Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 7, 2010 – St. John’s
We have just heard in the Gospel an example of how arguments about religious questions were carried on at the time of Jesus. The party of Jews called Sadducees accepted only the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, and, not finding anything in them that indicated the belief, they denied the resurrection of the body. In addition, they offered an argument from Jewish law about marriage that they thought would refute their chief opponents on the matter, the Pharisees, who believed in an afterlife that was more or less the same kind of life that we enjoy here below–or don’t enjoy: one rabbi said that in the Kingdom women would give birth everyday!
The reply of Jesus avoids the trap set by the argument with the statement that in the new age, since no one will die any more, there will be no need for marriage and reproduction; all will be “children of the resurrection,” as he puts it. But then he offers his own argument from the Torah for the resurrection. To Moses God revealed himself as the God of the patriarchs, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If God is the God of the living, not of the dead, then the patriarchs must be alive, and therefore there must be a resurrection.
This argument has been misunderstood by many to be a proof simply of an afterlife, of the immortality of the soul. But the debate into which Jesus inserted himself was not about the soul’s life after death, but about the resurrection of the body. If Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are to be alive to God, then more than the continued existence of the soul is necessary because, as St. Thomas Aquinas put it very precisely: “Abraham’s soul is not Abraham himself.” We human beings are incarnate, enfleshed spirits; the body is integral to our existence as men and women. The body is not a prison, nor is it like an automobile which we drive around in for a while but which without loss to ourselves we abandon when it gets old and its parts wear out. We are our bodies also, not just “souls” briefly in exile in this flesh. That is why death is an evil: it dissolves our being, what God created and created good: this body-soul unity that is our distinctive human being. Aquinas also put this neatly: “My soul is not me,” he said, and for the integrity of human fulfilment, my body must also share in the joys of the Kingdom, and whatever joy those who have died already enjoy includes the confidence and expectation that they one day will be “children of the resurrection”.
We assert this at the end of our Creed, of course, when we say: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” It is an important element in the Christian vision of things. It means that the end of all things is like the beginning of all things. The creation account in the first chapter of the Bible repeatedly says that all that God has made is good: this whole physical cosmos, from atoms to galaxies, and all things living, including human beings formed from the earth with God’s spirit breathing them into conscious life–all that God has made, all of it, is good, indeed very good. And correspondingly we await a new age, a second creation, a new heaven and earth, and in that new and final age we also await the restoration of our integrity as human beings, what St. Paul called “the redemption of our bodies” (Rm 9:23).
Our bodies, then, are holy things, created good by God and destined for life in him. Which ought to lead us to have a real care for them, take proper care of our health, for example, avoiding foods and drugs that abuse them. This respect for our bodies should also include respect and care for this physical universe in which we live our lives, which we once could take for granted, but which we recognize now is more fragile than we had thought. We do not live human lives except in our bodies; we do not live these bodily lives except on this good earth, and we need to learn to appreciate and care for it as God’s good creation, which one day will be included in the final peace for which God created it, and us.