Sybil 1999

Gospel text

Luke 20: 27-38

27 Some of the Sadducees, who refused to believe in a resurrection (of the dead), came to Jesus with a question: 28 "Teacher, Moses commanded us that if a man has a married brother who dies without children, it is his responsibility to marry his wife and give that brother offspring. 29 So it was that in one family there were seven brothers. The first one, after marrying, died without children. 30 The second (fulfilled his responsibility by marrying the woman, but also died childless). 31 The third married her also, and so did the seven, who left no children and all died. 32 Afterward the woman died at last. 33 Then, when the time of the resurrection (of the dead) comes, whose wife will the woman be considered? For she was the wife of the seven. 34 Jesus answered them, "In this world it is normal for people to marry, 35 but in the world to come, all those who have been judged worthy to take part in it and to rise from the dead will no longer need to marry (in order to ensure offspring); 36 for once they have risen, they do not die any more, and are like the heavenly beings, and as they have risen, they are sons of an eternal God. 37 As for the fact that the dead are raised, Moses made this clear when he spoke of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; 38 God does not rule over the dead, but over the living, giving them life.

Studies

Is this really the end?


Gospel commentary - Homily

Like father, like son; like mother, like daughter

For anyone who has followed the war in Ukraine, the port city of Mariupol evokes painful memories, especially the Azovstal steel plant, where Ukrainian fighters hid for weeks in underground tunnels and bunkers under constant shelling. A few days 1 before the surrender of Azovstal on May 20, 2022, 28-year-old Lt. Samoilenko, who had lost his right eye and left arm after ammunition exploded in his hand during an earlier military mission, led a live press conference broadcast from a bunker beneath the steel plant. For nearly two hours, he described the desperate conditions in which the wounded fighters found themselves, and said that he and everyone else considered themselves "dead men."

Then an order from the highest Ukrainian military commanders told the resistance fighters to end the battle for the city, the deadliest and most destructive of this war so far. The fighters surrendered with few belongings, exhausted and with visible wounds. Some walked on crutches. They were taken by bus to Russian-controlled territory. Samoilenko was put in a cell in complete isolation for 120 days, so that he never thought he would return to Ukraine. His prosthetic arm was even confiscated. And while he was not physically tortured, this was not the case for his companions who faced very poor conditions that worsened over the weeks, receiving only a limited amount of water and being malnourished. Several died in an explosion that took place where they were imprisoned.

Recently, Lt. Samoilenko was released in a prisoner exchange. The first thing he bought when he returned to Ukraine was a pack of cigarettes, "to feel alive," he said. Then he added: "I am happy to see the people who waited for me, and the tears of joy on their faces and their smiles."

Despite this moment of joy for Lt. Samoilenko, it is the deaths that we hear about every day in the news from Ukraine. All of this seems at odds with today's gospel which speaks of life and resurrection.

Let us recall the elements of the story. A group of Sadducees, members of the very conservative priestly establishment, want to show the ridiculousness of the belief in the resurrection of the dead, a recent belief in Palestine shared by some groups, including the Pharisees, and of course Jesus. Note that for the Sadducees, it is in this life that God rewards his friends and punishes his enemies, and they themselves, being well off and privileged in society, were living proof of this theology. So, to prove their point, they appeal to a rule found in the Torah or Law, specifically in the book of Deuteronomy, which is attributed to Moses, that the right to posterity is so important that if a male member of a family dies without children, it is the responsibility of the brothers to marry the widow to ensure this posterity, hoping of course that a male will be born. The Sadducees push this rule to the limit with seven brothers, the number seven expressing totality. So the question arises: if there really is a resurrection of the dead, which of the seven brothers will this woman become the wife of? This question assumes several things: first, the resurrection restores the world exactly as it was before; second, the woman cannot be the wife of more than one man, since polygamy is forbidden. And if God forbids polygamy, he cannot accept a resurrection of the dead.

Jesus' answer varies among the evangelists, and is particularly developed in Luke, the Greek, whose background is very skeptical about a resurrection of the dead. According to him, Jesus distinguishes the present world from the other world that will arise after the present world has passed away. For marriage has only one purpose: to make children to ensure the survival of the species. But since in the other world people no longer die, there is no longer any need to ensure the survival of the species, and therefore there is no need for marriage. This implies that there is no need for genitalia, hence the comparison that people are like angels. This answer eliminates the Sadducees' objection to possible polygamy.

However, Luke adds an important clause: this other world is not for everyone, only for those who are "worthy." He does not specify what exactly "worthy" means. But his enigmatic phrase ("they are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection") seems to suggest that this other world is reserved for those who have received the life from the Living One, and thus have obtained the gene of eternity. Here Luke would dismiss the Greek notion of an immortal soul of its own.

After answering the objection to polygamy, Jesus answers the objection to the very existence of an afterlife by quoting the account in the book of Exodus of the Burning Bush where God identifies himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, assuming that these three biblical figures are still alive, and that God would not have expressed his identity in relation to dead people.

What do we learn from all this? For most of us, the argument of the Sadducees belongs to another world, and the meaning of marriage to ensure posterity appears obsolete. What about Jesus' answer? There is a fundamental revelation about the identity of the mystery at the source of this world: he is the Father of life, and he will not tolerate anything but life. Of course, we experience death, the most obvious of which is physical death. But Jesus' statement says this: this is not our final state, for having the author of life as our Father, we are destined for life; having received life from him, that life cannot die. By revealing the identity of the Father, he reveals at the same time the identity of children: we are living beings called to create life around us, life in all its forms, physical, emotional, intellectual, environmental, economic. This is our fundamental being, this is our destiny, not only in this world, but in the next, no matter what form it takes. Our happiness depends on this fidelity to our being.

Currently, the war in Ukraine can be seen as a symbol of death. The authorities responsible for this war have completely misaligned themselves from the mystery of life at the source of this world, and even attack it head-on. How should a child of life react? The temptation is strong to respond to death with death. I think of the reaction of the parents of the victims of the 2018 Parkland, Florida school massacre when a jury sentenced the perpetrator to life in prison rather than the death penalty; many felt "devastated" by the verdict and let their grief and anger explode, saying, "Justice was not served." Let's not blame these parents, it is also our first and normal reaction.

A child of life looks for every opportunity to create life in the midst of death. This is the case of Tetiana Burianova2, co-founder of the Ukrainian movement "Repairing Together", who, together with young volunteers, travels through devastated villages to rebuild houses and restore hope. In one of these villages live Oleksii, 63, and his wife Tamara, who saw their house destroyed and lost everything they had accumulated in their lives: refrigerators, television, microwave, washing machine. As the volunteers examine the level brick base of his house in preparation for rebuilding, Oleksii says, "I want to thank the volunteers. I want to fall to my knees." There are now over 200 volunteers creating life in the midst of death.

All those who create life around them, who despite the winds of anger, hatred, rejection, destruction, find opportunities to create life, all these people are a powerful reminder of the mystery of life at the source of this world, of what Jesus was through his whole life, and are the precursors of the world beyond physical death. Are we among them?

 

-André Gilbert, Gatineau, October 2022


1 This story is told by Hugo Bachega and published by BBC News on October 13, 2022. For the full text: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-63231457

2 This story by Dan Sabbagh was published in the English newspaper The Guardian on October 13, 2022. For the full text : https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/oct/13/ukraine-repair-together-young-rebuilding-homes?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

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