Homily: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings of the Day

Imagine that you are in control of the greatest power in the Universe. There is nothing that can compare to its power, and all the trial runs have been perfection. You can’t imagine that anything can beat you; all you have to do is flick your finger and your enemies are dust in the universe. Sure, you have enemies, but they don’t matter. And yet, just as you’re about to deliver the coup de grace, everything explodes around you. Just when you think that you’ve gotten your enemies, that you have the knowledge and the power and the will to conquer anything, you’re dust in the universe. That’s who the commander of the Death Star felt in the first Star Wars movie. He thought he was invulnerable, and had the ability to inflict his will on the universe. He was wrong wasn’t he? There was something he missed in his preparations, people he underestimated, logic he didn’t consider. And there he was: dust in the universe.

The Sadducees were a powerful group in Jesus’ day, even though they were gone forty years after his death. They were a movement within Judaism that was tied to the power structure of the day. Many of them were part of the Temple hierarchy and the civic leadership of Judaism, and they collaborated with the Romans to remain in power. Theologically, they were very strict: they didn’t accept anything that wasn’t in the first five books of Moses, the Torah, the first five books of our Old Testament, as divinely inspired. The Psalms were nice, the histories were nice, but not the same. They thought they had a foolproof set-up, and it was hard to get the better of them.

When Jesus came to town, they thought they had something that would blow him out of the water. The concept of the resurrection was relatively new in Judaism, and the Sadducees didn’t buy it. Not only were they convinced that people didn’t rise from the dead, they thought they had a killer question that would not only prove their case, but make anyone who tried to argue for it look stupid.

In Mosaic law, if a man died childless, his brother was to marry his wife and the first born son was considered the child of the dead brother. This was a sacred obligation and violating it was a great scandal. Seven was a sacred number of completion, so the case in point is to prove that all the could have been done was done. No matter how you answered the question of whose wife she would be in the world to come, whether it be number one or number seven, there was just as compelling argument for the other six and so you had a question with no right answer. Resurrection had to be absurd. Then Jesus comes along.

Jesus didn’t fall into the trap. He pointed out to them the problem with the question, first of all. The way that the question was asked assumed that the life to come would be like this life, and Jesus points out that the life to come will have different priorities and relationships, so marriage in the life to come is irrelevant. Then he goes to the Scripture that they accept and presents a compelling argument for the resurrection of the dead from Genesis. This rebuttal is remarkable in the Gospels, because this passage is the only place where the Sadducees question Jesus, and after Jesus’ rebuttal they never ask him anything again. Intellectually, they are dust in the universe.

There’s a lot of attention given to finding the right phrase or quote to destroy objections to Christianity, or convert opponents to the Faith in an instant. It’s a fallacy that conversion happens instantly: even Paul’s conversion outside Damascus took a long time; he didn’t go from persecutor to preacher overnight (as depicted in the books of Acts and retold in his letters). “Death Star” Christianity doesn’t exist, and relying on strategies like the Sadducees had means we can get blown away as they were.

We come here every week to share the Body and Blood of Christ, to strengthen our faith and give us wisdom. Faith is one of the greatest forces in the universe, but it can be dangerous to assume the power faith is all we need without our input; that just being around it and accepting it is enough. We still run the risk of thinking of ourselves and our faith as invulnerable as a Death Star, and finding ourselves at risk by what we don’t know or what we haven’t thought about. That’s why it’s important for us to keep trying to develop our faith, finding ways to learn more and working on what we don’t know. There’s more to Church than coming together to pray and sharing Eucharist. It’s about sharing knowledge and sharing community.

When we leave here today, how do we go? Yes, we will have the blessing of God in Christ, we will have strength for the journey. Will we go forth complacent, forgetting what we’ve gained here and vulnerable? Or will we continue the work God has begun in us and try every day and every way to let God teach us and bring us together. The choice is ours. The risk is that we many end up dust in the universe.

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