Wednesday, June 3, 2009

He Is Not The God Of The Dead, But Of The Living!

Yesterday, some Pharisees approached Jesus with a tricky question about whether or not it is lawful to pay the census tax; today, it is the Sadducees’ turn to pose a conundrum.

Moses wrote that if a man dies, leaving a wife but no child, his brother should marry the widow, and the first born of her children would be the heir of the deceased brother. Now, there were seven brothers: the first married and died childless; the second married the widow, but died without issue; the third likewise, and the other four as well. Finally, the woman herself died. The question is: In the Kingdom of Heaven, whose spouse will she be?

Both yesterday’s question and today’s are the sort my Dad, God rest him, would describe as “cunning”. The word, which was common among folks of Irish ancestry in my home town, is defined as “crafty, wily, cute”. What is not so obvious about yesterday’s questions – or today’s -- is the ulterior motive of the ones who posed the riddle. The Pharisees were experts in the law, and they knew that no matter what answer Jesus gave, he would be in trouble with the law – either the Roman law, or the Mosaic law. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were a sect of Judaism who did not profess belief in life after death. Their purpose was not merely to trip up the preacher from Galilee, but to point out the absurdity of belief in the resurrection.
Neither yesterday nor today did Jesus accommodate his questioners with the answers they expected. Aren’t you aware that when people rise from the dead, they don’t get married, and they don’t live like married folks. In fact, they will be like the angels in heaven. Jesus knew that the Sadducees did not believe in angels any more than they did in life after death. There is a lesson here in how to defend the faith against unbelievers: don’t give ground, don’t backtrack, and don’t shy away.

The great French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, raised an interesting question about this passage of Mark’s gospel. What is the ground for questions about the resurrection? Does it lie in the mind alone? It is a brilliant conundrum, which is called “le grand pari” – the big bet. You can’t lose by believing in live after death, for it is true, and you live your life accordingly, you will not be disappointed with this life ends. On the other hand, if there is no life after death, you will also not be disappointed, because in order to experience disappointment, you have to be alive, and if there is no resurrection, you would have ceased to exist.

But Jesus did not come into our world to proclaim the safe bet, the sure thing. He came to proclaim the Good News. When Jesus, on the cross, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”, he was not wagering whether there was an afterlife or not. He was placing his life at the mercy of the Lord of Heaven. Yet the mercy was not for him, because he had no need of mercy for himself. God’s mercy is for us, who are called to entrust ourselves, body, blood, soul and divinity, to the Father. If I’m not striving to trust God, whatever happens, to be best of my ability, I don’t really have faith in the resurrection. And if I don’t believe He died and rose again, then my belief is absurd and my hope is in vain. But that’s not the way it is, because of the third of the great cardinal virtues: God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten son that whoever believes in him might have everlasting life.

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