I was literally looking for a theme for the readings of this weekend when Fr. Austin (my pastor) shared this joke with me. At first I didn’t catch it, then he repeated it, “they are sad, you see!” Then it clicked, wow! The Sadducees occupy the front line in the gospel of this weekend, especially their agnosticism. What do they believe in? What is their view of the world? How would that be interpreted in our time? The Sadducees are a member of a Jewish sect or party of the time of Jesus Christ that denied the resurrection of the dead, the existence of spirits, and the obligation of oral tradition, emphasizing acceptance of the written Law alone.
The gospel of today narrates how some Sadducees come to Jesus to test him using the image of marriage. This is the second time that Jesus is facing a serious question about marriage. The first was the Pharisees wanting to know whether a man could divorce his wife. Mark’s gospel records it this way, “Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus replies, “What did Moses command you?” (Mk. 10:2-3) It is Jesus who refers the Pharisees to the Mosaic law in this case thereby challenging them on the reality of the new law of love. Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees are stuck in the written Torah (first five books of the Bible). Their question for Jesus shows an explicit concern, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us, If someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, the brother must take the wife.” They are pushing for what Moses wrote, not the interpretation of its meaning. Their tone depicts a strong dogmatic interpretation of the Torah, nothing less.
For these Sadducees, the brother who marries the wife and dies does not fulfill their expectations of marriage. The consequence is that his brother has to take over. Eventually, none of these brothers could beget a child before dying, the woman also dies. Their test for Christ can be put this way, “If you say there’s resurrection, then whose wife will that woman be when she gets there? Will a fight break out among these men when they see that woman in heaven?” Because of their lack of understanding, these Sadducees have limited expectations about life and death. They are constrained in the here-and-now mindset that prioritizes earthly prosperity. Their impression of Christ is driven by a narrow minded view of a political messiah. They are sad, you see!
Christ’s response knocks them out. The children of this age marry and remarry. The children of this age focus on the satisfaction of earthly wants and physical desires. That’s not the same for the children of the resurrection who will acquire a transformed body not restricted by marriage. They will be like angels.
It is important to point out that the church’s liturgical calendar is coming to an end. For that reason, the Church is pointing the faithful to the reality of the last things (eschatology) including the resurrection of the dead, and life everlasting. The celebrations of All Saints and All Souls reinforce this belief in the Church as a mother who shepherds her children through this life into the joy of eternal banquet with the Father. To not believe in that is pathetic. This is what the Sadducees miss. They are sad, you see!
To date, each time I travel to Nigeria and to my village, I look at my mom’s grave with a certain joy and hope. The reason for this joy is not because my mom is buried in the ground and is still in the tomb. Of course, that would rather evoke sadness and pain. Rather, I strongly believe that having lived out her baptismal promises well and having properly groomed her children in the faith, my mom is with Jesus. My hope is to unite with my mom and the saints someday, after my life here on earth. I’m sure that this is the same reason why my dad lights candles on my mom’s grave. Dad believes that his wife is with God who is her maker. I don’t think that my dad is thinking of remarrying my mom again when he dies. I don’t also think that he imagines he would have her forever even after death, otherwise he might be in shock that another man might grab his wife before he gets up there. Our belief is that our beloved mom, like any other faithful, will rise with Christ on the last day. To not believe in the resurrection can be the real cause of grief. They’re sad, you see!
The resurrection of Christ is at the center of our faith. And Saint Paul rightly describes it thus:
“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor. 15:12, 19-20)
The Sadducees are unable to live in that reality itself. No one can live out the fullness of life if it is only a cyclic process. A lack of the hope and the joy of embracing eternity is sad. Bishop Barron once explained that through Christ’s resurrection God is up to something and that the world is not it. The power of the resurrection frees us from pain and suffering in this life. It ushers in hope of being participants in the beatific vision. Again, Saint Paul reminds us of the reason why it is sad to not believe in the resurrection,
For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their “shame.” Their minds are occupied with earthly things. (Phil. 3:18-19)
Now we can see the real reasons for sadness. It’s baffling to know that some people live like this today, still doubting and denying the power of Christ’s resurrection. The danger is to regress into a secular mindset that sees the world as the be-all-and-end-all -”My beauty is everything. My marriage is everything. My car is everything. My bank account is everything. My vacation is everything. My job is everything.” If what you have becomes everything in your life, then you worship something other than God. The reason why Christ warned, “you cannot serve god and mammon” (Lk. 16:13). People like these grieve without hope because they become fixated on earthly possessions and riches. Such are the people who threaten believers, who, like the king in the first reading, think that persecuting Christians means total annihilation by denying them of worldly pleasures. What a fallacy! They are sad, you see!
The message is that everything does not end in this world. We have a great beyond. We have hope. Those who lack transcendental capacity to seek heaven are missing so much. They are sad, you see!
Readings: 1st- 2 Macc. 7:1-2,9-14; 2nd- 2 Thess. 2:16-3:5; Gospel- Lk. 20:27-38