Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time – C

Readings: 2 Mac 7:1-2, 9-14; Ps 17:1,5-6,8,15; 2 Thes 2:16-3:5; Lk 20:27-38

THE RESSURECTION GIVES MY LIFE MEANING,
DIRECTION AND THE OPPORTUNITY TO START OVER

  • A memo from God to You: I am God. Today I will be handling all of your problems. Please remember that I do not need your help.

    If life happens to deliver a situation to you that you cannot handle, do not attempt to resolve it. Kindly put it in the SFGTD (something for God to do) box. All situations will be resolved… but in My time, not yours.

    Once the matter is placed into the box, do not hold onto it by worrying about it. Instead, focus on all the wonderful things that are present in your life now.

    If you find yourself stuck in traffic; Don’t despair. There are people in this world for whom driving is an unheard of privilege.

    Should you have a bad day at work; Think of the man who has been out of work for years.

    Should you despair over a relationship gone bad; Think of the person who has never known what it’s like to love and be loved in return.

    Should you grieve the passing of another weekend; Think of the woman in dire straits, working twelve hours a day, seven days a week to feed her children.

    Should your car break down, leaving you miles away from assistance; Think of the paraplegic who would love the opportunity to take that walk.

    Should you notice a new gray hair in the mirror; Think of the cancer patient in chemo who wishes she had hair to examine.

    Should you find yourself at a loss and pondering what life is all about, asking what is my purpose? Be thankful. There are those who didn’t live long enough to get the opportunity.

    Should you find yourself the victim of other people’s bitterness, ignorance, smallness or insecurities; Remember, things could be worse. You could be one of them!

  • 90 Minutes in Heaven: A true story of Death and Life…. The book I read was the most interesting one: On January 18, 1989, Baptist minister Don Piper was on his way home from a conference in Texas when a semi-trailer truck struck his Ford Taurus while crossing a bridge. Piper describes that he was crushed by the roof of his car, the steering wheel impaled his chest, and the dashboard collapsed on his legs. When paramedics arrived, they could not find any sign of life in Piper and covered him with a tarp as a fellow pastor prayed over him while waiting for the medical examiner to arrive. According to Piper, he went straight to Heaven and experienced things he describes as amazing and beautiful, including meeting family members such as his great-grandmother and joining a heavenly Choir that proceeded into the Gates of Heaven. Piper, an ordained minister since 1985, has recounted his narrative before 3,000 live audiences that included more than 1.5 million people and appeared on numerous television and radio programs.
  • Recently I saw the movie “Heaven is for Real” I just loved the movie, it gave me goosebumps and a boost to my faith. I had read the book “Heaven is for Real” a long time ago, a Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back is a 2010 New York Times best-selling Christian book written by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent In the book, Todd Burpo, pastor of Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Nebraska, writes that during the months after his son, Colton, had emergency surgery in 2003 at the age of three, Colton began describing events and people that seemed impossible for him to have known about. Examples include knowledge of an unborn sister miscarried by his mother and details of a great-grandfather who had died 30 years before Colton was born. Colton also explained how he personally met Jesus riding a rainbow-colored horse and sat in Jesus’ lap while angels sang songs to him. He also saw Mary kneeling before the throne of God and at other times standing beside Jesus.

Men of all ages have been confronted with the distressing enigma of death and have tried in every way to overcome or at least to exorcise it. The Egyptians resorted to mummification to preserve the body from decomposition. They have made rituals, ceremonies, complicated and detailed funeral practices to ensure the deceased a life in the world of Osiris. The people of Mesopotamia spoke of death as a descent to “the country of no return” and resigned, they had to admit: “When the gods formed humanity, they attributed death to people and held life back in their hands”. Others have thought about the possibility of a return to the life of this world through a succession of countless reincarnations.

How many things happen in our life: we are born, we grow, we fall in love, we form a family, we educate our children, we experience joys and sorrows, we cultivate hopes and dreams. Then one day everything seems to conclude in the void of death. At the end, everything disappears! The dialogue of love, affections, relationships with loved ones are broken. Do we go back into the nothingness from which a gesture of love of our parents drew us? Has God truly created a person for a fate so cruel? What is left of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, only their first names?

God gave an answer to these questions: “The Christian hope—said Tertullian, the famous father of the Church of the second century—is the resurrection of the dead; all that we are, we are because we believe in the resurrection.”

To internalize the message, we repeat:
“In my waking, O Lord, I will enjoy contemplating your face.”

First Reading: The readings affirm the victory of God and God’s love over the power of death. Such a victory evokes today’s dramatic first reading from the Second Book of Maccabees, an excerpt from the story of the martyrdom of the seven brothers during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 BCE) before the Maccabean revolt. Each of the brothers, urged on by their mother, affirms, in the face of unspeakable torture and death, both their fidelity in God’s Law and their trust in the resurrection. The fourth brother shouts out in faith, “Ours is the better choice, to meet death at men’s hands, yet relying on God’s promise that we shall be raised up by him”. The fidelity and victory of the Maccabean martyrs and the eventual triumph of the Maccabees against Antiochus Epiphanes is celebrated each year by our Jewish sisters and brothers in the festival of light known as Chanukah.

Second Reading: Both of the letters to the probably largely gentile Christian community in the important city of Thessalonika, capital of Macedonia, are concerned with the Second Coming of Christ, which is why they are read on Sundays at the end of our liturgical year. Today, our reading from 2 Thessalonians (which most scholars say was not written by Paul), encourages the Christians in Thessalonika to persevere in their faith, despite being surrounded by those who do not share that faith. The verse just before our reading starts says, “Stand firm … and keep the traditions that we taught you”. The source of hope and strength is sure: “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father who has given us his love and, through his grace, such inexhaustible comfort and such sure hope, comfort you and strengthen you in everything good that you do or say.”

Gospel: As we confess in the Apostles’ Creed, it is leading us to the resurrection of the body and to life everlasting. But not everyone believes in a resurrection of the body. According to a 1997 Times/CNN survey, only 26% of the Americans then surveyed believed in a bodily resurrection. Now that’s no new phenomenon. The Sadducees of Jesus’ day denied the resurrection too. You see, the Sadducees were a party that adhered only to the first five books of the Bible, the books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In addition to adhering only to these five books, they also denied the existence of angels, the existence of spirits, and the reality of resurrection. So a group of Sadducees approached Jesus one day with a scenario designed to discredit any belief in a bodily resurrection. “Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.’” You can almost see the Sadducees settling back with smug smiles feeling they have trapped Jesus by their clever question. But then Jesus answered and said, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.” With these words Jesus seems to suggest that marriage won’t be needed in heaven because no one will die so there will be no need for marriage and procreation.

Now I must confess that once a person said to me “I am sometimes saddened whenever I read these words of Jesus. He seems to say that I won’t be married to my wife in the world of resurrection. And if you knew how much I love her, and how much of life we’ve shared, and how much sweeter our marriage grows with the passage of each day, then you would know precisely why these words of Christ can make me melancholy. And not me only, I suppose. I suspect many of you may feel the same upon some measure of reflection”.

For if our closest earthly relationships are disrupted in the world to come, then who among us would ever want to go there? The other day I heard a mother and daughter were waiting in a doctor’s office. The small daughter was playing with her favorite stuffed animal, a little tiger named Stripes. Suddenly she stopped playing, looked at the mother with a troubled expression, and asked, “Mommy, will the world ever come to an end?” Mother said, “Yes. Someday Jesus will come back and will take his people to live with him in heaven.” The child asked, “Will stuffed animals be allowed in heaven?” “I’m not sure,” mother replied. Upon hearing this, child began to cry. “If Stripes can’t go to heaven with me then I don’t want to go,” she said. Mother is no theologian but I think she got it right when she replied, “Sweetheart, if you need Stripes to be happy in heaven then I think God will let him in.” In saying that, I think the mother hit on a sound biblical principle. That principle is this: There are no losses in heaven. Heaven is only gain.

When the apostle Paul was in prison, faced with the possibility of death, he wrote a little letter to the Church at Philippi and said, “For to me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) No, there are no losses in heaven. Heaven is always and only gain. Whatever my relationship will be with my spouse, children, parents in heaven, whatever my relationships with others will be there, those relationships will be better, richer, deeper, and sweeter than ever they were on the earth below – for heaven is only gain. And best of all, we’ll all see Jesus! What a day of rejoicing that will be. To quote Paul, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far…” (Philippians 1:21-23 )

Better by far! Resurrection to eternal life will be better by far than the little lives we live below. For if all of our earthly intimacies bring us such happiness down here, if all of our friends and families bring us such earthly joy, then how much more joy will they bring us in the world to come, the world where every relationship is perfected and made infinitely sweet? And how much more joy will we find when together with friends and family we’re finally face to face with Jesus Christ? Why it’s hard to fathom. But all of this is only true if there is a resurrection. All of this is only true if there is a world to come? So is there a resurrection? Is there a world to come? Job seemed to think so. In the midst of his suffering he said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:25-27) Job’s voice is only one among the many Old Testament witnesses to the promise of resurrection.

Yes, many of the Old Testament prophets believed in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting to include Moses himself. Referencing Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush, as told in Exodus, one of the five books revered by the Sadducees, Jesus said, “…the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” What Jesus references here is God’s comment to Moses in Exodus 3:6 where God said to Moses, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Notice, God didn’t say, “I was the God of your father.” Instead, he said, “I am the God of your father,” implying that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still alive to God.

Yes, Jesus, Job, Moses, and many of the prophets believed in the resurrection and in the world to come. And Jesus proved the reality of it not long after his encounter with the Sadducees by rising from the dead and ascending into heaven. For just a few days later, Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. But on the third day he rose again and then ascended into heaven. Luke 24:1-5 describes the scene. “(On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.’” And Luke 24:50-51 goes on to say, the Risen Christ, “led (the disciples) out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” So what does all this mean for us?

Is Christ’s conflict with the Sadducees just a curious incident, or does it have some meaning for us, living as we do in the 21st century? Well I believe it has eternal significance. First, this encounter reminds us that there is a resurrection; there is a world to come. The prophets believed it, the Bible teaches it, and Jesus proved it by his own resurrection and ascension into heaven.

Second, this encounter reminds us that life beyond the resurrection will be a better life by far. Whatever our relationships will be in heaven with those we love, we know they’ll be better, deeper, richer, and sweeter than they are down here in the world below; for there are no losses in heaven. Heaven is only gain.

Finally, this encounter reminds us that only God’s children enjoy resurrection to eternal life. As Jesus said in Luke 20:35-36, “…those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead…cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God…” My friend, are you a child of God? You can be, but you must first be born again to become a child of God; for you are not a child of God by natural birth. Instead, you become a child of God by spiritual birth. And that birth comes whenever you believe in and receive Jesus as your Savior. In the words of John 1:11-13: “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

If you are struggling with the thought that you are not a child of God, I urge you to pray this prayer: “Lord Jesus, I believe you are the Son of God and Savior of the world. I believe you died in my place, for my sin, as my substitute, thus bearing in my place the penalty for my sin. I receive you as my Savior. Please share your Sonship with me and make me a child of God that I may journey with you through life and death to a glorious resurrection. Amen.”

If you are already a child of God then give thanks to him as you commune with Christ because the “table” on earth is an emblem of that table in heaven where the children of God will sit down and dine forever in sweet fellowship with Jesus. Praise God for the Resurrection! Amen!

 

Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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