The Consistency of God
November 7, 2004
The Sadducees were a group at the time of Jesus who did not believe in the resurrection. In this respect, they disagreed with the Pharisees who believed that life would continue after death. In this debate, Jesus sided with the Pharisees, and that is why the Sadducees come to him in today’s gospel in order to question his teaching. He defends it and insists that there will be a resurrection. That belief has become a central part of the Christian message. We as Christians believe that death is not the end, but that we are called to eternal joy with God forever. Of course there is no way to prove this belief. We cannot demonstrate scientifically that there is life after death. In our worst moments, as we struggle with grief and loss, we might be tempted to doubt whether the promise of life eternal is real. So what can we do to deal with these doubts? What can we say that would, if not prove eternal life, nevertheless assist us in believing in it?
I would suggest that we consider two questions. The first question is this: Do you believe that God is loving you now? This question is at the heart of the gospel. It faces the believer with a choice between two alternative views of life: Are the events in our life the result of randomness and chance, or are they the result of a God who is guiding us and loving us?
The Christian believes that God is both Creator and Savior, that God has a plan for our lives, that God is in fact blessing us and loving us. Now of course this belief cannot be any more proven than the belief in eternal life. We cannot demonstrate scientifically how all the blessings of our life are the result of God’s love. Others could say we are just having a run of good luck. But what the believer can do is point to concrete people and circumstances in his or her life to support the belief in God’s love. Look at the way you first met your fiancé, spouse, or life long friend. Was that meeting by chance or was God loving you? When you hold a newly born child or grandchild in your arms, is that child you are holding the result of a random sequence, or is he or she a personal gift from a God who cares? Even as you struggle with the difficulties of life, with grief, with disease, and even death itself, look at the people in your life who continue to love you and support you. Is their presence in your life the result of good luck, or are they there because God is loving you?
When we clearly look at what we have received, how we have been blessed, the believer knows how to answer the first question: “Is God loving me now? Yes. I believe God is.” And once we answer that first question positively, we can move on to the second. If God is loving me now, why would God stop loving me after death? If God has blessed me with life, family, friends, talent, and happiness, why would God end those blessings when I die? The Christian of course believes that God will not stop, that God continues to bless us with the eternal gift of Heaven.
Now, as I have already said, these two questions do not prove that there is life after death. But taken together, they provide a suggestion that is based upon the consistency of God. If God is blessing and loving us now, why would we think that God would change? Christians believe that God does not change. Who God is for us will continue. Therefore, when you are tempted to doubt what will happen after death, look at what is happening before death. Ground yourself in a deep thankfulness for all you have received and how deeply you have been blessed. For the more that we can claim God’s love for us here and now, the easier it will be for us to believe that God will continue to love us forever.
Beauty and God’s Presence
November 11, 2007
I do not usually refer to Greek philosophy in my homilies. But that does not mean that the great ideas of minds such as Plato or Aristotle are irrelevant to the gospel. In fact, the teachings of these founders of Western Civilization have been used by the Catholic Church throughout the centuries to shape many of the theological beliefs that we find in the catechism. Their beliefs have also deeply influenced the thinking of saints such as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Moreover, in today’s gospel Jesus is arguing with the Sadducees over two questions, which are central to Greek philosophy: Who Is God? And what happens after death? Against the position of the Sadducees, Jesus argues that after death there is a resurrection from the dead. How does he argue this? From the scriptures. He says that at the burning bush, God revealed to Moses that God was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. All of these ancestors were dead. But if God was still their God, they must, in some sense, still be alive. Because God is not God of the dead but God of the living.
Now I know this argumentation by Jesus is far from clear but its conclusion is obvious. Our God is not God of the dead but God of the living. We find God, not in death, but in life. Conversely whenever we encounter life, we also encounter God’s presence. It is in life that we find the reflection of God. Therefore life is a portal, a threshold to God.
But where in life do we find God? That is a deeper question. Here is where the Greek philosophers become useful. They thought extensively about such questions. There was a consensus in Greek philosophy that there were three places in life where God was most clearly reflected: in that which was good, in that which was true, and in that which was beautiful. Greek philosophy believed that whenever you encountered goodness in life, whether that was moral goodness or human goodness, goodness was a reflection of God. Whenever you encountered truth in life, whether that truth was correctness or responsibility or honesty, in truth God was present. Whenever you encountered beauty, beauty you could see or hear or touch, beauty was a reflection of God.
Now I think we regularly associate God with goodness and truth, but how often do we associate God with beauty? This insight is the new learning which results from my convoluted discourse about Greek Philosophy and the gospel. Our God is a God of life. And one of the places in life where God can be encountered is in that which is beautiful. Beautiful things convey to us the presence and the power of God. It is important that we see beauty in that way.
So here is my practical suggestion for the week: be attentive to the beauty in your life. Be attentive this week to the beautiful things you experience and do so with the religious sense that in that beauty you encounter the living God. If you by chance this week were to see one of our beautiful fall sunsets, do not simply let its beauty enter your eye. Pause and let it touch your heart. Then say to yourself, “God is near.” If you stop in to check on your four year old son as he sleeps, pause long enough to see in the beauty of his innocence the truth that God is present. If you see two teen-agers walking hand-in-hand in the mall, so connected and so unaware of what yet still lies ahead, see in the beauty of their relationship the truth that God is still with us. When you come to your wits end, when you simply need a break from all of your responsibilities, take a moment and walk in the park. Let the beauty that surrounds you touch you. Or listen to a favorite piece of music and sense in its beauty the love and power of God.
Use such moments of beauty as a prayer, as a prayer which says: Of all the things I experience today, let me not miss this moment. For in the beauty of this moment I experience you, Lord. I can touch your love and your strength. In this beauty I can know that you are my God—not God of the dead, but God of the living.
The God of the Resurrection
November 6, 2010
Jesus argues with the Sadducees in today’s gospel about the resurrection. The Sadducees were a Jewish group of the first century who denied the resurrection. Jesus, however, agreed with the Pharisees and proclaimed a resurrection. Now because we are Christian, we side with Jesus. We believe in the resurrection. But, what are we believing in?
My experience is that most Catholics, indeed most Christians, say they believe in the resurrection, but really do not understand what resurrection is. So today, my homily will be in two parts. I would first like to discuss with you what we mean when we talk about resurrection. Secondly I will suggest what resurrection tells us about God and us.
What do we mean by resurrection? We can talk about Jesus’s resurrection and our own resurrection. We believe that Jesus has already been raised up. This is what we celebrate at Easter. We also believe that we will be raised from the dead on the last day, when Jesus returns. What I have to say applies to both Jesus’ and our resurrection. What most people think that resurrection means is that death has been conquered and we will live with God forever. Now, resurrection does mean that, but it means something more. Resurrection is a certain kind of living with God forever. Resurrection asserts that we will live with God forever and our bodies will participate in that life. You see, many ancient civilizations believed in an after-life. The Egyptians did. The Greeks did. But, they imagined an after-life as a spiritual reality where the soul would live on and the body would be left behind. The Jews were different. They believed that a day would come when God would raise us from the dead and that our physical bodies would participate in the gift of eternal life. You can hear this very clearly in today’s first reading from the book of Maccabees. One of the brothers who is going to his death says, “Cut off these hands. God gave them to me and I am going to get them back.” He is expressing his faith that his hands will share in the resurrection. Resurrection, then, means bodily resurrection.
To be clear, we do not think that our resurrected body will be the same body that we have now. It will be a transformed body, a glorified body. It will not age or be prone to sickness or death. We cannot imagine a glorified body because every body we know is destined to death. But, the gospel challenges us to imagine a body in which the only what is good remains: energy, heightened senses, the beauty of form and grace. We believe that Jesus already has such a body, because he has already been resurrected. The resurrection narratives in the gospels try to express this physical but yet transformed body. Jesus can speak to his disciples; he can touch his disciples; he can eat fish. But at the same time he can pass through locked doors and suddenly appear and disappear. So, we believe that Christ already has a resurrected body and that those who belong to Christ will also be raised up. We believe that our beloved dead who are already with God in heaven will on the last day be raised up bodily to join with all of us and to share God’s presence forever.
This then is resurrection. It is bodily resurrection, and it is a central tenet of our faith. We affirm it every time we say the Apostle’s Creed. “. . . I believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.” This is what we mean when we talk about resurrection.
What does resurrection tell us about God and us?
It tells us that God will always be faithful to us, because God will never discard anything that God has made. You see, the way that the Jews came to the understanding of resurrection was because they first believed that God was creator. God had made everything and had made it good. Because God made the world and everything in it, God would never turn away from what had been made. So when the Jews tried to conceive what eternal life with God could be like, they could not imagine that God would leave this created world behind, as if it was so much chaff to be thrown away. If God made my body, if God made that tree, if God made this earth, then somehow all these things would participate in God’s eternal joy. God would never abandon or discard anything that God had made.
When we look at the resurrection from this perspective, it not only tells us something about our future—what will happen on the last day—it also tells us something about the God who loves us now. If you are worried about someone you love who is making a mess of their life—a son or daughter on drugs, a close friend making disastrous decisions—remember the God of the resurrection. God made the person you love and God will never turn away from that person. God will find a way to transform him or her either now or on the last day. If you are going through a divorce or ending a deep relationship, remember the God of the resurrection. God placed the love and commitment that you expressed in your marriage or your relationship in your heart. God will never waste that love or commitment but will find a way to transform it, either now or on the last day. If you have lost someone you love in death, remember the God of the resurrection. God gave life to your parent or grandparent or friend who has died and that God will never abandon that person. That God will not only keep their soul safe, but will raise them up bodily so that you can again see them and embrace them on the last day.
We believe in the resurrection. But, more importantly, we believe in the God of the resurrection. God that will never forget or abandon anything that God has made. We believe in a God that will transform all that is wasted and broken and deadened in our world and raise it up bodily to share eternal joy forever.
Resurrection and Transformation
November 10, 2013
We believe in resurrection. But resurrection is more than eternal life. Resurrection not only promises that we will live forever but promises that our physical bodies will share in that endless glory. Now, that’s quite a lot to believe. It can strain our ability to believe. How are our physical bodies going to live forever? By the time you reach 50 years old your body begins to falter. By the time you are 70 or 80 it takes all of your effort to keep your body moving. So, how will our physical bodies go on endlessly? The short answer is that God will make them so. We believe that God will transform our physical bodies into a new kind of body that will live on forever.
Resurrection, then, is transformation—a transformation that God will bring about for our benefit. So, when we say that we believe in resurrection, we are saying that we believe in the God of transformation, the God who will make all things new. This is why Jesus, as he argues with the Sadducees about the resurrection in today’s gospel, concludes his argument by talking about God. God is not the God of the dead but of the living. God is the God of the resurrection who will transform our bodies and the world around us to be the perfect reflection of God’s own glory.
Now, this belief in the resurrection leads to two realities: hope and action. When we look at the brokenness of our lives, when we look at all that is wrong with the world, it is easy to lose hope. When we see the people we love caught in the grips of addiction or prisoners to a destructive relationship, when time and time again we try to forgive someone who has hurt us but cannot bring ourselves to do so, when day after day we fall into attitudes of prejudice even though we know that they are wrong, it is easy to become discouraged. When we look at the way that greed and indifference in our society continues to oppress the poor and vulnerable, when we see how ideological differences in government cut short dialogue and the ability to make progress, it is easy for us to throw up our hands and say, “This is the way that it is, and it will never change.”
But we believe in the God of the resurrection. A God who not only is committed to transform our physical bodies but also to transform the world around us. Because we believe that God has power, we believe that the people we love and we ourselves can be transformed. We believe that the destructive structures of our society can be changed and that hearts that are closed to dialogue and cooperation can open. The God of the resurrection is our hope.
But this truth not only gives us hope, it calls us to action. If God is the God of transformation, it is a transformation in which we are called to share. God’s transformation often begins with us. We must be the people who learn how to help rather than enable those who are addicted, the people who keep opening our hearts to forgiveness even though we cannot completely embrace it, the people who repent of prejudice every time it overcomes us. When we act in this way, we open the way for God’s transformation to occur. We must be the people that speak out in our society for the poor and the vulnerable even though our voices may not be heard, the people who commit ourselves to listen to those of different political and ideological stances even though we may not completely agree. And every time we act in this way, we open the door wider for the God of resurrection to act.
We believe in resurrection. This means that we believe in a God of transformation. A God who will transform our physical bodies and the world around us. But our God will not act alone. Our God calls us to be participants in resurrection. Our God calls us to be agents of transformation and new life.
November 6, 2016
Where do we find God? In one sense, because God is everywhere, we can find God in any place. Nevertheless, it is true that God is more easily found in some places rather than others. Jesus makes this point to the Sadducees in today’s gospel, when he says, “God is not God of the dead, but of the living.” God’s reign is a reign over life and goodness, not over death and despair. Our God is God of the living. The evangelist Luke uses this same word, “living,” at the end of his gospel. Two men say to the women at the tomb, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” The risen Christ is not to be found in a tomb but in the blessings of life.
So if we are looking for God, we should look among the living. This is important because all too often we look for God among the dead. Evil and pain come into all our lives. And when they do, they tend to absorb all of our attention and all of our energy. But you cannot find God in evil and in pain. God is God of the living.
When someone we love deeply dies, the pain can paralyze us. Everything around us points to our loss. The emptiness within us is so deep it is difficult to breathe. But life cannot be found in grief. Joy is not in dying. We must look among the living. We must ask, who are the people still in my life who love me? Where are the places that I can go and still find consolation and peace? It is there that we should look for hope. It is there we should look for God.
When we must face sickness or the consequences of old age, it is easy to become discouraged. We cannot do the things we used to do. We cannot move as would like. Pain is often our companion. Yet life is not to be found in pain. There is no joy in immobility. We must look among the living. What are the activities, however limited, that we still can accomplish? Who are the people in our life of whom we are proud? It is there that we should look for hope and look for God.
When we fail in some major way, when a relationship we were counting on evaporates, when a project crumbles, it is easy to feel worthless and incapable. But life is not to be found in regret. There is no joy in pity. We must look among the living. What talents and abilities do I still have and can still use? What are the opportunities that still lie ahead of me? There is where we should look for hope and God.
Grief, sickness, failure all want to control us. They seek to absorb all of our time and define who we are. That is why we must turn to what is positive. We will not find life among the dead. Today’s gospel asks us recognize the parts of our life that are alive and claim them. It is there we will find joy. It is there that we will find the God who saves us.
The God of the Living
November 10, 2019
Many of the things that Jesus says in today’s gospel are difficult to understand. But the last line is clear. He says, “God is not God of the dead, but of the living.” What this gospel is telling us is that God will not be found in places that are exhausted, depleted, or dead. But God can be discovered in what lives, grows, and blesses us. This is a very important insight, because you and I have a tendency to become stuck in things that are depleted and dead. We are cemented to these places because of hurt or because of our desire that our life would be different. But there is no life in those places, and God cannot be found there.
When you lose someone that you love deeply in death—a close friend, a spouse of many years—your heart is broken, and you are filled with emptiness. But there is no life in emptiness. Even though you deeply loved that person who died, you cannot hold on to what once was. This gospel tells us that God calls us out of that emptiness to what is new and life giving. You might worry deeply about someone you love who is struggling—a child, a member of your family. Their unhappiness robs you of joy. This gospel tells us that there is no life in unhappiness. God calls us to recognize the relationships in our life that are positive and life giving, because they will bless us over and over. You might be angry or discouraged about some politicians in our government today. They might be making decisions with which you disagree and which you believe will hurt our country. This gospel says there is no life in anger and discouragement. It calls us to own the parts of our government that are still functioning effectively and calls us to commit ourselves to elect politicians that we feel will more successfully serve the common good. In whatever dark, angry or hurt place we might be stuck, God has the power to call us out and give us a new beginning.
Marguerite Higgins was an award-winning journalist who was imbedded with the American troops during the Korean War. She tells this story. One night the soldiers ended their march early for dinner. They were bone tired and filled with anxiety and the fear of death. One young soldier leaned against a jeep, eating his cold dinner out of a tin can. He had been in the field for weeks. His clothes were stiff with dirt and the cold. His heavily bearded face was impacted with mud and almost without expression. Then one of his buddies asked a surprising question. He said, “Pete, if I were God and could give you whatever you wish, what would want the most?” The soldier stood motionless for a few moments, and then he said, “Just give me tomorrow.”
God is going to give us tomorrow. That is why we cannot squander it rummaging around among things that are dead. Seize what is life-giving in tomorrow. If you do so, you will experience happiness and hope, because you will have found the God of the living.