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God Is Not God of the Dead

Gospel Commentary for the 32rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

ROME, NOV. 9, 2007 ( In reply to the question that the Sadducees had posed to trap him about the woman who had had seven husbands on earth, Jesus above all reaffirms the fact of the resurrection, correcting at the same time the Sadducees’ materialistic caricature of it.

Eternal beatitude is not just an increase and prolongation of terrestrial joys, the maximization of the pleasures of the flesh and the table. The other life is truly another life, a life of a different quality. It is true that it is the fulfillment of all man’s longings on earth, yet it is infinitely more, on a different level. “Those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels.”

At the end of the Gospel passage, Jesus explains the reason why there must be life after death. “That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out ‘Lord, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,’ and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” Where in that is the proof that the dead rise? If God is defined as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and is a God of the living, not of the dead, then this means that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive somewhere, even if they have been dead for centuries at the time that God talks to Moses.

Interpreting Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees in an erroneous way, some have claimed that marriage has no follow-up in heaven. But with his reply Jesus rejects the caricature that the Sadducees present of heaven, a caricature that suggests that it is a simple continuation of the earthly relationships of the spouses. He does not deny that they might rediscover in God the bond that united them on earth.

Is it possible that a husband and wife, after a life that brought them into relation with God through the miracle of creation, will not in eternal life have anything more in common, as if all were forgotten, lost? Would this not be contrary to Jesus’ word according to which that which God has united must not be divided? If God united them on earth, how could he divide them in heaven? Could an entire life spent together end in nothing without betraying the meaning of this present life, which is a preparation for the kingdom, the new heaven and the new earth?

It is Scripture itself, and not only the natural desire of the husband and wife, that supports this hope. Marriage, Scripture says, is “a great sacrament” because it symbolizes the union between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:32). Is it possible that it be eliminated in the heavenly Jerusalem, where there will be celebrated the eternal wedding feast of Christ and the Church of which the marriage of man and woman is an image?

According to this vision, matrimony does not entirely end with death but is transfigured, spiritualized — it loses those limits that mark life on earth — in the same way that the bonds between parents and children or between friends will not be forgotten. In the preface of the Mass for the dead, the liturgy says that with death “life is changed, not taken away”; the same must be said of marriage, which is an integral part of life.

But what about those who have had a negative experience of earthly marriage, an experience of misunderstanding and suffering? Should not this idea that the marital bond will not break at death be for them, rather than a consolation, a reason for fear? No, for in the passage from time to eternity the good remains and evil falls away. The love that united them, perhaps for only a brief time, remains; defects, misunderstandings, suffering that they inflicted on each other, will fall away. Many spouses will experience true love for each other only when they will be reunited “in God,” and with this love there will be the joy and fullness of the union that they did not know on earth. This is also what happens to the love between Faust and Margaret in Goethe’s story: “Only in heaven the unreachable — that is, the total and pacific union between two creatures who love each other — will become reality.” In God all will be understood, all will be excused, all will be forgiven.

And what can be said about those who have been legitimately married to different people, widowers and widows who have remarried. (This was the case presented to Jesus of the seven brothers who successively had the same woman as their wife.) Even for them we must repeat the same thing: That which was truly love and self-surrender between each of the husbands or wives, being objectively a good coming from God, will not be dissolved. In heaven there will not be rivalry in love or jealousy. These things do not belong to true love but to the intrinsic limits of the creature.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pontifical Household preacher. The readings for this Sunday are 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:15-3:5; Luke 20:27-38.

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