In today’s account from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus faces another challenge, but this time and the only time recorded in Mark, it is the Sadducees that confront Jesus. They present a hypothetical case based on the provision of Deuteronomy 25:5-6, which states that if a man dies and leaves a widow who has not as yet given birth to a son, that she is not to marry outside of the family, but she is to marry her husband’s brother. The reason was so that the first-born son would “continue the line of the deceased brother”(Donahue 2002, 352).
This was the starting point of the presentation. The representative of the Sadducees, then presented the absurd case in which six brothers die, all before the woman gives birth to a son. “Last of all the woman also died. At the resurrection when they arise whose wife will she be? For all seven had been married to her” (Mk 12:22-23). The logical presentation was presented in this way to prove their point that there is in fact no resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection of the dead because they saw no overt mention of it in the Torah, the Law or the Teachings, or what we would call the first five books of the Old Testament.
The reply of Jesus aligns him with the belief of the Pharisees, as they do believe in a resurrection of the dead, that is not a mere resuscitation, but that “the whole person will be restored to life” (Donahue 2002, 352). Jesus counters the claim of the Sadducees by inferring that they did “not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Mk 12:24). Jesus shares, not if, but when the dead rise, they will not marry as they had done during their life on earth, but that they will be like the angels. Jesus also cites an account in Exodus when Moses encounters God. During their exchange God states that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “He is not God of the dead but of the living. You are greatly misled” (Mk 12:27).
God our Father is a God of the living. He is the source and sustainer of our life and that life is to continue beyond the temporal reality of our present experience and on into eternity. God has created us to yearn for communion with him, to find our true fulfillment in our relationship with him. In this life and in the next, we will not ever be able to exhaust that hunger and desire to be one with him. His love beckons us ever on.
We limit ourselves and the gift of wonder, as the Sadducees did, if we reduce the mystery of heaven to a problem to be solved. It is natural to think and ask questions like what do we do in heaven, who will we meet, and will…, fill in the blank here, be there? In our present state of three dimensional reality though, there are probably no words or descriptions that would suffice. A better way to exert our energy is to realize that heaven is not so much a place as it is a communal state of unity with God. We are better able to do so when we open and prepare our hearts, minds, and souls to receive the one who has loved us into existence and continues to invite us into a deeper communion with him. To be aware that he permeates and is present in all aspects of our lives now, and that we just need to attune our awareness to his presence.
As we begin to experience his love, his nearness, may we then reach out beyond ourselves and share it, by being present to others within our interactions and beyond to those we may have closed ourselves off to in the past. We are to help others and be open to allow others to help and support us as we strive for our end goal of eternal communion with God. God comes closest to us in our relationships with one another. Ass we are loved by God and share our love with others, that love increases and the source will never run dry.
May we begin today by asking God to show himself to us, to help us to be open to encounter him in our experiences as well as those we will meet today, to remember to seek him if anxieties, conflicts, and struggles arise, and to thank him for the gift of our life, for his being with us, to love and guide us. In seeking God we will be found by the God who is already seeking us, and in our encounter with him we will experience the foretaste of heaven.
Photo: Pope Francis incensing the altar during outdoor Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, in Washington D.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman).
John R. Donahue, SJ and Daniel J. Harrington, SJ. The Gospel of Mark, vol. 1 of Sacra Pagina. Edited by Daniel J. Harrington, SJ. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2002.
Link for the Mass readings for Wednesday, June 6, 2018: