot live without giving life to his faithful.
The hope of resurrection does not live in the human heart just because we desire it, but because the living God wants to raise us to new life. Living forever does not exclude death, but obliges us to live always for God. Death is not the last thing that can happen to a believer, and so we should not fear death, or try to avoid or delay it. That would be to lose sight of God. Without God, death is eternal. With Him, it is but a passing moment.
II. Meditation: apply what the text is saying to life
In order to justify the denial of the resurrection, the Sadducees appealed to a legal precept. The widow of seven brothers – an extremely rare case, but possible, however – after her death and the death of her respective husbands, would have to belong to one of them, if resurrection was to be bodily. It was impossible for her to belong to all of them, and so, for them, it was unthinkable that there could be life, like the present life, after death. We should not think that these teachers were not sincere in their questioning. If they wanted to cause difficulty for Jesus, they had to be serious in their objection. The fact is that they made use of the law in order to make use of God. They appealed to a known law in order to disregard the will of God, and they were closed to God’s surprises. This is a temptation that is very common among believers. We think we know God, just because we know some of his precepts. It is not uncommon for us to think we have been deceived just because God does not act the way we thought he should, because his promises go far beyond our wishes, because his ideas are far greater than our desires. We miss the best of what God offers, when we do not accept that God is far greater than what we believe or imagine.
Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees is twofold: first he speaks about what life will be like after death. Then he speaks of God who lives in order that his followers may live.
The fact that there is life after death, and that it is very different from this present life, is explained by the existence of a God of the living. If God did not exist, this life would not exist. Hope in the resurrection of the dead is based, then, on faith in a God who lives in order to give life. It is not the desire for survival that will raise a person from the dead, but a very personal intervention of God, who cannot live without his people, who cannot be God without being God for his people. The difficulty that we experience today as we await the resurrection, our own and that of our loved ones, is rooted in our inability to believe that God is always God of the living. If we do not expect to live on, we engage in a harrowing race to get all we can and all we want from this mortal life. Since our lives will always be too short for our desires, we aim to satisfy them as soon as possible even if it costs us hope and, sometimes, our lives, or the lives of others. We live without hope because we are not convinced that this life will end other than in the death we fear. However, we think we are sincere honest Christians who really believe in God, just like the Sadducees who came that day to Jesus to hear his opinion.
In the face of certain death we react recklessly. Since we cannot deny death, we pass over it in silence. We try to make it less frightening. We avoid looking death in the face. We live as if death is far away, just because we do not want to think about it. And, without hope of surviving it, we do everything we can to get all we want in this passing life. Like the woman with many husbands, we are trying anxiously to pass on life to others, while we are losing our own life.
The life that God has planned for us does not save us from death, but it does free us from the desperate effort to survive at any cost. The next life will not be the same as the one we lose. A totally new life will be given to those who wait for it and are worthy of it. It is given completely freely. They do not have to find it for themselves by their own resources or means. They cannot die, for they will be children of God. But if we do not feel that we are God’s children in this life, if we try to survive just to meet our own desires, then it is not surprising that we refuse to accept God as Father in the next life.
This is the reason for our despair. To have the courage to wait for a life in which we are, finally, the children of God, we must have the courage to have God as Father in the life we now live. Concerned as we are to give life to our children and to our projects and plans, we do not allow ourselves to live as children of God today, and we find it hard to believe that, in the plan of God, he is to be our Father forever. If, like the Sadducees, we are unable to believe that the dead rise to new life, then we are doing everything we can to make it impossible for God to give us the new life that in no way resembles the one he has already given us.
This is the reason for our unbelief . It is reasonable to postulate that, for a new life as children of God, we must have the courage to accept God as Father in this present life. Maybe we are so concerned about giving life to our children and our own plans and projects, that we do not allow God to show himself as Father in this life, and we do not believe that God plans to be our Father forever in the next life. We are so busy in a life that will not last that do not have time to let to God take care of us in the next, which is the definitive life.
It can happen that we lose hope of eternal life, because we do not dare to hope for something more than what we have already achieved, something better than what has already been given us in this life. Because we do not have real hope of obtaining from God all that has not yet been given, we persist in not believing that one day he will give us the gift of eternal life.
Day by day we reduce God to the content of our everyday experience, and so we lose God and the hope of a better life in which there is no death. As Jesus told his questioners, if we do not believe that one day we can live without fear of death, our own and that of our loved ones, it means do not believe that God has life without limits and that he is there waiting patiently for us.
Believing in the God of Jesus means believing in life, since God is God of the living and cannot live without giving life to his children. We can nourish the hope of rising to a new life without end, by nourishing our faith in the God who loves us enough to save us from death so that he can continue to love us. We belong so intimately to God that he will never lose us, even when we have lost our lives. We have hope of life after death, because God lives to raise us to life. We have to live for him now, if we want to live with him one day.
It is not enough to feel sheltered from the final death. We must bear witness to the world of the hope we have. We know very well that the daily life that God has given us is under threat at the present time, in our hearts and in the world we live in, and this tends to kill our hope for a better life. If we believe, like Jesus, that God is a God who lives to give life, we know that both in this life and after death, our God is there. But if it is true that in life we walk towards our death, it is no less certain that, living and dying, we are journeying towards the God of the living. If we believe in the resurrection of the dead, nothing and no one can take away our life. We will give it up one day because God has planned to restore us to new life, without limitations and without death. If we believe this, why don’t we live by it?
We are so busy trying to prolong a life that is not going to last very long, no matter how much we might wish it, that we do not have time to let God prepare us for eternal life.
The God we believe in, and can never lose hope in, is a God who lives to give life. We get closer to our death every day, and so we are closer every day to the God of the living. Our God is the God of Jesus, a God who has promised us life and is already working to give it to us. God lives so that we may live with Him. God is the only Father who can, and will, give his children a life which does not allow them to die forever. For those of us who, like Jesus, believe in the resurrection of the dead, nothing and no one can take away our life. We will hand it up one day because we know that God is committed to restoring us to a totally new life, without limitation or end. Our God loves us so much that he cannot spend eternity without us. We belong to Him so intimately that he will never lose us. He wants us close to him. We shall be like the angels, we already are the children of God. He loves us so much that he saves us from death so that he can continue to love us and we can continue to love him. If this is our faith, why do we not live by it?