In today’s gospel we find a group of religious leaders back in the day known as Sadducees, who did not believe in resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees propose a trick question to Jesus, trying to discredit him. The trick question asked about a law from Moses’ time found in the Torah that requires a brother to marry a childless woman so as to provide heirs for his brother. I’d say this was a loaded question because the Sadducees created the elaborate story of seven brothers all dying while leaving no heir. Their question intended to embarrass Jesus by showing that his teaching about resurrection was absurd and contradicted the Torah. Actually, Jesus does answer their question directly; he explains that after death, people do not need to live on in their children. Jesus’ response also includes another jab at the Sadducees because he brings up the topic of Angels or Spirits. Sadducees did not believe in Spirits.
How can this elaborate story mean anything for us today? I believe it is meaningful because this story speaks about Jesus’ value of caring for people. In the time of Moses and of Jesus, populations were so much smaller than we know now. Day to day life consisted in relationships among families in small villages or nomadic families in the desert, that relied upon each other for basic necessities of life. It was vital for men and women to have offspring, not just to carry on their name and to pass on property, but because each generation would take care of the previous generation before them, and then they needed to produce offspring to take care of their generation when they grew old.
The outlandish question that the Sadducees put forth demonstrates how an old directive that was good and necessary in former days was turned into a topic that intended to embarrass Jesus.
And it seems to me that this is another example of how those in authority used their power to diminish Jesus, because they didn’t like this man Jesus who put forth ideas that supported the poor, the outcast, women, lepers, and other vulnerable groups of society.
Another aspect of this gospel is that we no longer need to live by these same strict parameters of producing offspring in order to have someone care for us in old age or just to pass along property.
Of course, many of us have spent countless hours taking care of our parents, or grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. Many of us have also spent considerable time and energy taking care of our adult children or grandchildren due to sickness, accidents and many reasons. But we don’t do it because there is a strict law directing us to do so. We make our daily choices based on love, compassion, concern, values at the root of all of our service to other human beings.
I believe today’s gospel story relates to last week’s gospel. Let’s look back at the beatitudes we found in last week’s gospel by Matthew and the reading of Beatitudes by Steve Garnaas-Holmes.
The values of Jesus are the root of our relationships with others, whether they are family, friends, strangers, or even people we don’t really like sometimes. The value of mercy that Matthew names is a reason we provide food in our micro-pantry at HF, or food or money that we donate to the Central Illinois Food Bank. We believe in peace-making when we choose to speak in a respectful conversational tone with someone who disagrees with us. We stand with the powerless named by Steve Garnaas-Holmes, when our hearts ache as we watch the news about war or victims of gun violence.
We are pure of heart when we see the face of Jesus in the homeless person we pass on the street. We are blessed when we mourn for our loved ones who have died, whether they be older than us or much too young to die. Blessed are we when we are kind, or meek, or poor in spirit, or persecuted for our values. It is when we practice any of these values that underlie the beatitudes, that we know we are with God in daily life, and that God is with us.
I love a quote from St. Catherine of Siena (my patron saint) who wrote:
“All the way to heaven is heaven.” (pause)
As one author commented, this quote of St. Catherine of Siena is a reminder that it is not the destination of heaven that is our only purpose in life, because the journey to get there is the necessary path. May our journey take the path of living the beatitudes day by day because we’ll be meeting God along the way and when we get there.
“All the way to heaven is heaven.”
We could all use a roadmap for the journey inward, a guide
away from the crowded thoroughfare to the quiet path of our
own true calling; a reminder that it is not the destination, but
the journey, that is important.
St. Catherine of Siena once
wrote, “All the way to heaven is heaven.” Perhaps this is roadmap
enough—this one stark line enough to keep us walking,
reminding us that the wind we feel on the back of our necks
is nothing less than the breath of God.
—excerpt from Finding the On Ramp by Jan Phillips
Homily shared on Saturday, 5 November 2022, by Rev. Katherine Elsner.