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 as Christians 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. 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 deeper communion with him. We can also ponder the gift that he is present in all aspects of our lives now and that we just need to attune our awareness of his presence in our lives.
As we become more aware of the presence of God and begin to experience his nearness, his love, we are to share it by being present to others in our interactions and beyond to those we may have closed ourselves off to in the past. If we are to learn to get along with one another, we need to spend time with and experience each other beyond our comfort zones. God comes closest to us in our relationships. As we are loved by God and share our love with others, love increases, the source of which will never run dry.
God, please reveal yourself to us and help us to be open to encounter you in our experiences and our encounters with each other today. Help us to remember to turn to you as anxieties, conflicts, and struggles arise, especially in our current state of pandemic and continued unnecessary tragic loss of life. Help us to realize that in seeking you we will be found by you because you have already been present waiting for us, inviting us to come to you. It is in our encounter with you that we experience the foretaste of heaven.
Allow us to experience your peace, that peace that surpasses all understanding in this exchange such that we are inspired to commit to acting in ways today and all days that respect the dignity, not of a select few, but of each person we encounter, through our thoughts, words, and actions in person and online. It may not seem like much, but small acts of love do matter to those we interact with, and as we begin to treat each other as part of one human family, as brothers and sisters, God’s love will ripple out from us to become an antidote to the hatred, racism, and violence that plagues us in all its forms.
Photo: Mutual respect builds relationships
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.