Saturday, November 24, 2007

Beyond our wildest imaginings

Today's Gospel is Luke's version of the Saducees' "throwdown" with Jesus. Biblical literalists who accepted nothing of Jewish religion that wasn't written in the Torah, they created a "what-if" scenario calculated to ridicule belief in life after death. It seemed the perfect strategy to diminish Jesus' authority as a teacher while scoring a point for their views on the subject. "What if...a woman, who--as established in the Mosaic Law--died after having been married to an entire succession of childless brothers? Whose wife would she be in the 'resurrection of the dead'?"
You can almost hear the crowd snickering.
Jesus' answer is twofold. First, he addresses the issue of the kind of life that will be ours "on the other side." He basically tells us that we aren't imaginative enough. We envision life after death in ways that are limited to life in time, but these categories are much too small to come close to the reality. Last night, while doing my exercise, I listened to "La Vida Eternal" from "Altar Boyz." I love the song (especially the Latin beat!), but noticed that the lyrics can do no more than trot out hackneyed images of angels and harps and a life that is like this one, only better. St. John tried to be more specific, but all he could really say was "We shall be like God, for we shall see him as he is." And St. Paul was less than helpful in saying, with Isaiah, "Eye has not seen, ear has not heard..."
So much for the kind of life that awaits us. Jesus then tackled the issue beneath the Sadducees' question: is "life after death" a concept that is supported by the written Torah itself? They claimed it was not, but Jesus turned the tables on them, quoting the book of Exodus to remind them that "The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" is "not the God of the dead, but of the living."
The snickers quickly faded, and some of the experts who had been there almost like spectators at an athletic contest spoke up: "Well said, teacher!" And then they, too, quickly faded from the scene.
Reflecting on our limited understanding of life after death, I came to wonder to what extent our understanding of this life also compromises our appreciation of the reality of communion with God. I mean, as St. John says, "We are God's children now." We live now in communion with God. If we had a better sense of what that communion was, wouldn't we also have a better sense of life after death?

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