Two weekends ago we heard about a power and control group called the Pharisees, and last weekend we heard about Zacchaeus, the tax collector representing oppressive and controlling governmental officials. On the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, we hear about another power and control group called the Sadducees.
The Sadducees’ chief concern was about money, power, and control, not about religion as such. Politics and profit were their big concern. Life after death didn’t matter much to them because they really didn’t believe in the immortality of the soul and the soul’s resurrection into everlasting life.
There are lots of Sadducees around today. They are the pushers of pills, pot and all that’s marketed under the Pleasure Principle. They set the standards of what’s “cool” and what’s “uncool” using the media to control us. They want to be in control of fashions and fads, setting the pace, the standard, the norm of what’s “in” and what’s not. I suspect they don’t have what it takes to make themselves important among their own peers. But maybe they have other motives, like a profit motive.
Jesus was a threat to the power of the Sadducees, both the 2,000-year-old variety as well as today’s. Had He left them alone they would have gladly left Him alone. But Jesus kept doing and saying things that threatened their power and influence over others. His teachings cut into their business interests and their cash flow. With all of this whipping of their moneychangers and throwing around of their tables in the temple they considered Jesus to be a dangerous fanatic who had to be dealt with. So they set out to make Him look like a fool. Later on they would join with the Pharisees and plot to kill Him.
In today’s Gospel account (Luke 20:27, 34-38) we find the Sadducees confronting Jesus with their ridiculous story of an unfortunate woman who had married and then lost seven husbands. They did not start with the real issue, namely belief in life after death and the consequences of our daily decisions in determining how we would live in that life after death. No. Instead they started with the question of who the woman would belong to in the next life. They were, no doubt, laughing before they finished with their crazy question. What a fool Jesus would look like, they thought, answering their clever little question!
Jesus wasn’t laughing. He ignored their silly question and instead asked them a question about their national heroes, namely Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. Did they think that God created these giants only to blot them out into nothingness after their deaths? Do you really think that all of those beautiful people in your lives whom you know, who are strong, loving and wise, who are compassionate and kind, and who care so passionately for life and love . . . do you really think that when they die they simply go poof, simply disappear into clouds of nothingness? The secular atheists of our day believe that.
There are a lot of silly questions that the worldly put to us. There are a lot of questions that divert our attention and take us away from the most fundamental and therefore the most important question of all. And that question is: Why do you exist? Why were you brought into being? What is the meaning of your life? We have an answer; they do not.
It is absurd to imagine that all of the love, all of the beauty, all of the compassion, care, concern, goodness, and hunger for justice and decency that you find in yourself and admire so much in others is there only to be blown away at death. It is really absurd to hold to the position that all of the goodness, love, and pursuit of justice that we have in our hearts and souls and have shared with others is only good for the few short years we live here on earth and then simply disappears into nothingness at death. That truly is absurd.
And what is equally absurd is the Sadducees question about who has ownership and control of the woman in the next life. Do you hear what the Sadducees real question is? It’s the question of which brother OWNS the woman. Which one controls her? To which male does this female belong?
When we deceive ourselves about Jesus, we deceive ourselves. When we play games with God, we play games with our selves. Furthermore we play games with those around us. Ultimately we play games with the life we are destined to live after death.
There is no such thing as a small decision in life. All decisions have consequences. Our life after death, who we are, and what sort of character we shall take with us into the next life is shaped and formed by the questions we answer in the way we live our lives right now, tomorrow, throughout the coming week, and throughout the remaining days of our lives. There’s really no such thing as a sinful life that doesn’t matter. Nor is there an act of love that’s of little or no consequence. Wasn’t that one of the main points of Jesus’ teaching?
What, then, are your questions, the questions you want to put to God? Are they silly and ridiculous? You hear people around you making God’s Church appear to be silly, stupid, and of little or no consequence. Those who think like the Sadducees are alive and well and quite active among us today. Asking the right question is of supreme importance.
For I believe that the reason why you were born, the reason why you are living here among us today, and the reason why you will die is to love God face to face. And I also believe that the face of God is found in those around us who are hungry for love, for goodness, and for decency. I believe the face of God is seen in those who are imprisoned in addictions and compulsive behavior patterns, in those who are lonely and have no one to love them, in those who are sick with self-hate and with self-loathing. And I believe, too, passionately believe, that God has fallen in love with ordinary humanity, has fallen in love with you and with me, not just saints, and that we celebrate here on this altar the Wedding Feast of the Lamb so that God’s Body and Blood can mingle with and become yours. And I firmly believe that we only have a glimpse here on earth of what love and marriage will really be in the everlasting life that awaits us.
To my way of thinking, it is a terribly mistake to think otherwise . . . to believe that a beautifully lived life disappears into nothingness when we die. The Sadducees had nothing of substance to offer at the time of Christ. And the Sadducees of today likewise have nothing of lasting value to offer us. But God, being a God of the living and not of the dead, has everything to offer you and me.
May we now and all of the days of our lives respond fully to His loving offer of Himself to us here on our altar in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb when with His Body and with His Blood He joins Himself to us in a marriage bonding that will last forever.