Do you know the difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees? We hear about these two groups of Jewish leaders all the time in the gospels. They’re always trying to discredit Jesus. They saw him as a threat to their religion and, more important, their status as religious leaders. It seems that too many of them were more concerned about taking care of themselves than their people and they felt threatened by Jesus who constantly talked about loving your neighbor and caring for the poor. So, they were united in their campaign to kill Jesus.
But, there were some important differences between the Pharisees and Sadducees; one of which is reflected in today’s Gospel account. The Pharisees, a group of lay people, accepted the entire Hebrew Scripture – what we call the Old Testament. They believed in the resurrection of the dead and angels. They eagerly awaited the coming of the Messiah. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were a part of the priestly caste and accepted only the first five books of the Hebrew Scripture – the Torah. They did not believe in the resurrection or angels and were convinced that the Messiah would not come; that’s why they were sad, you see. It’s a joke, but it’s also a good way to remember the difference between these two groups.
In today’s gospel account, we hear some Sadducees using their denial of the resurrection as an opportunity to discredit Jesus; after all, he was always preaching about the resurrection. So, they present this ludicrous situation of a woman losing seven husbands and end with an absurd question: whose wife would she be at the resurrection. Remember, they don’t even believe in the resurrection.
Rather than engage them in their argument – even Jesus knew not to argue about religion – he instead uses the opportunity to compare the ways of this world to the ways of the kingdom of God. The God we worship is the God of the living. Those who belong to God and who serve him in this life are rightly described as children of God who will rise to new life in the resurrection.
Our first reading today reminds us that, although we will all, in the end, be deprived of life in this world, the King of the world will raise up his faithful to live again forever. There is much to consider in this strong statement; let’s unpack it a little. First, it acknowledges what we all experience: that there will be suffering and death in this world, events and experiences that will cause us pain and eventually lead us to death. But that is not the end of the story.
Why not? Because God is the King of the world and he has made us to live in his love forever. No matter what we experience in life – whatever pain, suffering and death come our way – God is greater than all that. He rules over that; in fact, it is all, in some mysterious way, part of God’s plan for us. God is the only true and eternal king and he will raise up his children to live with him for all eternity.
Therefore, God has the final say about our everlasting life – and he wants it to be, as Jesus says, where we “are like angels; and [we] are the children of God.” God rescues us from the depths of sin and death – raising us up out of the darkness and into the light of Christ. He does this first at our baptism, when he calls us by name and raises us up to become his children – what an endearing message that is for all of us – and again upon our death – in our resurrection to new life, when we become like the angels, who surround and worship God for all eternity.
And, God does not just raise us up, he raises us up “to live forever with him.” The one who created us out of love is faithful to us in all things, and remains with us throughout our lives. God encourages us and strengthens us. As we hear St. Paul proclaim in today’s second reading, God has “loved us and given us everlasting encouragement.”
As we live in this world, we should make it one of our daily goals to grow in our relationship with God because it is not just about this world; it is about living forever with God – and that’s our final destiny.
As we approach the end of yet another liturgical year – can you imagine, Advent is just three weeks away – Jesus invites us to focus today on our ultimate destiny: to share in his resurrection. We do believe in the resurrection of the dead; we will profess that together in just a few minutes as we recite the Creed. Let us rejoice, we the children of God, to know that we have an eternal destiny: everlasting life in the joy of God’s presence!