Heaven: Nothing we have expected and everything we have anticipated
By Tim Irwin
Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time/Nov. 6
2 Maccabees 7:1-2,9-14; Psalm 17:1,5-6,8,15; 2 Thessalonians 2:16 — 3:5; Luke 20:27-38
The readings for the Thirty-Second Sunday of Ordinary time remind us that risen life cannot be understood in the way we make sense of our time in the material universe. The Greek philosopher Aristotle theorized that the material universe can be described as the place of changeable being — a place of generation and corruption.
In the first reading from Second Maccabees, a king tortures a Jewish mother and her seven sons because they refuse to violate the dietary laws of the Children of Israel. The fourth brother explains why he and three of his brothers before him so willingly endured such a gruesome death: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.”
The wicked exploit the corruption that is part and parcel of life in the changeable universe. The faith-filled recognize that one way or another this life ends in the corruption of all things material and the fullness of life awaits only those who trust in God.
In the reading from Second Letter to the Thessalonians, Paul encourages the first Christians, some of whom also endured torture and death at the hands of the Romans. “But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. We are confident of you in the Lord that what we instruct you, you are doing and will continue to do. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ,” says Paul.
Lasting and complete happiness cannot be had in this life, even in the best of circumstances, but in the risen life of Christ, we will experience happiness beyond our reckoning.
The Gospel according to Luke addresses the limitations that face anyone trying to reckon the happiness of risen life in terms of life in the here and now. Some Sadducees, a group that denied the resurrection, attempt to stump Jesus with the story of the intrepid women who in turn married and buried seven husbands. She finally dies. The Sadducees ask Jesus, “Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?”
Jesus responds, “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.” The Sadducees understand things, as we do, in terms that reflect life in the material universe of changeable being, subject to both generation and corruption. The answer given by Jesus tells us that in risen life we will experience neither generation nor corruption; we will simply be.
If you can’t make sense of that, you’re not alone. Nobody can understand it, not because it contradicts reason, but because it transcends reason. Our process of thinking presumes the passage of time, so we just can’t get a handle on the timelessness of risen life.
Faith offers us the only means we have to set ourselves on the road to risen life. Such was the faith of the Jewish mother and her seven sons and the martyrs of the early Church. Such should be our faith. The church calls us to place our faith in Christ and transcend the generation and corruption of the material universe.
Let us set our hearts on heaven, where life will be nothing that we have expected and everything we have anticipated.
Tim Irwin teaches at Peoria Notre Dame High School, where he chairs the Theology Department. He is a member of St. Mark Parish in Peoria.