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Breath of the Spirit
Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.
Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.
This Galilean carpenter was convinced that our resurrected life will be a totally different existence from the life we live right here and now.
NOVEMBER 6TH, 2016: THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
II Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
II Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
We’re so accustomed to thinking and speaking about an afterlife that we can’t imagine people of biblical faith not believing in a hereafter. Yet the vast majority of the authors of the Hebrew Scriptures knew only this life. That’s why their theologies revolve around Yahweh rewarding us for our good and punishing us for our evil right here and now, long before our physical deaths.
Only about 100 years before the birth of the historical Jesus did some Pharisees begin to reason – especially in chapter 1 of Wisdom – that if we build a relationship with Yahweh in this life, Yahweh will continue that relationship into an afterlife. We especially hear that novel theology expressed in one of the Hebrew Scriptures’ last books: Second Maccabees.
In today’s reading from that book, the first of the seven martyred brothers, buying into that Pharisaical theology, can taunt his executioners with his conviction that “. . . you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.” The fourth brother heroically states, “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.” Obviously at this point of theological development there’s still no concept of a hell (or a purgatory.) People only have a choice between resurrection and death. Those who have a proper relationship with Yahweh will live with Yahweh; those who don’t will end up being dead for all eternity.
Obviously the authors of the Christian Scriptures bought into the faith of their mentor, Jesus, and also professed faith in an afterlife, else the unknown author of our II Thessalonians reading could never talk about an “everlasting encouragement.”
Yet as we hear in today’s gospel pericope, the historical Jesus had to deal with a large segment of his fellow Jews – the Sadducees - who thought the Pharisees’ teaching on being with Yahweh after this life was simply ridiculous. To prove their point they bring up the classic example of a woman successively married to seven brothers. They demand to know, “At the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?”
As part of his argument, Jesus goes back to the Exodus 3 burning bush passage. He reasons if Abraham and Isaac and Jacob weren’t still alive after their deaths, Yahweh would have told Moses, “I was their God,” not “I am their God.” (Though we might disagree today with Jesus’ exegesis of that particular passage, in his day and age, it followed all the rules of proper biblical interpretation.)
But his most important argument revolves around a mistake the Sadducees were making. They presumed the eternal life in which Jesus believed and taught was simply an eternal continuation of this life. Nothing could be further from the truth. This Galilean carpenter was convinced that our resurrected life will be a totally different existence from the life we live right here and now. Just as angels live a different life from ours, so a resurrected person will no longer have to live within the limits this life imposes. Our deepest relationships with one another, for instance, won’t be restricted to the human boundaries of marriage. Once we cross into eternal life, we’ll “neither marry nor be given in marriage.”
Though we often like to talk – in a consoling way - about our deceased loved ones continuing to do the things in heaven they enjoyed doing on earth, Jesus insists we’ll eventually have to deal with the fact that our existence in heaven will be the biggest surprise we’ll ever experience.