Luke 20:27-38, 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Play God for a moment and imagine you are pondering whether or not to bestow immortality on the crowning achievement of your creation, the human person. You consider the upsides and downsides of your move to grant eternity to humanity, and weigh these against each other.
A lifespan limited to a handful of decades on a small planet has its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
The positives: well, at least, they will appreciate the good on earth and will not be so depressed by the bad. Both good and bad will have their own respective expiration dates. People tend to lose appreciation of those things that are never lost. They tend to take for granted those things that they think will always be there.
The negatives: if they imagine this life is as good as it gets, that there is no more sequel to the only expedition in town, well, this could either push them to avarice or anxiety, leaving them more dislocated and depressed than ever. Perhaps toward the twilight of their lives, they will ask, if beyond death there is no more, what then was the point of the ride?
If you decide to give them an afterlife, there are upsides and downsides to that as well.
The downsides of immortality might involve a dangerous devaluation of human life in general, a reckless tendency to escape to the next level of play, and the risk of a deranged utopian vision of the afterlife that glorifies doing terrible things today. In the “Underworld” movie series, which is all about an eternal battle between Lycans (werewolves) and Vampires, you begin to wonder what the point is of killing one another if there is no closure, if everyone gets to be restored again anyhow ad infinitum. Indeed, if life does not end, what is the point of being good?
The upsides: a sense of continuity (beyond death) of what is true and lovely and good will make for greater serenity and generosity of their human soul. Immortality enables the boldness of the brothers in the first reading today. They held their rebel ground, standing on the conviction of their faith and on “the hope God gives of being raised up by him.” In a similar way, a sense of termination for what is false and unlovely and bad can only strengthen their intuition that your justice is not time-bound nor does it sleep. This is also what emboldens the Maccabean martyrs to pronounce on those who are about to torture and kill them: “but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.”
Playing God still, you weigh these options carefully, acknowledging that eternity is not an easy gift to grant human persons who have been known to fall and break apart.
But you are God and you are love eternal. You are “not God of the dead, but of the living”. In your love, you yourself chose to shape their hearts according to yours. In a mysterious way, in spite of what they cannot see beyond their horizon, they have managed to surprise you, sailing the waves unfazed, many times just on an intuition. Somehow something of you in their humanity makes them bold. Somehow their mortality has made possible their love.
If finitude has given them a deeper appreciation of life that is passing, they can sense as well that life might be open-ended and infinity more than just a stretch of mathematical imagination. And even if it is not often they are given a glimpse of something larger than their lives, they will always harbor a hope of returning what has been lost and desiring what has yet to be given.
If they who are finite can dare to love forever, you might as well give them forever. They may be enamored of many things that do not last their lifetime, but you hope in time they will see that what they have now is just the beginning. They may not deserve forever but in your heart you know that forever becomes them.