Luke 20:27-38, 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Usually we hear in the Gospel about the Pharisees who were the religious leaders in Palestine at the time of Christ. They were the popular experts in theology and morality. And one of the doctrines they believed in and taught was the resurrection of the dead, just as we heard it proclaimed in the First Reading.
The Sadducees, on the other hand, who confront Jesus today, didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. They were the political leaders of Palestine at the time of Christ. They collaborated with the Romans, and enjoyed all the pleasures that come with wealth and power. If they had believed in the Resurrection and judgment after death, they probably wouldn’t have been so quick to make compromises with justice and truth just to keep a tight grip on their privileged but earthly position.
That makes us wonder: Did the Sadducees start living worldly, pleasure-centered lives because they did not believe in the Resurrection, or did they not believe in the Resurrection because they started living worldly, pleasure-centered lives? There is an old proverb that says if we don’t live according to what we believe, we will soon believe according to how we live.
This is a danger for many Christians Church today, because the predominant way of life in our society is not Christian. The Church’s moral teachings are laughed at and even violently opposed.
This makes it harder for us to live them out – no one likes to be laughed at, no one likes to be excluded from mainstream culture, criticized, labelled or hated.
But if in the face of these challenges we lose courage and compromise, we could end up like the Sadducees, losing the very faith that gives meaning to our lives.
There is a familiar phrase that describes the difficult situation that every Christian faces here on earth: We are called to be in the world without being of the world. We are citizens of earth, and we must be responsible citizens, but this earthly citizenship is only temporary.
Baptism gave us a new citizenship. It made us citizens of Christ’s eternal Kingdom. God’s grace in our souls is our passport to heaven, our proof of citizenship, a citizenship that will last forever. We have been given a temporary work permit for our time here on earth. During this time we are called to show and grow our love for our King and his Kingdom.
But there is a problem. Evil forces are at work here on earth: our ingrained selfish tendencies, the devil, and a culture immersed with sin.
St Paul was keenly aware of these forces that are working against us, as we heard in the 2nd Reading. There he wrote to the Thessalonians that he was constantly being threatened by “perverse and wicked people.” and that we need God’s help to “guard us from the evil one.”
We must not be naïve! We have spiritual enemies who are interested in separating us from Christ, in seducing us into giving up our heavenly citizenship.
That’s what happened to the Sadducees. They gave up their passports to heaven in exchange for the passing pleasures of earth.
We are called to be light in this world darkened by sin – but how can we keep that light shining?
St Paul did it – he managed to be thoroughly in the world without being of the world. He tells us his secret in the 2nd Reading. He depended not on his own strength, but on God’s: “… our Lord Jesus Christ… has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace.”
St Paul’s secret can be our secret. If we keep our friendship with Christ alive and healthy, he will never let us fall into the tragic trap of the Sadducees. St Paul goes on to write, “The Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.” If we stay close to Christ, he will take care of everything else.
And he has made it so easy to stay close to him! He is always online, ready to hear our prayers and speak to our hearts, if only we turn our minds to him .He is always in the Tabernacle of every Church, giving us a physical place where we can be near to him. He is always here in every priest, ready to meet us in the confessional, forgive our sins, and arm us against future temptations.
All of us are already close to Christ. But Jesus wants us to be even closer, because he wants to do greater things in us, and he wants to protect us from our spiritual enemies.
When Jesus comes to offer himself to us once again in the Eucharist, when we receive him later in Holy Communion, let’s talk to him about what we can do this week to fulfill that loving desire of our Lord and humbly ask him to never let us be separated from him – never ever.