In the Gospel for Wednesday of the 9th week, the Church presents us with a strong reminder and teaching on the resurrection. Let’s look at what we are taught:
The Ridicule of the Resurrection – The Gospel opens as follows: Some Sadducees, who deny there is a resurrection, came forward and put [a] question to Jesus. They proposed a hypothetical situation in which a woman is married seven times, to brothers who successively die without siring any children by her. The Sadducees suggested that at the resurrection there would be confusion as to whose wife she really is; we’re supposed to laugh and conclude that the idea of resurrection is absurd.
Jesus will dismiss their absurd question handily, as we shall see in a moment, but let’s consider why the Sadducees disbelieved the resurrection.
Fundamentally, the Sadducees rejected the resurrection because they only accepted the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). This point is debated among scholars, but we can surely say that if something was not explicitly in the Law of Moses (which the resurrection was not), the Sadducees were unlikely to accept it. All the other Old Testament books such as the prophets, the historical books, the psalms, and the wisdom tradition, were not considered authoritative sources.
While most other Jews of Jesus’ time did accept the complete Old Testament (and teachings within it such as the resurrection of the dead), the Sadducees simply did not. They were a small party within Judaism (Josephus said that they were able to persuade none but the rich). Nevertheless, they were influential due to their wealth and to the fact that they predominated among the Temple leadership. You can read more about them here: Sadducees.
The Sadducees approached Jesus to poke fun at Him and all others who believed that the dead would rise.
They are no match for Jesus, who easily dispatches their arguments using the Book of Exodus (a book they accept) to do it. In effect, Jesus’ argument proceeds as follows:
You accept Moses, do you not? (They would surely reply yes.)
But Moses teaches that the dead will rise. (They must look puzzled now, but He presses on.)
Do you accept that God is a God of the living, not the dead? (They would surely reply yes.)
Then why does God (in Exodus) identify Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all of whom have been dead some 400 years?
How can He call Himself their God if they are dead?
They must be alive, or He could not call Himself their God, for He is not a God of the dead but of the living.
Therefore, they are alive to God; they are not dead.
In this way, Jesus dispatches their argument. For us, the point is to see how forcefully and clearly Jesus upholds the fact that the dead are alive in the Lord. He powerfully asserts an essential doctrine of the Church. We should rejoice at how firmly Jesus rebukes their disbelief in the resurrection of the dead.
Rejoice, for your loved ones are alive before God! To this world they may seem dead, but Jesus tells us clearly and firmly that they live. And we, who will also face physical death, will live on. Let the world ridicule this, but hear what Jesus says and how He easily dispatches them. Though the idea is ridiculed, the resurrection is real.
The Resplendence of the Resurrection – Jesus also sets aside the absurd hypothetical scenario that the Sadducees pose by teaching that earthly realities cannot simply be projected into Heaven. Scenarios perceived in earthly ways cannot be used to understand heavenly realities. The saints in Heaven live beyond earthly categories.
Heaven is more than the absence of bad things and the accumulation of good things. It is far beyond anything this world can offer. Scripture says,
No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human mind has conceived—the things God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).
The sufferings of this world cannot compare to the glory that will be revealed in us (Rom 8:18).
Do you see the majesty of this teaching? We have a glory waiting for us beyond imagining. Consider your greatest pleasure, your happiest experience, your most fulfilled moment. Then multiply it by a thousand, or a million, or a trillion; you are still not even close understanding the glory that awaits.
And this glory will transform us. The Lord once told Catherine of Siena that if she ever saw the glory of a saint in Heaven she would fall down and worship because she would think she was looking at God. This is our dignity: to be transformed into the very likeness of God and reflect His glory. The following is a summary of St. Catherine’s vision of the soul of a saint in Heaven:
It was so beautiful that she could not look on it; the brightness of that soul dazzled her. Blessed Raymond, her confessor, asked her to describe to him, as far as she was able, the beauty of the soul she had seen. St. Catherine thought of the sweet light of that morning, and of the beautiful colors of the rainbow, but that soul was far more beautiful. She remembered the dazzling beams of the noonday sun, but the light which beamed from that soul was far brighter. She thought of the pure whiteness of the lily and of the fresh snow, but that is only an earthly whiteness. The soul she had seen was bright with the whiteness of Heaven, such as there is not to be found on earth. “My father,” she answered. “I cannot find anything in this world that can give you the smallest idea of what I have seen. Oh, if you could but see the beauty of a soul in the state of grace, you would sacrifice your life a thousand times for its salvation. I asked the angel who was with me what had made that soul so beautiful, and he answered me, “It is the image and likeness of God in that soul, and the Divine Grace which made it so beautiful” .
Yes, Heaven is glorious, and we shall be changed. Scripture says, we shall be like the Lord for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2). He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified Body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself (Phil 3:19). I have written more on our resurrected bodies here: What will our resurrected bodies be like?
Too many people have egocentric notions of Heaven. It’s a place where I will have a mansion, I will see my relatives, and I will be able to play all the golf I want. But the heart of Heaven is to be with God, for whom our heart longs. In God we will experience fulfillment and a peace that is beyond earthly imagination. Heaven is far greater than golf, mansions, and family reunions. There is certainly more to it than clouds and harps. Heaven can never be described because it is beyond words. St. Paul speaks of a man (himself) who was caught up into Heaven; he affirms that it cannot be described; it is ineffable; it is unspeakable.
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven …. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell (2 Cor 12:2-3).
Do you long for heaven? Do you meditate on it? Is there a part of you that can’t wait to get there? There’s an old spiritual that says,
I’m gonna ride the chariot in the morning, Lord.
I’m getting’ ready for the judgment day, my Lord, my Lord!
Are you ready my brother? (Oh yes!)
Are you ready for the journey? (Oh Yes!)
Do you want to see Jesus (Yes, Yes!)
I’m waiting for the chariot ’cause I ready to go.
I never can forget that day,
(Ride in the chariot to see my Lord!).
My feet were snatched from the miry clay!
(Ride in the chariot to see my Lord!)