Sunday, November 7, 2010

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

“You can’t take it with you.”
That is at least part of Jesus’ reply
to the Sadducees in today’s Gospel.
The Sadducees were a group within Judaism
who held to a very traditional interpretation of the Law
and who, in particular, rejected what they considered the novel idea
that in God’s kingdom those righteous one’s who had died
would be raised to new life.
We see this belief testified to in our first reading,
from the book of Maccabees:
“the King of the world will raise us up again to live forever.”
For the Sadducees, this idea was a dangerous innovation
that undermined their more traditional view
that people were rewarded or punished by God in this life.
So they pose to Jesus,
who teaches this dangerously innovative idea of resurrection,
the following puzzle:
If a woman’s husband dies, and she marries his brother,
who in turn dies, and she marries another brother,
and so on and so forth through seven brothers
(if I were the seventh brother
I would think twice before marrying this woman),
when the dead are raised to new life,
whose wife will she be?

Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees is twofold.

The first part of his answer is to make clear
that the kind of life led by those
whom God will raise from death to new life
is something quite different from the sort of life we live now.
Those who live in the kingdom of God
“neither marry nor are given in marriage.”
No doubt in God’s kingdom we will still love
those whom we have loved in the time of this life,
but the institution of marriage itself,
tied up as it is with creating households and raising children,
is for this world, not for the kingdom.
People say, “you can’t take it with you,”
and it would seem that, according to Jesus,
marriage is one of those things you can’t take with you.

The second part of Jesus answer to the Sadducees
is that we believe that the dead shall be raised
because we believe that our God is the God of the living;
what it means truly to live is to live in relationship with God
and God’s relationship to those whom God loves
cannot be defeated, even by death.
As Paul says in our second reading,
“the Lord is faithful;
he will strengthen you and guard you.”
Those whom we think of as dead are not dead to God,
and when God’s kingdom is manifested in its fullness
we shall see and know the fullness of life
that is enjoyed by those righteous ones
who have died in God’s cause.
While the saying “you can’t take it with you”
applies to many things in this world,
it doesn’t apply to our relationship with God.
In fact, it seems that this relationship
is the one thing you can take with you.

So Jesus’ response to the Sadducees is to remind them
that the things we think of as making up the fabric of our life –
institutions like marriage,
political structures,
economic systems,
and even the outward forms of the Church –
are in fact simply temporary bulwarks
that we construct against the terrifying reality of death,
and in the age to come they will give way
before the one reality that is the true fabric of our life:
God’s love for us.
You can’t take these things with you
because you don’t need to take them with you;
in the fullness of God’s kingdom,
God’s love alone will unite us with God and with each other
and we will not need those temporary structures
that form the fabric of our lives in this world.

But, of course, we do not yet live
in the fullness of God’s kingdom.
In the time of this life
people still marry and are given in marriage,
they vote and run in elections,
they invest and spend money,
they gather weekly as Church
to hear God’s Word spoken in human words
and to encounter God through sacramental signs.
In the time of this life these things,
provisional though they be,
are the warp and woof from which our lives are woven.
In the time of this life these things,
provisional though they be,
are of crucial importance
to the life that we hope to live in the kingdom of God.
In the time of this life these things,
provisional though they be,
are the means by which we bear witness in this age
to the life we hope to live in the age to come.

Though there will be no marriage in the kingdom of God,
how we live our committed relationships in this age
can become a sign
of how we will live our risen life in the age to come
if we live those commitments
with integrity and honesty and self-sacrifice.
Though there will be, thank God,
no politics or economies in the kingdom of God,
how we inhabit the political and economic structures of this age
can become a sign of our dwelling in God’s kingdom
if we inhabit those structures in such a way that we always look,
not to our own concerns and well-being,
but to the concerns and well-being
of the poor, the outcast and the defenseless.
Though there will be no need
for sacramental signs in the kingdom of God,
how we gather as Church in this age
can become a sign of the heavenly liturgy
that we will celebrate in the kingdom
if we give ourselves generously and without reservation
to the worship of God.

Marriage, power, money,
even the outward structures of the Church. . .
you can’t take them with you
into the risen life of God’s kingdom.
We can, however, use them in this age,
in the time of this life,
as a means by which we begin to live that risen life now.
They are the strands from which
the fabric of our lives is woven,
the lives that we are called to place
at the service of God and neighbor.

Next week we will be asking you to consider again
your financial support of our parish.
I always tell people that if they do not give more money
our doors will not close,
our current staff will not have to be let go;
we will find a way to make do.
But that is not why we give.
We given because even though
both our money and our parish community
are simply provisional realities,
neither of which will go with us into God’s kingdom,
the two of them together
can become a sign of that kingdom here and now.
You can’t take it with you,
but you can use it now in such a way
that it becomes a sign
of the risen life we will lead in the age to come.