Proper 27, 6 November 2022
As a bishop, when I wake up every morning, I think about what our diocese will look like in twenty or thirty years. Many of us want to know the future; that’s human nature. We desire our future to be secured, and some resort to superstition or fortune-telling. Henri Nouwen reminds us that we only have sufficient light to make the next step, as the Lord said to us:
“Give us this day our daily bread”.
We should only really be concerned about today; tomorrow is beyond our control. Consider the surprises of the pandemic, the war, and recession: these are beyond our control.
However, in Christ, as God’s people we are filled with hope, because we’re grounded upon God’s precious promises. If God had made no promises, there would be no hope; our hope is based on the fact that He has promised something. God cannot lie: He has taken an oath.[i] If God lies, He stops being God. You can rely on God’s promises more than the chair you sit on. You don’t check to make sure a chair can hold you – we have to trust. You can trust God more than anything else. We trust our doctors and follow their advice, but how sure are you? They are human, and we all make mistakes, but we don’t have second thoughts, because they know what they’re talking about after studying for ten years. If we trust one another’s words, how much more can we trust God’s Word!
Whose Wife Will She Be?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus was teaching in the vicinity of the temple and preaching the good news, when the religious leaders came to entrap Him with their questions. This time it was a group of Sadducees, who asked Him about the resurrection. They did not believe in the resurrection, the “immortality of the soul” or the “afterlife”.
They cited the ancient Hebrew practice of a man’s obligation to marry his brother’s childless wife. According to their story, there were seven brothers, and one married and died without children. The levirate law in the Old Testament said that one brother must marry his widow. All seven brothers married her and died. In the movie Saving Priavte Ryan there were three brothers who went to war, all named Ryan. Two were killed in battle; the commanders decided to save third so there would be children to keep the family name. In Israel this is extremely important. The purpose of this law was to preserve the deceased’s name through his descendant, and for the widow not to die in such a lonely state. God said we must take care of the poor, the widow, and the fatherless. The Sadducees’ question was whose wife would she be. If you marry and your wife dies and you marry again, who will be your wife in heaven – will they fight about it?
Jesus’ answer was simple: In the resurrection there will be no need for marriage; it’s only for this life. People will know no death and will have no need to procreate and preserve descendants.
The Source of Life
Then and now, the message of the resurrection was and is foolishness. Saul of Tarsus persecuted Christ’s followers and was determined to disprove the resurrection; he saw the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection as a threat to Judaism. Later Saint Paul spoke about the resurrection to the Epicureans and Stoic philosophers of Athens; they said it was strange, but invited him to return and speak to them about it again. The promise of the resurrection was foreign to many people then, and still is now; like the message of the Gospel, it is foolishness to the world we live in. The promised resurrection is in the Christian Creed, and goes beyond the “immortality of the soul”
Why is it so important for Christians to grasp the message of the resurrection? It was Jesus who said it:
“God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”[ii]
God is the giver and the source of life, and we always need to think in this way. Whether from a physical or sociological standpoint, even cultures die: socially speaking, there is an apparent effect of death even in our culture; but we believe that God and Christ is Life and the Source of life.
Henri Nouwen said Jesus’ resurrection was not a hidden event. Jesus rose from the dead, not to baffle His opponents, to make a victory statement, or to prove to His opponents that He was right after all and that they made a very big mistake in crucifying Him (although these things are also true) but as a sign to those who loved and followed Him, that God’s divine love is more powerful than death. Fr. Patrick Reardon explains that there was a war between good and evil, and its theatre was Golgotha; Jesus’ death conquered and destroyed death. We will all one day face physical death; but that is not the end – it’s a passage and a new beginning.
The Hope of Christ’s Coming
Hope is defined as the desire and search for a future good. We all hope for something better and say there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. But divine hope is different from wishful thinking. Before the Incarnation of our Lord, creation was gripped by the hope of the promised Messiah, which in the next few months we will celebrate. Before the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, particularly when John the Baptist began to preach the Gospel, there was great expectation that the Messiah would come. We too should have this hope and expect the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we celebrate in the Feast of Christ the King.
We’re called to embody that same hope of Christ’s Second Coming, because hope provides motivation to live a Christian life even in the face of troubles. We cannot eradicate trouble and suffering. Many Europeans lost their faith in God because of two World Wars, and now there is war; many people ask why a good God allows people to suffer, and it’s a very difficult question. There is suffering in the world we live in, but the good news is that God gave us hope.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”[iii]
We were not simply given hope, but a living hope, a hope that is alive. We were not only given a gift of hope, but born into that hope: it’s intrinsic in the life of a Christian. We should not allow despair to steal that hope from us, because we were born into it. When Jesus told Nicodemus he needed to be born from above, he asked,
“How can this be? How can I be born from above?”[iv]
Saint Peter adds the dimension that we were born into a living hope. This means Christians are filled with hope, and we are a people of hope. When we were baptised, we were born into a hope that the world cannot produce or give to you, a hope that’s alive; it’s only given to Christians when we’re born into it.
“an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil”[v]
Every ship or boat has an anchor; if a boat is not anchored, through the movement of the waves because of the wind, it will eventually be tossed and drift into the midst of the ocean, and be lost without any sense of direction. From a figurative standpoint, an anchor is a safeguard; the hope God has given us is a safeguard of our soul. Many people may say all kinds of things, but my soul will be steadfast and sure in God, because of the hope of His promise to us.
Gilbert K. Chesterton said,
“Hope is hoping when things are hopeless, otherwise hope is no virtue at all. As long as things are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude. it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.”[vi]
When we’ve exhausted everything, is there hope that remains? When do we need hope? – when everything is hopeless. When you no longer have hope and the world can no longer produce the hope we’re looking for, we should always understand that our hope is in God. Nothing in this world is really sure.
Share This Hope With Others
Since we are a people of hope, we’re compelled to share it with others. Someone had the idea of selling the Vatican. The collection in the Vatican Museum is priceless: there’s a tapestry with the eyes of Jesus looking at you, and as you walk, they follow you. No company will insure the Vatican, because it’s so valuable. Someone suggested selling the church in order to feed the poor. This might sound like a good idea, but after you have given the poor all the proceeds, there will be poor people again. Dennis Prager said that if we have sold the church, the messenger of hope is gone – because the Church is the messenger of hope.
In the Gospel for All Saints’ Day, Jesus said,
“I was hungry and you fed Me; I was thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was sick and you visited Me… I was in prison and you comforted Me.”[vii]
Why would Jesus say that if you want to go to heaven that is what you need to do? It’s because those who are hungry, thirsty, sick, and in prison become hopeless. Our responsibility, because we have this hope given to us and were born into it, is to share that hope with others. They may not understand it, but that’s our responsibility.
It’s alarming that, whereas in the past people in their forties went through a mid-life crisis and were depressed, nowadays young people and teenagers become depressed. All the more the world needs to hear the message of hope: the hope of resurrection. We’re living in the midst of what Pope John Paul II called “the culture of death”, but it will be transformed into the culture of life.
Don’t Allow Your Hope to Be Stolen
As Christians, do not let your hope be stolen from you. You are born into it, you’re given such a gift – don’t let the lies of the enemy steal it from us.
If you’re undergoing a situation that seems hopeless, pray to God. Put it down at the feet of the cross, embrace the hope God has promised us and given us in our Baptism. If you’re facing a difficult situation, turn to God today and thank Him for the message of hope, even the hope of the resurrection. Death doesn’t have the last say – life does.
Lord, we lay this down at the feet of the cross, and we thank You for the hope and guidance we need. May this hope be the anchor of our soul.
Let us pray for those we know who are in a hopeless situation: relatives, friends, office mates, people who are on drugs or who may be contemplating harming themselves. May God give us the wisdom, boldness, courage, and strength to share the message of hope with them.
We may receive the Eucharist every Sunday, but there are things we need to remember. We hear the story of the gift of God’s salvation, the economy of salvation, in the Eucharistic prayer. But we also need to be reminded that at the cross of Christ, life conquered death. Beyond a ritual, there’s a message we must never forget, and the only way to remember is by doing this. We remember that life conquered death – that’s why Jesus was resurrected from the dead – and His resurrection is also our resurrection. That’s the hope we have; never allow anyone or anything to steal it from us.
Today’s message is a prelude to celebrating the Second Coming of Christ. We must not lose the hope that He will come again to judge the living and the dead. We want Him to come, and He will come, whether the world knows it or not, but in His time, not ours.
When the Mass ends, our mission begins: particularly those who are hungry, thirsty, sick, or in prison. May God use us as a messenger of hope; the world needs it desperately. Be an instrument of God.
- To what extent do you feel anxious or insecure about the future? Have you ever sought to know the future, either asking God, or by other means apart from Him? How do God’s promises, especially Christ’s coming, the resurrection, and eternal life, help you address this?
- Do you find it easier to trust people and objects, or to trust God and His Word and promises? Why? Have people or objects ever let you down? What about God?
- Does the idea of the resurrection seem strange to you or to people you know? How do you explain it?
- In what ways do you observe or experience the influence of death – whether personally and in your family and church, or in the creation, the world, and society around you? How do Christ’s resurrection and the hope of our resurrection help to put these in perspective?
- How does the hope of Christ’s coming motivate you to live the Christian life when there are troubles and suffering in your life and in the world? In what way is hope a safeguard for your soul?
- Based on your experience of a relationship with Christ, have you been born into a living hope? If so, how has it transformed your life? If not, would you like to experience it? What are the obstacles, and how can they be overcome?
- Is your hope in the resurrection and Christ’s second coming, or in something else, or do you feel you are without hope? How have difficulties affected your hope in God?
- Why is it so important to share the Christian hope with others and with the world? In what ways are you, your family, and the church to which you belong doing so? Are there other ways in which God is calling you to do so?
[i] Hebrews 6:18
[ii] Luke 20:38
[iii] I Peter 1:3, NKJV
[iv] John 3:4 [paraphrased]
[v] Hebrews 6:19, NKJV
[vi] Gilbert K. Chesterton, “On Paganism and Mr. Lowes-Dickinson,” Heretics (1909)
[vii] Matthew 25:35-36 (last phrase paraphrased)