May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.
In today's gospel the Sadducees pose one of those "what if" questions that plague religious authorities: What if an ordained priest falls in love? What if a married man commits adultery? What if I accidentally eat meat on Ash Wednesday? What if a priest has a sex change; is she still a priest?
Children use such questions to needle their parents; skeptics use the questions to undermine religious authority. In the case of today's gospel, Jesus is asked to defend a Pharisee's position against Sadducees.
Although the scenario is comical -- What if Typhoid Mary marries seven brothers; whose wife will she be in eternity? -- their intent is sinister. They would undermine Jesus' authority as the Messiah; they would sabotage their own salvation to score points for their political doctrine.
The doctrine of personal resurrection was born of martyrs like the woman and her seven sons of our first reading. Resurrection is God's promise to martyrs who suffer the agony of persecution and the horror of murder. It recalls long stretches of time when one's own government could arrest, interrogate, torture, imprison and execute without so much as a nod toward a fair trial. Even explanations for one's suffering can be withheld.
We have seen situations like that since 9/11 and the so-called Patriot Act. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina Muslims in New Orleans were arrested, humiliated and jailed without trial -- without so much as a phone call to a lawyer. These crimes of federal and state authorities have not been prosecuted since Congress mandated them. If they persecute Muslims today, it is only a matter of time before they come for the rest of us.
The smiles of these Sadducees mask vicious intent. Their question was especially ironic because they were direct descendants of the heroic Maccabees. They should at least treat the story of seven brothers dying together with more respect. But, like some people today, they were content with their lot in this world and dared not consider death, judgment, heaven and hell. The Day of the Lord could only signal the end of their perks, luxuries and entitlements.
Today privilege still sneers at religious practices, sexual integrity and marital fidelity, honest business dealings and paying taxes, and our concern for the least among us. During these last weeks of the year, we contemplate the Last Things with confidence as we await our vindication.