Hope in afterlife reduces anxiety
By Father Paul Turner
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
The Good News for the 32nd Sunday In Ordinary Time, Sunday, November 1, 1998
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
2 Thessalonians 2:16 - 3:5
"Whoever dies with the most toys wins." That philosophy permeates American life. Earn more. Buy more. Do more. You may never get the chance again. We spend on what we want, rather than on what future generations need. There is no life after death in that American philosophy. There is only life before death.
Still, many people want something to continue after death. They bring children into the world who will carry their name and ideals. They develop property, construct buildings or plant trees to live on after they die. They write books, paint pictures, compose poetry, sculpt statues, or create impressive football records in the hopes that beauty and excellence will be eternal if their bodies will not.
But Christians believe in resurrection. We accept the joys and pains of life in the belief that more lies ahead after death. We can accept sickness, poverty, solitude, and simplicity because all the riches of this world keep us from sensing the real heartbeat of life, a love which need not be material.
Throughout most of the history of Israel, people did not believe in life after death. For example, in his sickness Hezekiah bartered with God the advantages of keeping him alive: "The netherworld does not give you thanks. Death does not praise you. Those going down into the pit do not await your kindness." If God let Hezekiah die from this sickness, Hezekiah reasoned, God would lose, since the dead cannot offer praise. "The living, the living give you thanks as I do today" (Isaiah 38:18-19).
Eventually Israel altered its belief that death ended it all. Just before Jesus was born, many in Judaism already believed in a resurrection. Witness next Sunday's first reading (2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14). In this horrible scene, seven brothers are being tortured to death in the presence of their mother. For some years, the customs of Greek life had influenced Israel.
When Antiochus IV Epiphanes took the throne (175-164 BC), he promoted the political advantage of universalizing Greek life throughout his territory. So he persecuted and massacred the Jews. He forbade circumcision. He ordered their scriptures to be destroyed. He eliminated their religious holidays. He set up an idol on the very altar of the temple in Jerusalem. Imagine if the governor of Missouri ordered state police to pull down the crucifix from our cathedral and put up an image of Bill Gates instead. The Jews resisted. In the scene we hear next Sunday a family accepts death rather than eat pork against their religious beliefs.
What gave them strength? What enabled them to take such a heroic stand? We learn in the last line of that reading. The fourth brother said he accepted death at the hands of humans because he believed God would restore him to life. Two hundred years before Jesus revealed the resurrection, this man believed in life after death.
The Sadducees, however, did not. When Jesus met a group of them in Jerusalem shortly before his death (Luke 20:27-38), the Sadducees taunted his teaching about resurrection. Sadducees were religious fundamentalists who accepted only the first five books of the bible as the inspired word of God. They found no life after death there, so they rebuked the whole belief.
Still, theirs was not the empty philosophy of "Whoever dies with the most toys wins." The Sadducees accepted a kind of eternity, the eternity of a family name. They recall that when a man dies his unmarried brothers should marry his widow (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). Why? For the sake of the eternity of his name. If the brothers had children with her, the name of the deceased would live on. Sadducees did not accept life after death, but they believed that memory granted eternity.
Jesus said what lies ahead is more than memory. Life after death exceeds what the Sadducees can imagine. They ask a surreal question: "If a woman marries seven brothers because each one dies without an heir, whose husband will she be when all eight reconvene in the resurrection?" Jesus dodges it. Instead, he basically responds, "Well, you don't know what you're talking about." He's the master. He should know. But we can't help hungering after a little more information. All he answers is that life after death is not like marriage before death.
What happens after death remains a mystery. Jesus keeps the mystery under wraps, but he assures us that we will be alive in God. Hope in that mystery lessens our anxiety about life before death.
Father Paul Turner is pastor of St. John Francis Regis Parish, Kansas City.
Daily Scripture ReadingsAll Saints Day, Sunday, November 1
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14
Psalms 24:1-6 1
All Souls Day Monday, November 2
Tuesday, November 3
Wednesday, November 4
Psalms 27:1, 4, 13-14
Thursday, November 5
Friday, November 6
Philippians 3:17 - 4:1
Saturday, November 7
Psalms 112:1-2, 5-6, 8-9
Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday, November 8
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
Psalms 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15
2 Thessalonians 2:16 - 3:5