We need have no fear
We seem to live in an apocalyptic world, wars and tumults … famines and pestilences. These are words from next Sunday’s gospel, but already today, as we enter the last few weeks of the liturgical year, the Scriptures bid us think of death and what follows it. In the face of the cynical and sceptical Sadducees who gather to provoke Jesus with their fatuous arguments against an after-life, he shows himself defiant, prophetic and full of hope.
However, let us not be too harsh on the Sadducees: the concept of life after death was shadowy and unclear in the Old Testament, although in the second book of the Maccabees, written no more than a hundred and fifty years before the birth of Christ, there is already a fearless sense of resurrection. The first reading this Sunday is taken from that book and we see these courageous young men accepting torture and death because the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life.
Today’s gospel makes two references to Moses. In the first the Sadducees invoke the Law — Moses wrote for us — as the basis of their unlikely test-case. Incidentally, we might notice the poor woman, passed like a piece of property from one brother to the next, with apparently no say in the question. Such a reflection is not essential to the main message of the text, but the images used in the gospels, if meditated seriously, challenge us to respond. If a woman were commenting on the Sadducees’ parable, what would she say?
Quoting Moses is an appeal to the Law. In his refutation of the argument against life after death, Jesus speaks of those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age. Is he too suggesting that worthiness of the resurrection is dependent on observing the Law? I think not. In the second reference to Moses, this time in the words of Jesus, we find ourselves in a period well before the giving of the Law. It is not the legal but the mystical Moses, who stands bewildered before the burning bush and encounters the ardour of the divine mystery, destructive and creative, purifying and passionate. The voice from the bush reveals that it is the God of the living, the personal God of Moses and of his people. Perhaps those who are accounted worthy are those who come within the ambit of that mystery.
Do we fear death? How can we not, for all we see is a darkness. No one has ever described what death will be like. The Sadducees resort to ridicule because they cannot imagine what might lie behind it. The dead are equal to angels and are sons of God, Jesus tells us. In Matthew’s gospel he says, their angels always behold the face of my Father (Mt 18:10). Passing through the darkness of death, we emerge into the light of the beatific vision. He who has seen me has seen the Father (Jn 14:9). Jesus is the resurrection (cf. Jn 11:25): living in him and for him, we need have no fear of death.
Fr Edmund Power, osb