Saturday, November 9, 2013

Jesus on the resurrection

Our Gospel reading for this Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C), taken from the twentieth chapter of St. Luke's Gospel (20:27-38), puts Jesus in dialogue with the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection of the body (So, they were sad, you see!- old joke). The Sadducees invoke what is known as "the law of the levirate," which called for an unmarried man to marry the widow of his brother.

It was on 11 November 1981 (the day I turned 16), during his weekly General Audience, which audiences in our day feature a short papal catechesis, that Bl. Pope John Paul II (Pope St. John Paul II after April 2014) delivered the sixty-fourth (of 129) installment of what has come to be known as his Theology of the Body, which takes this same text, and its parallel passages in the other synoptic Gospels (Matt 22:24-30 and Mark 12:18-27), as his starting point.

So, for your edification this week, below is the catechesis in its entirety. It is the English text, which I found on the EWTN website, originally published in L'Osservatore Romano, the official international newspaper of the Holy See, Weekly Edition in English 16 November 1981, page 3.

There is no English translation on the Holy See's official website. I have not compared this translation with the undoubtedly more accurate one produced in Michael Waldstein's book, which is indispensable for any English-speaking person who is serious about Theology of Body, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body. I am also posting the whole thing to show something that I feel I must point out quite often: Theology of the Body is not primarily about sex!

1. After a rather long pause, today we will resume the meditations which have been going on for some time, which we have called reflections on the theology of the body.

In continuing, it is opportune to go back to the words of the Gospel in which Christ referred to the resurrection. These words are of fundamental importance for understanding marriage in the Christian sense and also the renunciation of conjugal life for the kingdom of heaven.

The complex casuistry of the Old Testament in the field of marriage not only drove the Pharisees to go to Christ to pose to him the problem of the indissolubility of marriage (cf. Mt 19:3-9; Mk 10:2-12). Another time, it also drove the Sadducees to question him about the so-called levirate law. This conversation is harmoniously reported by the synoptic Gospels (cf. Mt 22:24-30; Mk 12:18-27; Lk 20:27-40). Although all three accounts are almost identical, we note some differences, slight, but at the same time significant. Since the conversation is reported in three versions, those of Matthew, Mark and Luke, a deeper analysis is necessary, since it contains elements which have an essential significance for the theology of the body.

The Resurrection of Christ, by Paolo_Veronese, ca. 1570)

Christ refutes belief of Sadducees

2. The revelation of this dimension of the body, stupendous in its content—and yet connected with the Gospel reread as a whole and in depth—emerges in the conversation with the Sadducees, "who say that there is no resurrection" (Mt 22:23). They had come to Christ to set before him an argument which in their judgment confirmed the soundness of their position. This argument was to contradict "the hypothesis of the resurrection." The Sadducees' argument is the following: "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the wife, and raise up children for his brother" (Mk 12:19). The Sadducees were referring here to the so-called levirate law (cf. Dt 25:5-10). Drawing upon the prescription of this ancient law, they presented the following case: "There were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and when he died, he left no children. The second took her, and died, leaving no children, and the third likewise, and the seven left no children. Last of all the woman also died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife" (Mk 12:20-23).

Wisdom and power of God himself

3. Christ's answer is one of the answer-keys of the Gospel, in which there is revealed—precisely starting from purely human arguments and in contrast with them—another dimension of the question, that is, the one that corresponds to the wisdom and power of God himself. Similarly, the case had arisen of the tax coin with Caesar's image and of the correct relationship between what is divine and what is human (Caesar's) in the sphere of authority (cf. Mt 22:15-22). This time Jesus replied as follows: "Is not this why you are wrong, that you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven" (Mk 12:24-25). This is the fundamental reply to the case, that is, to the problem it contains. Knowing the thoughts of the Sadducees, and realizing their real intentions, Christ subsequently took up again the problem of the possibility of resurrection, denied by the Sadducees themselves: "As for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not a God of the dead, but of the living" (Mk 12:26-27). As we can see, Christ quoted the same Moses to whom the Sadducees had referred, and ended with the affirmation: "You are quite wrong" (Mk 12:27).

Another affirmation

4. Christ repeats this conclusive affirmation even a second time. In fact, he said it the first time at the beginning of his explanation. Then he said: "You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Mt 22:29). We read in Mark: "Is not this why you are wrong, that you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?" (12:24). In Luke's version (20:27-36), on the contrary, Christ's same answer is without polemical tones, without that, "You are quite wrong." On the other hand, he proclaimed the same thing since in his answer he introduced some elements which are not found either in Matthew or in Mark. Here is the text: "Jesus said to them, 'The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection'" (Lk 20:34-36). With regard to the possibility of resurrection, Luke—like the other two synoptics—refers to Moses, that is, to the passage in Exodus 3:2-6. This passage narrates that the great legislator of the old covenant had heard from the bush, which "was burning, yet not consumed," the following words: "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Ex 3:6). In the same place, when Moses had asked God's name, he had heard the answer: "I am who am" (Ex 3:14).

In this way, therefore, speaking of the future resurrection of the body, Christ refers to the power of the living God. We will have to consider this subject in greater detail later.

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