“The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more. (Luke 20:34-36)
Last Sunday, we read how Jesus sought to save sinners by showing love to them. In the example of Zacchaeus, we see that God does not hate what He has made but continues to speak to us through our conscience. In today’s readings, we hear God speak once again to our conscience by reminding us of the inevitability of our death.
The story of the seven brothers and their Mother particularly teaches us that death is only a beginning and not an end. In responding to the question posed by the Sadducees, Jesus explains the details of this life after death. As always, there are some lessons to learn from today’s readings.
1. It is Better to Die Than to Sin Against God.
In this moving story of the martyrdom of the seven brothers, we see our own story as Christians in this age and time. Whether we like it or not, there is a fierce persecution ravaging the body of Christ; a battle between sin and righteousness. Like these seven brothers, Christians today are forced, tortured and cajoled on every side to make choices which are clearly against their faith. As Jesus would advise: “Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28). The martyrs clearly understood this teaching and applied it in their life.
The gruesome martyrdom of these brothers reminds me of the story of the 14year old Vivian Ogu who was shot dead by armed robbers for refusing to allow them rape her. I remember Leah Sharibu who has been reportedly killed by Boko Haram terrorists for refusing to renounce her Christian faith as a condition for her release. The martyrs are true heroes of our faith. By reflecting on their lives, we gain courage to resist the devil whenever we are being tempted to sin. As he was at his last breath, one of the brothers said: “you dismiss us from this present life, but the king of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life.”
The only way we can make sense of this present life (with all its injustice and evil) is to bear in mind that there is another life much better than this life. Jesus teaches us: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:35-38). It is pure foolishness if we disobey God for fear of losing this life only to end up losing eternal life in the long run.
2. The Saints are not Simply Dead People.
It may surprise you to know that there are many so-called Christians today who firmly hold the doctrine of the Sadducees that there is no resurrection of the dead. By referring to the saints as just dead people, they reveal their fundamental belief that death is simply the end and they back it up by scriptural passages such as: “It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27).
As we can see, Jesus already gave a response to anyone who thinks there is no life after death: “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him. (Luke 20:37-38).
One of the pillars of the Christian Faith is belief in the resurrection of the dead. We are Christians because we believe Christ rose from the dead and that like Him, we too shall rise to another life when we die. Death is only a passage, a gate and not a permanent reality.
We ask the saints to intercede for us because we believe they are fully alive in that life Jesus speaks about in today’s Gospel passage. One person who was privileged to visit heaven is John the Apostle and he wrote his experience in a book called “Revelations.” John tells us: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:14-17).
3. The Celibate State is a Pointer to the Resurrected Life.
To prove that there is no resurrection from the dead, the Sadducees cooked up a very logical story; one that was intended to put Jesus in a tight corner. Nevertheless, their story also revealed their total misunderstanding of resurrection as a return to the flesh or a re-living of this present life. Jesus saw where they missed the point and he corrected them saying “those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God. (Luke 20:35-36)
Already from the above, John reveals to us that in that life, there shall be no more hunger, no more thirst, no more heat because of the presence of the Lamb in whose midst they dwell. (Cf. Rev. 7:16-17)
This means that in the resurrected life, there shall be no bodily feelings such as the longing for sexual pleasure, the feeling of loneliness or the desire for companionship. Furthermore, Jesus adds that “they cannot die anymore” meaning that in the resurrected life, there is absolutely no need for procreation (children to carry one’s name onwards). In the resurrected life, we shall all be celibates.
Celibacy is a sign. It is by itself a form of evangelization. As powerful as the sexual drives may be, the fact that there are people who live very happy and fulfilled lives without sex should teach us a lesson; that we are more than animals; that happiness in life can only be found in union with God and in obedience to His commandments. As Jesus says: “there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:12).
4. Pray for Your Spiritual Leaders.
One great saint said: “Behind every priest (or man of God) is a devil working very hard for his downfall.” Our final lesson today comes from our second reading where we hear St. Paul asking the Thessalonians to pray for him and the other apostles: “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph, as it did among you, and that we (who are doing God’s work) may be delivered from wicked and evil men; for not all have faith.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).
Oftentimes, we tend to forget that our Pope, Bishops, Priests, Religious and Ministers are much in need of our prayer too. If we struggle to be holy, we must realize that those who have given their lives to God’s work struggle harder. If we face temptations, we must bear in mind that they face stronger temptations because the devil knows how much potential they possess in the destruction of souls.
As we can see, St. Paul explains the reason why we must pray for our spiritual leaders: that “we may be delivered from wicked and evil men; for not all have faith.” There are many who seek to be close friends to the priest but have very deadly intentions. Then there are those who simply do not believe in God yet flock around the priest just seeking his destruction. If we hear of scandals, we must not be too quick to condemn or share with our friends on social media, we must drop down on our knees and pray for them. No priest or sister is superhuman. There is no amount of seminary formation or religious training that makes a person become a god yet, somehow we live as gods among people; we are called upon at every significant moment; at childbirth, at birthdays, at school, at exam time, interview time, at marriages, at blessing of office places, at promotions, at awards, and at funerals. Within a twenty-four period, a priest may have done adoration, joined a couple at mass, blessed a car, visited the sick in the hospital, heard confessions, performed anointing and even bury a person. Perhaps while he is about to rest, he remembers there is a birthday celebration he had been invited to. He rushes there smiling, but no one knows he buried someone that same day. We work round the clock attending to our flock, praying hard for them and we sometimes forget to pray for ourselves. Without your prayers, we just cannot be who we are meant to be.
There is life after death. Hence, we cannot mourn like unbelievers. We know that death is just a gateway to another life that is hundred times more glorious than the present life so we strive to be saints even if it means losing our last drop of blood. In the life to come, we shall be celibates and the celibate state is a pointer to this reality. Nevertheless, we must pray for our spiritual leaders who show us to God that God may dwell in them because no one can give what he does not have.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, make me wise enough to fear sin more than death. Amen.
Bible Study: 2 Maccabees 7:1-14, Psalm 17, 2nd Thess 2:16-3:5 & Luke 20:27-38.).