It is hard to wrap our heads around the reality of what our existence will be like after our earthly death. Many people and non-Christian faith traditions, such as the Sadducees in today’s reading, don’t accept that we will somehow live eternally. Others share their personal near death experiences that, to them, provide concrete proof that there is an after-life and glimpses of what it will be like.
In the attempt to trip up Jesus, the non-believing Sadducees assume for the sake of argument that heaven exists, and then wish to gain clarity on what the implications will be. As He always does, Jesus avoids the trap and provides insights that continue to challenge us. In this reading, the questioners were concerned about the marital relationships that would survive death and live on in eternity, trying to pose an insoluble riddle for Jesus to arbitrate. By trying to extrapolate what they know of this life to what they expect of the next, they try to disprove the existence of heaven and eternal life.
Jesus reminds them, and us, that the reality of the coming age is one unencumbered by the human relationships by which we live. We will be free of death, and we will be like angels, and be children of God. In other words, we won’t need to worry about marriage (or lack thereof) relationships, because we will be siblings united in the love we receive from and have for God. If we are siblings for all eternity, and live in a special relationship with God, what need have we of marriage to another person?
This is comforting, but also disconcerting. One of the yearnings that we have is for reunion one day with our deceased relatives. Anyone who has known a long-time married couple knows how strong this feeling can be for the surviving spouse, and how that person anticipates the pending reunion as they approach their own death. I don’t know how to reconcile this feeling with what Jesus is teaching, other than to rely on His insight into the differentness that characterizes that existence and the one that we currently experience. I have been with my wife for almost 44 years, and can’t imagine the separation loss that I would feel if she were to die before me (nor the loss that she would feel if the opposite occurs). I can only speculate that being in the loving presence of God so overwhelms us that any emotional emptiness we might have felt from the loss of a loved one, and the need to continue to be bonded to that person in heaven, is fully replaced by the reality of that love.
And I think another takeaway for me is to not worry too much about what heaven will be like, but to instead do what I can to live this life in this mortal existence in a loving way with those with whom I interact. Trying to live like a child of God, trying to treat others as a child of God, is so very challenging. Overcoming our human nature to be self-centered, instead of other-centered, is a life long journey of ups and downs. I think what Jesus is saying today is – “Don’t worry. When you get there you will see how this works. You will be other-centered. You will be fully loving. You will be fully loved. You will be at peace.” Even though I don’t understand it, this is a comforting message of hope and anticipation.
And so my prayer today is for the strength to reach out in Christ-like love to others, to live this life with an other-loving attitude, and to not worry about what is to be.
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