Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Til Death do us Part

Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

What do Burhan Aspaf Belge, Conrad Hilton, George Sanders, Herbert Hutner, Joshua Josden Jr., Jack Ryan, Michael O’Hara, Felipe de Alba and Frederic Prinz von Anhalt all have in common? All nine men have been married to the same woman at some point in time— and, she is none other than Zsa Zsa Gabor. How’s that for trivia? OK, let’s try another  'Guess the bride'. Her list of husbands include; Conrad Hilton Jr., Michael Wilding, Mike Todd, Eddie Fisher, Richard Burton, Richard Burton again, John Warner, and Larry Fortensky. Anybody know? These were the eight marriages, but 7 husbands of Elizabeth Taylor. When people are married so many times, do you have a feeling that a lot of the wedding gifts came with the receipt for easy return or Refund? Today we are going to focus on a woman who only had seven marriages. She wasn’t a celebrity and in fact, she never even existed. The Sadducees created her as a hypothetical irrationality.

The Lord had just entered Jerusalem and the religious leaders are coming to Him to test him out as there were already rumours that He was the long-awaited Messiah. In today’s gospel, it is the turn of the Sadducees to do the testing. The Sadducees were an aristocratic and politically influential group who were aligned with the Roman overlords as well as having control of the high priesthood and the Sanhedrin. They disappeared from history after the Jewish rebellion in 66-70AD and what we know about their beliefs is limited, as we only know it from their opponents, who are usually not the most reliable witnesses. However, we do know that they did not believe in the resurrection or the afterlife which they considered to be new-fangled ideas of the Pharisees.

So the Sadducees went to seek Jesus' opinion on the matter of the resurrection and the afterlife. They pose a question based on the Old Testament provisions of what is known as levirate marriage where a brother married his dead brother's widow to provide a child for the dead brother. So they put forward an obviously academic and mildly ridiculous possibility of seven brothers marrying the same woman in due order and then dying without having any children. In reality, you have to imagine that by marriage number 4, someone would have been saying “Guys, I really don't think this is a good idea.” The tone of the question was sarcastic and was meant to belittle and make fun of the doctrine of the resurrection. Unfortunately for the Sadducees as they snicker, the Lord Jesus exposes the problem. They thought that they have just set the perfect trap for the Lord. But, He takes this opportunity to correct two major errors by stating that, there is a life to come and earthly marriage is not meant for it.

These Sadducees assume the resurrection will be a mere resuscitation, a return to bodily life as we currently experience it.  Jesus, however, points out that our risen bodies will be different from what they are now.  The answer provided by Jesus makes a clear distinction between the “children of this world” and those in “the other world.” In the former, people take wives and husbands but in the latter, they “do not marry.” Just by those two descriptions Jesus is telling us that this life is not like the next life; there is a contrast, things will not be the same. The differences are not just a matter of a resurrected body. The fundamental difference has to do with relationships, marriage in particular.

Throughout the history of interpretation, the passage above has caused no small amount of consternation for those seeking to be faithful in hope to God’s call on their lives. Here we have one of the very few teachings of Jesus about what the resurrection involves and yet it seems to foretell a reality that, quite honestly, terrifies many of us, especially happily married couples (though, it may come as a relief to those who feel trapped in an unhappy marriage). But the truth is, death ends marriage! That is why we say in weddings, “till death do us part.”

This notion, that marriage is not forever, seems to fly against the Church’s unwavering position that marriage is indissoluble and a great good which She never fails to defend. This is especially so when the Church teaches that marriage is not simply a necessary evil. Complete to the contrary: She teaches that it is profoundly good and beautiful, that its vocation is written in the very nature of man and woman, as they came from the hand of the Creator (CCC 1603), and that as a sacrament, it both signifies and communicates grace (CCC 1617).

Marriage is part of the design of God from the very beginning of creation, though, it is also an institution that is bound up with realities of mortal life.  Reproduction is necessary for any living organism because someday, we will die and we need to have replacements to carry on.  In heaven, however, we won’t need to worry about the survival of the species. But the reason why there would be no marriages after the resurrection, goes beyond such practical and scientific argumentation. It is the sacramental dimension of marriage. Human marriage is merely a reflection of the heavenly marriage between Christ and the Church. Heaven, the New Creation, the New Jerusalem, is the ultimate marriage of Christ and His people. All of our little marriages here on Earth are imperfect mirrors of the ultimate intimacy, the ultimate union, the ultimate oneness, the ultimate relationship – the Lord and His people. Once in heaven, the spouses will be perfectly bound together in Christ and there will be no more procreation or exclusive mutuality.

Whatever goodness and beauty we come to know here on earth through the sacrament of marriage will not be discarded as no longer necessary, neither will it be arbitrarily transferred or transmuted into something so wholly different that it is completely unrecognisable. We are promised a New Heavens and New Earth in Scripture—one in which, by the unfailing Love and grace of God, all of creation will finally attain to the perfection for which it was made (CCC 302). The newness suggests a beauty, freshness and goodness that is wholly incorrupt. Every sin, every source of suffering, of which even the best marriages have had their fair share, will be no more and every wound will be healed; the fulfilment of our vocation to marriage, will be perfectly realised only in heaven.

Will there be marriage at the resurrection? Not as we know it, and yet somehow, mysteriously, it won’t be lost at all. Everything we know to be good about marriage—the love we would have given and received, the union we would have forged and deepened with our spouses—will reach its perfection in Christ, in such a way that the very best of what we would have experienced, will, but seem a minuscule foretaste of an unfathomably extravagant gift. The resurrection will surely not be a disappointment in any way. The Marriage of Christ to His Church will be a blazing sunlight that outshines all the little candles of our current marriages.

So this is why we hold on to marriage even as it continues to be misunderstood and even though we struggle with the imperfections of all human relationships. Let us never forget that marriage is not just a social fabric or a physical union, it is a spiritual expression of the life to come. There is a time to bond and there is a time to part. We acknowledge that. But no Christian parts from each other without the hope of something even greater— the perfect marriage or the match made in heaven, where there will no longer be any separation, no longer any parting, and no longer would death rob us of the things and people whom we love.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Terms of Use: As additional measure for security, please sign in before you leave your comments.

Please note that foul language will not be tolerated. Comments that include profanity, personal attacks, and antisocial behaviour such as "spamming" and "trolling" will be removed. Violators run the risk of being blocked permanently. You are fully responsible for the content you post. Please be responsible and stay on topic.