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The best is yet to come

November 10, 2013

chickens and eagle
My homily for the 32nd week in Ordinary time, year C. The readings are Maccabees 7.1-2, 7, 9-14
Psalm 17; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5 and Luke 20:27-38.

God is God, not of the dead, but of the living. Might seem obvious to us Christians today, but this was a notion that was fairly new to most people in the time of Jesus. Especially the Sadducees, because the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. The Sadducees were so sad, you see ; ) [OK, that was a joke…]

The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection or in eternal life because they claimed that there was no mention of resurrection or eternal life in the Hebrew Scriptures, which were the Books of Moses, the Torah (also known in Greek as the Pentateuch). These are the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. So when they approach Jesus today, they are not really interested in learning about heaven or about marriage; they simply want to ridicule Jesus and his belief in the resurrection; because Jesus was well known to be preaching eternal life: He talked about the Kingdom of Heaven all the time! So they come up with this ridiculous scenario to make fun of Jesus, to show how illogical the idea of resurrection was. So Jesus answers them, not just telling them that there is eternal life, but also what life in heaven will be like: We will be like angels and there will be no marriage; and we will not die again so we won’t have to worry about our descendants, which was very important for Jewish people; that’s how they lived on: Through their descendants. This is what this whole tradition of having a widow marry her dead husband’s brother: So they wouldn’t be left without descendants. But in heaven you won’t have to worry about descendants because you won’t die and you won’t have to live on through your descendants because you will live forever! And then Jesus gives them proof from one of the Books of Moses, from the Torah. But he doesn’t pick just any part – He picks one of the most important part – a part that every Jew knew very well – when God appears to Moses in the burning bush, from the Book of Exodus (see Exodus 3). God appears to Moses and says to him to go back to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to “let my people go.” Moses asks, “Who should I say sent me?” and God says, “Tell him I AM sent you.” I AM the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” (Exodus 3: 6) And so, Jesus explains, if God who IS, says He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then they can’t be dead because God is not the God of the dead but of the living.

However, we shouldn’t pick on the Sadducees.In fairness, the belief in the resurrection and eternal life was still evolving during the time of Jesus. We don’t see any real evidence of this belief in writings until about 100 or so years before Christ. We find it mainly in the story of the Maccabees, a story that is well-known to every Jewish person. Today’s first reading was from the 2nd Book of Maccabees. [Maccabees 1 and 2 are only found in the Catholic Bible. They are not considered divinely inspired in the Protestant or Jewish Scriptures, so you won’t find them there, but they are still considered sacred.] It’s the story of Judas Maccabeus, the “hammer” (that’s what Maccabee means), who led the rebellion against the evil King Antiochus who invaded and conquered Israel and desecrated the Temple and then proceeded to eradicate Jewish culture. He would not allow Jews to practice their faith. They could not offer sacrifice. He outlawed circumcision under punishment of death and those who would not follow the new rules would be tortured and killed. He would torture them by forcing them to eat pork and other unclean things (imagine bacon as torture!), which is where we get the dramatic story of the torture and killing of the mother and her seven sons from today’s first reading. It is very clear in that story that they believed that if you die for God and for following God’s commandments you will be rewarded in the life to come and not only would there be a resurrection, but we would be resurrected in body (that’s why the third son is willing to lose his tongue and his hands because from God he will get them back again.) That’s what the Church teaches, “we believe in the resurrection of the body.” We say it every time we pray the Creed. This is really one of the first accounts of martyrdom and it’s a story that has inspired a whole army of Christian men and women martyrs throughout the last 2000 years who’ve willingly gone to their deaths, to the baffled amazement of their torturers and persecutors because they all believed what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). They lived by the words of today’s Psalm: “when I awake and behold your Glory, my joy will be full.”

It reminds me of the story of the baby eagle who gets lost and ends up in a farm and is adopted by chickens. So it grows up thinking it’s a chicken; walking around, pecking at the ground, eating grubs or bugs or whatever chickens eat. One day a bird expert ends up at the farm and notices that there’s an eagle in there with the chickens. He tells the farmer, “Do you know you have an eagle walking around in there with the chickens?” The farmer says, “oh yeah, but that eagle won’t go anywhere; it thinks it’s a chicken!” So the bird expert buys the eagle from the farmer and takes it to the top of a cliff where, after a few attempts, the eagle finds its wings and takes off flying, soaring over the clouds, never to come back again. We are that eagle, walking around, pecking at the ground, thinking that we are chickens, not realizing that there is so much more for us; that we have yet to reach our full potential. God has something so much better planned for us. I’ve said this before: We are invited to a huge and excellent banquet and instead we’re in the back alley eating out of the dumpster. We are the prodigal child that is longing to fill our bellies with the food of the pigs, when instead we can just go home and eat the pig! We are made for heaven and this life here is but a stepping stone. Death is not a consequence of sin because it’s punishment; death is the remedy for sin! The only way that we can be free of this sinful earthly, existence that we call life is to die. That’s what Jesus showed us: That the only way to eternal life is to die to this life (John 12:24).

It reminds me of another story about a woman who had quite advanced terminal cancer and had only a few weeks to live. So the priest goes to see her at the hospital and she speaks with him and tells him what her wishes are for her funeral. And so, sure enough, a few weeks later she dies and at the visitation, at the funeral home, there she is lying in an open casket, with a beautiful, peaceful, serene expression, in a beautiful dress and a fork in her hand. Everyone is wondering, “What’s with the fork?” but no one knows, until the next day at the funeral the priest explains. He says that it was her idea. She wanted to be buried with a fork because she always remembered when they would go to a special dinner or to a restaurant when she was a little girl, she would get really excited when they would remove her plate and tell her to keep her fork. She knew that meant that something better was coming; she would get dessert; the best was yet to come. She wanted to be buried with a fork as a reminder to everyone that the best is yet to come. That’s the “eternal comfort and good hope” that St. Paul speaks about in today’s second reading.

That’s the promise. Do we believe it? We have to live, not with the hope, but with the certainty that the best is yet to come. Jesus said, “I have come to bring you life and that you would have it abundantly” (John 10:10). I don’t really know what “abundant life” means but I want it. If I truly believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, that I am made for heaven, that the best is yet to come, that God is the God of the living, then how am I going to live this life? What does that say about my behaviour in this life? I don’t know if I would I be willing to die for my faith, like the Maccabees or die for Christ like the martyrs, but how about we start living for Christ? So that we don’t have to wait until we’re in Heaven in order to experience a little bit of His Glory, a little bit of the fullness of joy; the fullness of life.

“Lord, I believe that you are the resurrection and the life. I believe that I am made for Heaven. I believe that the best is yet to come. I believe that you are the God of the living. Help us live for you so that we can experience eternal comfort and good hope and when we awake in the life to come and behold your glory, our joy will be full.”

From → English, Reflections

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