A very zealous soul-winning young preacher recently came upon a farmer working in his field. Being concerned about the farmer’s soul the preacher asked the man, “Are you laboring in the vineyard of the Lord my good man?” Not even looking at the preacher and continuing his work the farmer replied, “Naw, these are soybeans.” “You don’t understand,” said the preacher. “Are you a Christian?” With the same amount of interest as his previous answer the farmer said, “Nope my name is Jones. You must be lookin for Jim Christian. He lives a mile south of here.” The young determined preacher tried again asking the farmer, “Are you lost?”
“Naw! I’ve lived here all my life,” answered the farmer.
“Are you prepared for the resurrection?” the frustrated preacher asked.
This caught the farmer’s attention and he asked, “When’s it gonna be?”
Thinking he had accomplished something the young preacher replied, “It could be today, tomorrow, or the next day.”
Taking a handkerchief from his back pocket and wiping his brow, the farmer remarked, “Well, don’t mention it to my wife. She don’t get out much and she’ll wanna go all three days.”
We have just heard the story of the seven brothers who rather preferred to die instead of worshiping the Greek gods, which cult was imposed by the Seleucid dynasty. From what we know they have probably joined the revolt led by The Maccabee brothers -the leaders of the Jewish rebellion against the Seleucid dynasty- and been sentenced to death because of their public refusal of offering a sacrifice to the gods. Their story looks very much like a saga: a spare group of rebels fighting against the ungodly ruler and his army, and seven faithful brothers who would rather prefer to give up their lives and be tortured than worship the false gods.
It is worth noticing that we do not read the books of Maccabee very often. As a matter of fact, they are usually quoted in very few occasions, but they are indeed very important to us for two strong reasons: their solid affirmation of the resurrection and the prayer for the dead, which is part of our tradition.
Now seven are the brothers who died before the king and seven the men of the puzzle told by the Sadducees to ridicule the belief in the resurrection, the same one affirmed so vehemently by the story we heard from the book of the Maccabee. This is not a coincidence. It is very much related to the jewish way of thinking and arguing in order to weaken an opponent’s belief. The Sadducees know that Jesus already expressed his faith in the resurrection and try to find another opportunity to proof that he was a false prophet and at the same time undermine his authority in front of his audience. They also know the Scriptures- and that the Pharisees believe in the resurrection.
Clearly the debate on the resurrection is not just a matter of theological dispute, but a political issue. What the Sadducees deny is not the “life after death” as we may think of from our western perspective and modern mindset and culture: a non-bodily state in which people simply went on existing in some form or other.
What they have in mind is more a set of pictures: the story of Israel to their own time, and on into the future when God would raise all Israel, perhaps even all humans, from the dead, and create a new world for them to live in. This all idea of a future when the dead would be alive again in a way they weren’t at present, all the wrongs of the world be put to right, simply seemed absurd to them. From a political point of view, It seemed to them too revolutionary (people who believe in a God who could do those sort of things are more likely to take drastic political action without fearing the consequences) and consequently dangerous to their political cause. As aristocrats they wanted to be in power as soon as possible, possibly with a good alliance with the Romans. The resurrection could feed into the idea of martyrdom very easily. This is why they were so keen at disregarding and mocking the resurrection as a stupid conception.
Once more Jesus takes advantage of the situation to show them that firstly they don’t know what they are talking about because they are manipulating the Scriptures for the sake of their political purposes, which disqualified their motives. Secondly, Jesus envisions the resurrection as an after life world where the relationships will not be based on legal or sexual bonds, but on God’s love and freedom. He is not suggesting that we won’t have a body, but that we would have a body that would be significantly different from the ones we have at the present. It is certainly a fascinating and very difficult topic. What would happen to our bodies after death? But maybe this interest for the resurrection and the divine justice the would follow, is just ours. Who else would be interested in deepening the meaning of this Christian belief? The world seems to be preoccupied with other matters or simply distracted by the overwhelming flow of information that submerge us every day. Religions seem to mingle and become products among other products in the global supermarket of spirituality. People can pick what they want, and they chose what would be useful to their present life without worrying too much about what would happen in the “world after life”.
However, the violence of the always too many war conflicts all over the world, the slaughter of children -and generally speaking- innocent people, the poverty and injustice bring us a back to the reality of our daily life. What is extremely interesting about Jesus’s reaction to the Sadducees’ argument on the resurrection is again his impact on our present life more than his description of what that would be. The reality is that we don’t really know, and any attempt of envisioning the life after death would fall short of any human description. Time and space are fundamentals of our human experience so that we cannot really think of a world out of the time and the space. We cannot experience it and, consequently, describe it because it is out of our human reach. We can speculate as much as we want, but it would always be pure speculation.
The Sadducees are right when they say that the belief in the resurrection would have an impact in the living people not the dead. This is why they want to demolish it, because it does not fit their political purposes. For the same reason Jesus proofs them wrong by showing that he came to proclaim a revolutionary gospel. What he says is that the resurrection matters to the living not to the dead.
This belief will also profoundly affect the way we live our present lives and enlighten our decisions and actions. The example from the book of the Maccabee is deliberately extreme, but it helps us to understand the importance of the resurrection in our lives. If I believe in the resurrection, I will live, value and weight my relationships differently. My Christian values would have a direct impact on my daily life because they would somehow be reflected in my after life. Although we don’t know how, through the resurrection we affirm that there is a connection between our present and future life, and live according to this belief.
Believing in the resurrection for us is strongly connected to our faith in God himself. Pascal’s wager perhaps still apply: “suppose a winning sweepstakes ticket is worth a million pounds, and there are only two tickets left. You know that one of them is the winning ticket, while the other is worth nothing, and you are allowed to buy only one of the two tickets, at random. Would it be a good investment to spend a pound on the good chance of winning a million? No reasonable person can be or ever is in doubt in such cases. But deciding whether to believe in God or the resurrection is a case like this, argues Pascal. It is therefore the height of folly not to “bet” on God, even if you have no certainty, no proof, no guarantee that your bet will win”.