Fr Lino Moreira OSB
In Chapter VII of the Second Book of Maccabees we are told how a Jewish mother and her seven sons chose to face torture and death rather than transgress against the Law of Moses, which forbade them to eat pork. They showed such superhuman courage because they believed in the resurrection from the dead: “You dismiss us from this present life but the King of the Universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life” (1 M 7:9) – said one of the young men to King Antiochus Epiphanes.
If we examine the contents of this belief, we will see that it embraces the whole of human nature, which is both spiritual and physical. One of the martyrs expresses the hope that his body will be restored in the following terms: “From Heaven I have received these limbs […] and from him I hope to receive them again (1 M 7:11).” Therefore it is the whole person that will be granted immortality, and because the body is not excluded, the relationship between those who loved each other in this world will also be revived. As the mother said to her youngest son, the last to be executed: “prove yourself worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that I may receive you back with them in the day of mercy (1 M 7:29).”
This theology of a bodily resurrection, so clearly formulated in the beginning of the second century before Christ, was rejected by the Sadducees. And according to Saint Luke, some of them tried to prove to Jesus that such a doctrine was utterly absurd by telling him the story of seven brothers who married the same woman in close succession. They asked: “In the resurrection, therefore, which one’s wife will
she be? (Lk 20:33).”
In his answer Jesus stresses the fact that the life of the age to come is by no means a mere continuation of the life in this world, which can only be perpetuated through propagation: “those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead – he says – neither marry nor are given in marriage, for neither can they die anymore, since they are like angels, and are children of God, being children of the resurrection (Lk 20:35-36).”
This is a very clear statement that the laws of biology no longer apply to those who rise from their tombs, but at the same time we are to understand that not only their souls but also their bodies are clothed with immortality. Indeed, were it not so, eternity in God and with God would be anything but an interrelationship of persons, and Jesus’s assertion that those who rise from the dead are children of God (cf. Lk
20:35) would be no more than an empty metaphor.
Having made it clear that those whom God wakes from the sleep of death share the one bond of adoption as sons and daughters of the same God, Jesus goes on to say: “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the burning bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Lk 37-
For the Sadducees, who held only the written Law – that is to say, the first five books of the Bible – as authoritative, an argument based on story of the burning bush, which is told in the third and fourth chapters of the Book of Exodus, carried a very special weight. Jesus points out to his learned opponents that to say that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are not fully alive is tantamount to denying that the Creator of the universe is the God of the living. And he concludes with a striking remark: “for all live to him” (Lk 37-38).
That means that to live is to live for God, and the opposite is death. In other words, it is only those who listen to the word of God and put it into practice that are truly alive in this world, and because they are known and loved by their Creator, they are granted immortality. We are invited, then, to listen to Jesus, the Word of God made flesh (cf. Jn 1:18), and to follow him wherever he goes. By doing so we will be living to the full even now, and in the age to come we will have our share in the happiness of the children of God.