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The Bible is full of stories of families in conflict and disputed inheritances and we know children are no guarantee of life on our terms living on past our deaths.  With their riddle about seven brothers and a childless widow, the Sadducees in today’s Gospel mock the faith for which seven brothers and their mother die in the First Reading. The Maccabean martyrs chose death—tortured limb by limb, burned alive—rather than betray God’s Law. Their story is given to us in these last weeks of the Church year to strengthen us for endurance.

There is nothing but death in the Sadducees’ riddle. Brother after brother dies without producing an heir.  The widow does not bear a child. Finally, she too dies. Who will remember her? Who will carry on the name and traditions of the family? The Sadducees say “if you believe in the resurrection, which we do not. She has been the wife of seven men. Which will be her husband in the resurrection? To whom will she belong?”

Jesus gives an answer. Not only does Jesus promise there is a resurrection, but he changes all the terms in the Sadducees’ riddle. Not only is life at the resurrection, just some everlasting version of life in this age, but if this woman is getting into heaven, it’s because she is a child of God, not because she’s a wife, or a widow, or a mother, she is Jesus says, “judged worthy of a place in the other world,” and, like everyone else who enters the resurrection, “they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels, and being children of the resurrection they are children of God.”

Jesus says that in the resurrection, life will be different. There are things like marriage and customs around marriage and family life that are for this age. In the resurrection, your concerns won’t be important. What will matter is being children of God.

Jesus wasn’t against marriage or children. Marriage is for this age. It can be life-giving in this age. It can be holy for this age. But it can’t get you into heaven, and neither can having children or not having them, being remembered by name or not.

Christians did start to practice a new way of doing family by following Jesus, who did not marry, who did not father biological children, who formed a new family of those who do the will of God.  Jesus was all for family and created a family large enough to include blood relatives and those related only by being children of God.

And Jesus’ family, the church, would grow, not based on how many children people gave birth to, but through the sharing of the good news of God’s love for all people in Jesus Christ and through the baptism that good news inspired people to undergo in order to join the family. So the family of Jesus would grow through people as varied as the Ethiopian Eunuch who heard the gospel proclaimed by the apostle Philip and was baptized. (Acts 8); and Lydia, a merchant, who is baptized along with her whole household (Acts 16). It would grow because people like the unmarried apostle Paul, the married apostle Peter, and the Samaritan women who had been married five times and was living with someone not her husband all had encounters with the living Christ and had to share the experience with others. Being family with Jesus isn’t be easy, and all the children don’t always get along. They don’t always pass along the important traditions as they should. They sometimes ignore or don’t live up to the family resemblance.
And so to the Sadducees there is a resurrection. And those who will live in that age will be there whether their names were remembered in this age or not – because they are remembered by God, the God of the living, the God who is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, is, not was, because even these ancient and flawed patriarchs are very much alive in God, our God, the constant—thanks be to God—between this age and the age to come. Belief in the resurrection of the dead involves a surrender of the total self into the loving arms of God. We prepare for death by the way we live. Our communal prayer at the Eucharist is our “yes” to a future life of promise.


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