This morning’s Gospel reading is Luke 20:27–38:
Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us, If someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless. Then the second and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her.”
Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise. That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out ‘Lord,’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
Ever get into a debate with people who have no real desire for enlightenment, but only in ridicule? Well, we’re all on line, so of course you have. We’d call it trolling today, an exercise in which the only motive for engagement for one party is belittlement and dismissal. Those who engage in it take a complicated and nuanced position and reduce it to the most absurd circumstances in order to make others laugh at the other party rather than have a discussion on the merits of the topic.
There are other terms for these actions: bad-faith argument and reductio ad absurdum. Today’s Gospel gives us rather ironic examples of both — a reductio ad absurdum offered in a bad-faith argument on faith itself. The Sadducees aren’t even laying a trap for Jesus in this passage. The Pharisees saw Jesus as a real threat to their authority and tried to engage Jesus in arguments that would trigger a deadly response from either the Temple (Matthew 12:1-14) or Roman power structures (Matthew 22:15-21). The Sadducees show no respect at all for Jesus, and instead offer a silly hypothetical, expecting to confound Him and make the itinerant rabbi look equally silly by trying to explain life in eternity.
Rather than respond in kind, Jesus uses the Sadducees to offer a remarkable insight into the eternal Trinitarian life and the vocation of marriage. In this teaching, Jesus also gives us insight into our destiny and its use in our formation.
What is marriage? It forms a social unit for the propagation of human life, of course, and is the building block of most communities. Marriage is no more than a means to itself to the Sadducees, exactly the same way they see life itself. Without an eternal life and resurrection, there is no meaning to marriage, or for that matter formation to God’s Word and will. They offer a hypothetical which, unbeknownst to them, refutes their own preconception of the law itself. Without an eternal end, what difference would the marriage laws upheld by the Sadducees make at all?
Jesus offers an insight into God’s plan for marriage and family as a training ground, if you will, for the eternal life Jesus describes to the Sadducees. It is the model in which we are called to exercise our reflection of God’s image — creators ourselves of new life, living in a sacrificial and self-giving love with each other. It is the model of the Trinitarian life. We struggle to maintain this, though, because of our own sinfulness and selfishness. Through those struggles, we learn to accommodate and to give of ourselves more freely and to love with less selfishness. We also learn to apply this self-sacrificial love to our neighbors, and then even to our enemies to reflect the glory of the Lord. Marriage and family offer us the opportunity to create life, strengthen our faith, and prepare ourselves for eternal life.
Our first reading provides a case in point. In 2 Maccabees, seven brothers and their mother defy their Greek oppressors and refuse to deny the Lord by eating pork. Each of them gives testimony not just to the Lord but to their resurrection as well. “It was from Heaven that I received these,” the third brother says about his tongue and hands before both were taken from him. “For the sake of His laws I disdain them; from Him I hope to receive them again.” The fourth brother testifies that he chooses “to die at the hands of men, with the hope God gives of being raised up by Him.” For these men, strengthened by their familial bonds and faith in the Lord, resurrection wasn’t just a reductio ad absurdum, but a bedrock of their faith. These seven brothers stand as a true testament to faith, and serve as a rebuke to the imaginary seven brothers dreamed up by the Sadducees.
Paul wrote of this faith in his second letter to the Thessalonians. He asked the church he founded to pray that the Lord’s word be glorified, and “that we may be delivered from perverse and wicked people, for not all have faith.”
Paul writes to the Corinthians that faith and hope will eventually pass away, but love endures. We do not need faith and hope when we enter into the Trinitarian life with the Father, because that is our hope, and faith will be redeemed in our salvation. No longer will we need formation, either; our sorrows and travails will have ceased, and our attachment to sin will have passed with them. Instead, we will live entirely within the love of God along with everyone else who has been saved, and we will be sisters and brothers in His family. The need and purpose for for marriage will have expired.
If marriage is preparation in this life, so is community — even then and even now, some people in our own communities continue to act in bad faith and ridicule. We are not called to respond in kind, or to walk away, either. We are called to act as Jesus does here in patiently proclaiming the truth of the Lord. That is one example of what Jesus meant by loving one’s enemies; we offer them salvation even through their derision or worse. We do this because we follow the God of the living, not the dead, and we want to help bring as many of His children back into the light as we can. Responding in kind only pushes them away, and darkens our own hearts.
Or, to put it in more contemporary terms, don’t feed the trolls. Pray for them and set an example as our Lord did, in our words and in our deeds, as the mother and her seven sons did. In the end, we know that our family will live in joy and unity, and we want as many as possible to join it. Think of it as having the last laugh, but with our trolls rather than in spite of them.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.