Today’s readings remind us that the life to come in Christ is not the same as the life we live here and now. Sometimes we make the mistake of living for today as if there is no tomorrow, but Our Lord teaches us to live today in the light of not just tomorrow, but forever.
In today’s First Reading we see an attempt to violently Hellenize the Jews by forcing them to abandon Jewish practices, including their religious dietary laws. Pork was a ritually unclean food for the Jews and is even today. Their captors are astounded that the tortures being inflicting mean nothing to the young men who die, one by one, for their faith. For the captors the most important life is this one, a life meant to be lived in comfort, not pain, and some day ended forever. It’s in what the suffering young men say that we see them measuring their earthly life by the eternal life promised to them by the Lord if they remain faithful to him. They even taunt their captors by telling them their lives are headed toward a dead end due to their wickedness. The Jews who aided in forced Hellenization and the Jews who fought back are the predecessors of the Sadducees and the Pharisees respectively. In Our Lord’s time the battle had shifted from outright persecution to ideology, which is why in today’s Gospel the Sadducees try to show Our Lord the logical fallacies of believing in the Resurrection: they don’t believe in the life to come.
Believers today are in both situations: outright persecution and intellectual ridicule. Paul in the Second Reading teaches us that no matter what we suffer for our belief: “the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.” Our faith will help us endure. The enemies of our faith have none, which is why they’ll never see beyond their ideologies, selfish scheming, and worldly outlook. Our Lord reminds us today that even if we don’t have justice in this earthly moment of our life, we will have it in eternity. Faith in eternal life is what led the young men in the First Reading to embrace martyrdom, and eternal life was the outlook that confounded the Sadducees arguments in today’s Gospel as well.
In today’s Gospel Our Lord reminds us that even something as beautiful as matrimony is only a means to an end, and if lived well, a happy end. The Sadducees denied the Resurrection, and by seeing marriage as an end, not a means, they couldn’t understand how the Resurrection would work. The Sadducees see marriage according to reason and civil order: it results in an obligation to continue the family line by some member of the family marrying the widow and provide her with children who’ll care for her in the future and continue the family line.
Our Lord teaches them that the life to come is to be lived in a different way, so it can’t be completely measured by today’s categories and concerns. All the trials and tribulations of this life–family spats, health issues, work headaches, social angst–will pass away. Marriages will be concluded when death does them part, but the love that sustained them and grew in them will last forever, which is the true purpose of marriage.
In short, when you reach Heaven, it’s “game over, you win.” Nothing else will matter and everything you underwent to get there will be put into perspective as worth it. Our Lord teaches us today that we have to live in this world, but we always have to keep the life to come in mind in order to understand why we live in this world and how we should live in it. In the game of life winning is what matters, but that victory doesn’t happen here, even though this is the playing field where we win or lose.
It’s no coincidence that when marriage vows are made today the clause is included “until death do us part”: in eternity marriage will have already served its purpose, which is the fostering of unconditional and exclusive love between a man and a woman that is often blessed by children who are loved and learn to love as well. Marriage and family are a means to enjoying an unconditional love for God and for others that will blossom in eternity. Even physical marital intimacy is a means toward that end, but, as we know, that physical intimacy has the danger of being debased, exploited, and even “weaponized”; if it stops being something good for the spouses and closed by the spouses to bringing children into the world, it becomes the means to an unhappy end. Let’s pray today that all marriages be lived well and become homes and schools of unconditional love that help us love God unconditionally too. Let’s also pray for all marriages and families in difficulty.
Readings: 2 Maccabees 7:1–2, 9–14; Psalm 17:1, 5–6, 8, 15; 2 Thessalonians 2:16–3:5; Luke 20:27–38. See also 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday and 9th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday.