The Sadducees present an absurd scenario for Jesus to respond to: a woman’s spouse died leaving her childless and then successively married her husband’s six brothers who all died, also leaving her childless. The question from the Sadducees was, “Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her.” (Lk 20:33)? What the Sadducees were really getting at was to have Jesus weigh in on his views about whether there was or was not a resurrection of the dead.
The Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection of the dead because they only believed in the Torah, the law or the teachings, what we as Christians today recognize as the first five books of the Old Testament. In the Torah, there is no overt reference to the resurrection. The Pharisees recognized the written Torah, but also acknowledged an oral tradition beyond the written text, and thus recognized the resurrection of the dead. Jesus deftly answered the question by keying in on the verse from Exodus: “That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘Lord’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” (Lk 20:37-38).
Jesus clearly pointed out that God was not a God of the dead but of the living. The deeper reason for the question was ultimately, and is the question that also arises today, “What goes on in heaven? What do we do all day?” Jesus’ response to the Sadducees then and to us today is: “The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise” (Lk 20:34-36).
What Jesus means is that heaven is a different reality than we experience now. Heaven is a different dimension of existence and no temporal time as we know it. We will no longer marry because we will be living eternally, there will be no death, no more need to procreate.
Also, heaven is not so much a geographical place as it is a relationship and experience of an intimate and deeper communion with God. We want to know what we are going to do there because we are attached to what we have and what we do here. In heaven, we will experience the fulfillment of that which we have been created for, that which we truly crave and hunger for, that which will fulfill our deepest longing, which is to look upon God face to face, what theologians call the beatific vision.
Many would scoff and say, “That’s it?” I am sure there is more, but if that was all, there would be more joy, more acceptance, more totality of being than we could ever imagine or embrace in just a second of that eternal gaze. As the psalmist wrote: “Better one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:11).
Definitively speaking, heaven is a mystery to us. Again, the Mystery of God is not a problem to be solved but a relationship to experience and develop. This is why prayer, worship, encounter, relationships, and experiencing God’s creation are so important. Each one is an encounter with the living God, each is a foretaste of heaven. If we are only tied to the material, the finite, our self apart from others, we will succumb to attachments and addictions that will create walls of division and separation such that we cannot even begin to conceive of the eternal or spiritual ground and foundation of our existence.
A good daily practice is to be more mindful and more present in what we do. This can begin when we pray, slow down our breath and allow our mind to be more still. We can reread today’s Gospel slowly, multiple times, pondering it, wondering about the gift of eternal communion with God, the God of the living, and what it would be like to see God face to face. Head to worship with a community of faith this weekend, and actually sing during the service. God does not implore that we sing well, but only that we make a joyful noise unto the Lord (cf Psalms 98, 100). During the Mass, heaven and earth become one through the presence of Jesus in his people gathered, his word proclaimed, and his real presence in the Eucharist.
In our homes and in our everyday experiences, we can focus on what we are doing in the moment, and not thinking of twenty other things such that we walk into the next room and forget why we went in there. It is especially important to really experience, accompany, and be with the people around us, talking and listening to one another. We can seek a ministry of service that we can participate in regularly or invite someone to join us if we are already active. We can spend some time immersed in the wonder of God’s creation, whether taking a walk, taking long deep breathes while looking at the starry night, or just sitting and watching all the gifts of life pass by, birds, otters, bobcats, or whatever may cross our path. Each one of these is an opportunity to encounter the God of all creation, the God of the living, and to experience a foretaste of heaven!
Photo: A family of bobcats JoAnn noticed playing in our backyard about two years ago. Witnessing the living interconnectedness between the three. A living icon of the Trinity?