2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14; Psalm 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15; 2 Thessalonians 2:16 – 3:5; Revelation 1:5a, 6b; Luke 20:27-38 or 20:27, 34-38
Belief in the resurrection of the body comes late in the Old Testament. This was an issue that was widely debated in Jesus’ time. The Sadducees, a group of Jewish fundamentalists, did not accept the scriptural books of Maccabees, Tobit, or Wisdom, all of which address the resurrection of the body and life after death, concepts in which the Sadducees also did not accept as they were not mentioned explicitly in the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, what we call the Pentateuch. We hear of the resurrection of the body in today’s first reading.
Jesus himself is tested by the Sadducees because the resurrection of the body was not explicitly mentioned in the Torah. Their improbably story intends to show the incompatibility of bodily resurrection with the Torah. To whom would a seven-times-married woman be married at the resurrection? Anyone present at this encounter or hearing this story at the time would have understood the sarcasm of this question. The question of a seven-times-married woman clearly alluded to the scriptural passage of Tobit 3:8, in which a woman had been married seven times, but a demon killed each of her husbands. The Sadducees meant to not only trap Jesus in a hypothetical challenge; they also wanted to poke fun at Jesus’ and his followers’ profession of this book. This should sound familiar, as some Christians also do not accept this book today. Jesus and his followers, however, clearly did. There are other instances in the Gospels in which belief in the resurrection of the body and an afterlife are evident, i.e. Mark 9:2-8, John 11:24. In addition, Acts 23:8 clearly shows the faulty lack of belief from the Sadducees.
Jesus says two things in response to the Sadducees’ indignant challenge. First, what happens in the next life is going to be different. In the life to come, we will be transformed like the Risen Christ. Looking forward to this eternal life in heaven fills us with the joyful trust and hope in life with Christ. Second, Jesus turns to the Torah itself, noting how Moses speaks there of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God of the living, not of the dead (Exodus 3:6, 15, 16). In God all are alive. With the resurrection, we have hope we will live on through eternity. If we are living as Christ calls us to live, we need not fear death, for we will live on through Christ.
The Church carries on with this teaching in her Sacraments; all of the Church’s Sacraments are for the living. Anointing of the Sick prepares the dying for a good death so that they may reconcile with God and live eternally. Anointing is a sacrament for the living, not the dead; what the Church has for the dead is the “Christian Funeral Rite.”
Life after death awaits those who find delight in keeping the commandments of God like the seven brothers in the first reading. They made the statement, “We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.” We too hope in the resurrection to help us reject sin, knowing that without fidelity no one shall enjoy the life after death with God in heaven (Revelation 21:27).
Do you live in fear of death like the Sadducees and others today? Or do you live according to the teachings of Christ, the Sacraments, and the resurrection of the body? What do we need to change? What can we do better?