Reflections for 32nd Sunday of the Year November 10, 2019

Luke provides another encounter between Jesus and those who oppose him. We sense the deceit in the moment and an attempt at entrapment. The encounter begins with a question is about ‘resurrection.’ They are  people who describe themselves being the ‘devil’s advocate’ in a discussion in which they have no belief or position. The ‘Sadducees’ here do not believe in the resurrection. 

They claim there is no life after death, but Jesus responds not about what constitutes the resurrection or life after death as to who we are as ‘children of the resurrection’, how we live here and now in an alternative way of living this life, and that God is a God of the living. To God, ‘all are alive.’ This response leaves open the interpretation that Jesus is returning to the theme of so much of his prior teaching; who is participating here and now in an alternative way of valuing and living this life. The ‘God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ is not a God ‘of the dead, but of the living…!’  To God, ‘all are alive.’ Luke does not speculate about the living and the dead in the vague future, but is more concerned as who is ‘dead’ or ‘alive’ now!  We all have an opportunity to write a chapter in God’s ongoing story of justice, healing and renewal.  One of the wonderful aspects of our Judeo-Christian tradition is how it reflects the consciousness of the poor and oppressed, whilst giving expression to a ‘preferential option for the poor.’ In a culture that often despises poor people, oppresses the world’s impoverished majority, spins the news in ways that ignore the poor  and reflect a decided ‘preferential option for the wealthy and privileged’, this tradition is a gift.

Jesus’ encounter with the Sadducees provide him with an opening to deal with the implicit violence perpetrated against the woman in the story. The Bible contains many such examples of violence. Today, a woman, exposed at being barren and worthless seven times over, is brought forward again as a trump card in the discussion to entrap Jesus in a debate  as we saw about what the Sadducees consider the preposterous notion of resurrection and. The emphasis is on her being barren. It is the violence of anonymity.  

Jesus shows that in the resurrection, life is not about oppression (for women or anyone), or possessed by another, but being a child of God. The God of Jesus embraces all of us – even those who are not defined by having a husband. ‘All who hear my words and do them are my family.’  We are not heirs of a defunct patriarchy but children of the Resurrection. It is about ‘being alive’ and doing life differently. What we do does matter. Every act of mercy, compassion and solidarity with the most vulnerable manifest God’s life.  We do not speak about hell much these days. I am not sure what constitutes hell but however it might figure it must have something to do with acknowledging that we have the power, the choice, to say no to God and to all creation. Certainly, our choices can create hell for many people. We saw it in the Holocaust, Cambodian and Armenian genocides, ISIS beheadings, US torture of people taken prisoner or suspected of terrorism, the killing of children in war and in schools, and so many other places. Our choices have meaning and value.  

A selective reading of the scriptures always provide excuses from living the ‘resurrection’ now by heeding the prophetic call to justice, to hospitality, to engaging effectively with people living at the margins. The promise of an afterlife has been used to justify oppression or as a reason to keep away from engagement in justice issues in the world.We do not have to wait for death to experience heaven and hell. They begin each day by our choices either to love others or to isolate ourselves. Material comfort can numb our consciences and blind us to ‘Lazarus at the gate’ or those at the walls created by our Border Force or Jerusalem wall or Mexican wall. They also cut us off from the real sources of life: telling the truth, giving and receiving mercy and sharing our joys and needs with others. Jesus’ confrontation with the Sadducees as with other power groups is really an attempt to liberate them from assumptions that imprisoned them. They were becoming dead men instead of being open to the living God as revealed by Jesus. Irrespective of violence and hard times, joy is still available, not from the circumstances, but from our relationships.  We don't need specific outcomes. We need each other. What we do is seen through the lens of God’s reign. It is about the long haul rather than immediate outcomes. It takes courage and faith to live an alternative set of values and practices from the people around us as we strive for a better world even though we may never see the final outcome of justice and peace. The late Vaclav Havel, said that ‘Hope …….is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.’ Whilst we are together and feel some others supporting, perseverance is possible.

 Walter Brueggemann says, ‘They (Jesus’ opponents) sense, as Jesus surely knows, that resurrection is a dangerous business. It is less about a dead person coming to life but the belief in God’s power for life that moves into all our arrangements, shatters all our categories by which we manage, control and administer. It speaks about God’s will for new life working where we thought our tired deathliness would prevail.  And the Sadducees please; Please tell us that such life will not come among us.’ (The Threat of Life: Sermons on Pain, Power and Weakness Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1996, pp. 146-147) Resurrection is about doing life differently for ourselves and for others. Its power is utterly new and overwhelmingly transforming. It is a about committing ourselves to God and living in such a way that this relationship surpasses any other relationship and infuses every relationship that we have. ‘God is not God of the dead but of the living’. This is the central focus and challenge of the Gospel – the call to peace, to justice. Resurrection is more than a feel-good belief about seeing loved ones again.  A biblical sense of the resurrection of the dead should focus on the indomitable power and faithfulness of God in the face of every negation, including death. Resurrection is to be lived now. It involves justice. It involves action to overcome the oppressive forces and structures in society. It means that that our eyes are opened, to have our hearts broken open to allow in our sisters and brothers, particularly the poor and neglected, the anonymous and voiceless ones.  Engagement in our world in the areas of human rights, peace with justice, ending hunger, freedom for refugees, equality for minorities, respect for people who are from different ethnic or religious backgrounds flows from the belief that God is God of the living and not of the dead. This God is manifested in people who have engaged in faithful actions for a just, loving, compassionate and sustainable world. And we recall, that ‘our faith must make it harder, not easier, to ignore the plight of our sisters and brothers’ (Robin Meyers, Underground Church) Jesus’ vision is of a new community, a new humanity and a new way of relating.  We see this confirmed in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians where God intends the liberation of the whole human community, all of Creation in a new Peace, SHALOM. The woman in the story is not going to be anybody’s wife where she will be owned or possessed. God is doing things differently. In whatever change or loss we experience we must believe, as did Job, that ‘my Redeemer lives’. We must not let our pain blind us to the pain of others. We need to overcome the tendency to see ourselves as exception and seeing ourselves as the only victim. It is easy to do. We might see it quicker in others than in ourselves. As we ponder Jesus’ confrontation with the Sadducees regarding life, we must ask ourselves, ‘Do I believe in resurrection?’ ‘Do I really believe in resurrection?’ Our response points to how we live today. It is not answered intellectually as much as in the ordering of our loves. Who or what is our true love? Do we find our loves fulfilled in the living God or in the promises of this world?  Does this include those that others shun? Vilify? Demonise? Neglect? So, as we have focused this year on effectively engaging in our world, we show by our relationships, our solidarity, our respect that God is God of the living and not of the dead; the God of living people who continually engage in faithful actions for a just, loving, compassion and sustainable world.  

We are challenged to become a people of life, of the living God. Resurrection is where God is—across generations, across circumstances.


Fr Claude Mostowik msc

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