32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 10, 2019
The very first generations of Christians did not yet have the Gospel writings that we have—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They had bits of writings and oral memories of the things that Jesus had said. And they had letters from Paul and others. Meanwhile, they encountered many challenges and questions regarding their beliefs.
As the gospel accounts were being written and put together, an effective teaching method of the time was to put the two in dialogue with one another: Jesus’s sayings vs. challenging questions, as if Jesus himself had had such an encounter just outside the temple. Our gospel today is just such an example of the literary form known as ‘controversy story’.
While it is not a literary style that we would immediately recognize today, you might say that a ballad comes close to the same. A song or poem that tells a story, that may or may not have actually occurred, but that has a lasting moral or message to convey.
Somewhat like our gospel writer, Luke, I think that many teenagers have a natural penchant for using ‘controversy story’ to say what’s on their minds and ask the questions buried in their hearts.
Some youth are quite adept at tossing out provocative statements that are designed to see how much anxiety they can raise among the adults nearby. They usually pick things that mean more to the adults than to them.
When I was a kid, I told my parents and my parish priest that I didn’t believe in making the sign of the cross. They were aghast! My argument was, “If nobody does it with reverence, then it loses all meaning, so why bother?”
When my son was an adolescent, he came to me one day and said, “Dad, I have decided that I believe in reincarnation.” It was like, “So there, Mr. Professional Christian!”
Fortunately, it was a reasonably good parenting day, and I simply said, “We ought to talk about that.” Later, I learned that his adamant statement with attitude was really a sincere, perplexing question from the heart.
Our gospel story today has the Sadducees, who do not believe in the resurrection of the dead, toss out an absurd question to Jesus—which brother will be the woman’s husband in the afterlife? They don’t care about the substance of the question, but rather they seek to trip up Jesus. Yet, instead, Jesus not only dismisses the Sadducee’s assumption that life in the resurrection will be identical to life on earth, he adeptly shows them that those worthy, those truly linked to “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (code phrase!) will indeed rise up and live on for ages to come.
That code phrase: “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”—is a direct jab to the Sadducees who would claim to align themselves as such and would recognize that Jesus was referring to passages in Exodus and Deuteronomy that they have strong adherence to.
The original readers of Luke would have recognized this literary style from the start, known just where Jesus was in the Torah as he responded, and would have applauded Jesus’ intellectual triumph over the Sadducees. They would have also been drawn into a deeper understanding of resurrection of the dead, and that God was not a “God of the dead, but of the living.”
Problem is, we may not get it, at least not totally. Don’t know about you, but I need a bit of help in grasping this notion of resurrection of the dead.
I can gain insight from Maya Angelou in her poem “Still I Rise”
You may shoot me with your words
You may cut me with your eyes
You may kill me with your hatefulness
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
And I am deeply inspired by Saint Oscar Romero. Just days before he was martyred in defense of the poor and alienated people of El Salvador, in 1980, he said:
“If God accepts the sacrifice of my life, may my death be for the freedom of my people. A bishop will die, but the Church of God, which is the people, will never perish. I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I will rise again in the people of El Salvador” (Oscar Romero).
But at our parish retreat sessions last month at the Grotto, I feel like I got some clarity. More than a hundred of you participated and we explored the theme of “Responding to God’s Call.” Our presenter, Juan Carlos LaPuente spoke of how, in the same way each of our mothers made room for us in their wombs, and through their labor and their pain, they empowered us to life, each one of us is called to make room for one another so that each may truly live, thrive, respond to God’s call, and in turn, make room for another, and perhaps many others.
Our “Calling Tree” banner, which you will see at the end of mass, says “From our roots, we are called to be . . .” This gives me a glimpse into the meaning of resurrection of the dead.
We are the resurrection of the generations who came before us, those who made room for us and empowered us to life.
We are the resurrection of the hundreds of parishioners who have passed away and who are listed on the board over there.
We are the resurrection of all the people we have listed in our Book of Remembrance.
We are the resurrection of the loved ones who have passed away this year.
And one day, each us will be resurrected by those for whom we have made room, and in our labor and pain, have empowered to life.
. . . A day or two later, my son and I had a fascinating conversation about reincarnation. As I said, his adamant statement with attitude was really a question from the heart: Why do others believe this, but not us? It seems to make sense. What’s up with this?
I didn’t really have any of the concrete answers he was seeking, but we had a fascinating philosophical faith conversation that bonded us closer together. I like to think that we each made room for the other to hear and respond to God’s call in the moment.