Tag Archives: Sadducees

Resurrection and Virginity

Icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign”

33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)

Luke 20:27-40 

Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry and remarry; but 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; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise (Luke 20:34-36).

Where there is no death, there is no birth, and therefore no marriage and procreation. Many patristic commentators drew this connection based on Jesus’ response to the query of the Sadducees who denied the resurrection of the dead. 

St. Augustine: “For marriages are for the sake of children, children for succession, succession because of death. Where then there is no death, there are no marriages.”1

St. Clement of Alexandria: “This process of birth is balanced by a process of decay and is no longer in store for the person who has once been cut off from life here.”2

St. Gregory of Nyssa: “The physical bringing of children into the world—I speak without wishing to offend—is as much a starting-point of death as of life; because from the moment of birth the process of dying commences.”3

St. Maximus the Confessor: “After the transgression pleasure naturally preconditioned the births of all human beings, and no one at all was by nature free from birth subject to the passion associated with this pleasure; rather everyone was requited with sufferings, and subsequent death, as the natural punishment.”4

The resurrected life is virginal and passionless, and takes its prototype from the Most Holy Trinity and the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

St. Gregory of Nyssa develops this idea in his work, On Virginity: 

“It is comprehended in the idea of the Father incorrupt; and here at the outset is a paradox, viz. that virginity is found in Him, Who has a Son and yet without passion has begotten Him. It is included too in the nature of this Only-begotten God, Who struck the first note of all this moral innocence; it shines forth equally in His pure and passionless generation. Again a paradox; that the Son should be known to us by virginity. It is seen, too, in the inherent and incorruptible purity of the Holy Spirit; for when you have named the pure and incorruptible you have named virginity… This, I think, was the reason why our Master, Jesus Christ Himself, the Fountain of all innocence, did not come into the world by wedlock. It was, to divulge by the manner of His Incarnation this great secret; that purity is the only complete indication of the presence of God and of His coming, and that no one can in reality secure this for himself, unless he has altogether estranged himself from the passions of the flesh. What happened in the stainless Mary when the fullness of the Godhead which was in Christ shone out through her, that happens in every soul that leads by rule the virgin life.”5

Mary who was assumed into heaven body and soul is simultaneously Virgin, Bride, and Mother. Her fruitfulness is the result of the power of the Holy Spirit and not the fertility cycle of birth and death. She is the icon of the bridal Church, in whose womb the marriage of divinity and humanity was consummated. The children of the Blessed Virgin Mary and God the Father are the brethren of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and coheirs with him of an imperishable inheritance (Hebrews 2:11-12; 1 Peter 1:3-5; Ephesians 3:6). 

“Truly a joyful mother is the virgin mother who by the operation of the Spirit conceives the deathless children… If, then, death cannot pass beyond virginity, but finds his power checked and shattered there, it is demonstrated that virginity is a stronger thing than death.”6

The saints in communion with the Blessed Trinity are fully alive, in a virginal existence no longer subject to birth and death.

That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘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” (Luke 20:37-38).

-GMC

Related post: Mary, Mother of a New Genealogy

1 St. Augustine, De Quæst. Ev. l. ii. cap. 49, Catena Aurea of St. Thomas Aquinas, Luke 20:27-40. 

2 St. Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 3.87.2-3.

3 St. Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity, chapter 13.

4 St. Maximus the Confessor, Ad Thalassium 61, in On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ: Selected Writings from St. Maximus the Confessor, trans. Paul M. Blowers and Robert Louis Wilken, Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 2003, p. 131.

5 St. Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity, chapter 2.

6 Ibid., chapter 13.

Hope in the Resurrection

Ascent of Elijah (Northern Russian icon, ca. 1290)

11th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday

Sirach 48:1-14, Matthew 6:7-15

According to statistics, the mortality rate is 100%. Four exceptions to this rule are recorded in salvation history:

Seven generations after Adam, Scripture records that “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24). 

The prophet Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind with a flaming chariot and horses (2 Kings:11).

Death could not hold the Lord Jesus Christ, who rose on the third day after his crucifixion and ascended into heaven forty days later.

Traditions East and West affirm that the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven. (The East believes she “slept” peacefully before being assumed; the West believes she did not die.)

Enoch interrupted the downward spiral after Adam’s expulsion as a ray of hope piercing the darkness. Once a pattern sets in, human consciousness begins to accept it as normal and “natural.” However, “God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living” (Wisdom 1:13). As long as there is one exception to a rule, the rule is not absolute. 

Enoch and Elijah kept alive in human consciousness the possibility of bodily resurrection, foreshadowing by their mysterious translations the resurrection of Christ and the assumption of Mary. The Sadducees, the high priestly class, had already given up hope in the resurrection, effectively nullifying the witness of Enoch in the first book of the Pentateuch which they revered. The flame of hope is so easily snuffed out in a fragile humanity grown old.

It takes the heart of a child to believe in Jesus’ promise of eternal life: “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). 

In praying the Our Father today, we may contemplate Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Saints Enoch and Elijah in whom his will was done “on earth as it is in heaven.” The curtain separating heaven and earth was torn in two on the Cross, and the transfiguring Light of the Trinity shines everywhere. May we be granted eyes to see it. 

-GMC

Whose Wife Will She Be?

King Kalakaua’s Torah and yad in display case at Temple Emanu-El, Honolulu, Hawaii.
Licensed by Wmpearl under CC0 1.0.

9th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday (Year II)

Mark 12:18-27

What is it like not to believe in a spiritual realm? If reality is confined only to the material, sensible world, the focus of one’s energy might be to preserve and perpetuate one’s existence in time as long as possible—the family name and property. 

A theoretical question was put to Jesus by the Sadducees who did not believe in an afterlife or spirits: Suppose seven brothers die in succession after marrying one woman, and the woman finally dies. “At the resurrection when they arise whose wife will she be?” The Sadducees were confident that the question would expose the absurdity of an afterlife.

Jesus said to them, “Are you not misled because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels in heaven.”

There is more to life than meets the eye. The unseen realm exists, Jesus said, and it far surpasses the bodily existence of this life. What exactly the angelic life will look like for humans was not spelled out, but it most certainly lies beyond marriage and family ties. 

Jesus then appealed to the written Torah (the Pentateuch), which the Sadducees accepted as most authoritative: “As for the dead being raised, have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God told him, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not God of the dead but of the living. You are greatly misled.”

The patriarchs who preceded Moses are alive, Jesus said, though again not spelling out any details of the how or where. The text was given not so much as a “proof,” as words can be interpreted in many ways, but was presented in a new angle to open the eyes of the Sadducees who had developed tunnel vision. Jesus shattered the assumption that life simply ended with death.

The odd thing is that the Sadducees believed in the God of Moses who is spirit. From their sect came most of the priests who performed the Temple sacrifices. If human existence was only confined to this earthly life, their God must have been very remote and cut off from earthly affairs. Spirit and matter did not touch. How shocking then, to meet a man who claimed to be the Son of God who will rise from the dead. 

The teaching authorities of the people who waited for centuries for the Messiah were very unprepared for a Christ come in the flesh. “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” Jesus warned (Matthew 16:6).

If the idea of an afterlife was unbearable to the elite of Jesus’ people, one only wonders what Jesus held back when he said, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now” (John 16:12).

-GMC

32nd Sunday C: Thinking About Death

Audio Homily here:

How do we want to die? I think we’ll be hearing that question more frequently after our current elections are over. “End of life” decisions are going to be part of the political agenda in the future. In our society we’ll be facing a range of questions about death and dying.. 

Let’s think about the term “end of life” first. If we listen to our first reading from the Book of Maccabees, the seven brothers who are put to death for defying their Greek conquerors and keeping their Jewish faith don’t see death as an end of life. “You are depriving us of this present life,” one of the brothers says, “but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.”

The seven brothers see this life as given to them by God, who is master of life and death. Life doesn’t end. We are in God’s hands from the beginning. It’s for God to decide when we die, but God promises life beyond death. It’s for us to remain faithful as long as we live.

We hear in today’s gospel people denying that there’s life after death and trying to bait Jesus with what they think are absurd circumstances. Jesus tells the Sadducees  that life beyond this life is not the same as here on earth. A heavenly life is beyond what we can imagine.

So denying life beyond death isn’t new. Today we can hear the same denial of eternal life, the life that Jesus promises and shows us in his resurrection. One of the signs of that denial may be, I think, the increasing number of suicides, even among young people. We can see this life as our only life, and when circumstances become seemingly intolerable and seemingly hopeless, some unfortunately end their earthly lives. But we leave them to God’s mercy.

Today death often goes unmentioned. We don’t want to talk about it. We just want to think about life. But death is an important part of life.

There was a passage in a popular book some years ago by Carlos Castenada about an old Indian, Don Juan, and a young sophisticated scientist from the northeast, walking together in the desert in the southwest. The two are world’s apart in the way they think. 

As I recall it, the old Indian says to the young man, “Did you see the White Eagle circling over your shoulder?”

“ Yes, I see it,” the young man replies.

“That’s your death, keep an eye on it.”

“That’s a morbid thought,” the young man says, “We don’t think about that any more.”

“You should,” Don Juan says, “Keep an eye on your death. It will keep you from being small-minded.”

The young man’s describing the way a lot of people look at life today. We don’t want to think about death. We’re thinking more about extending life here on earth, through better diet, better heath care, better exercise;  we don’t like to think of a life ending in death.

But we should keep death in mind. Death is the door to another life. By ignoring it we can limit ourselves to a life too small, too self-centered, too brief. We need to see life as God sees it.   Life is not ended in death, it’s changed.

So death  is not something to be ignored; it is one of the two most important moments in life. That’s why we say in the Hail Mary. “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”