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Blog: Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph

January 10, 2020 - 10:14am
Megan Marley
The Good News:
God’s Word in Everyday Living

Deacon Scott McKellar

The season of Advent is a time of preparation to make our hearts ready for an encounter with the flesh and blood humanity of Jesus. We call this the Incarnation. John offered his fellow Jews a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, yet John the Baptist’s call to repentance and baptism was a prophetic act pointing forward to the coming of Christ (Acts 19:4).

Today as we close the Christmas season, we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. Given the nature of John’s baptism, it is very puzzling that Jesus allowed John to baptize him. Very rightly, “John tried to prevent him” from doing so (Matthew 3:14). Since Jesus was without sin, why would Jesus submit to John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins?

We find the answer in our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah, which speaks about the future coming of the Messiah. Jesus interpreted his mission as a fulfillment of the Suffering Servant figure in Isaiah (Luke 4:18-21, 7:18-22).

We can divide the book of Isaiah into two parts: the Book of Woes (Isaiah 1–39), which deals with Israel’s exile, and the Book of Consolations (Isaiah 40–66), which concerns God’s future promises for a restored Israel. In the Book of Consolations, a mysterious figure appears called the Suffering Servant.

Our Old Testament reading for this Mass begins with this second part of Isaiah: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased. Upon him I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1). The Catechism notes, “The baptism of Jesus is on his part the acceptance and inauguration of his mission as God’s suffering Servant. He allows himself to be numbered among sinners” (CCC 536).

It is through baptism that we enter into communion with Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:27). Christ joins us to himself in order that we might experience the fruits of his suffering on the cross. Jesus takes the sins of humanity upon himself on the cross, and out of love, shares his forgiveness with us through baptism.

By allowing himself to be baptized, Jesus sanctifies the waters of Baptism and opens the heavens to sinners (Matthew 3:16). The waters of Baptism represented death and rising to new life. St. Paul notes, “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

Jesus joined himself to sinful humanity in order that, out of love, he might bring them new life in the Spirit through his sacrificial death on the cross.

John the Baptist told the crowds “I am baptizing you with water, but . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). Regarding the Suffering Servant, Isaiah tells us, “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news. . .” (Isaiah 61:1). The ministry of the Lord’s Suffering Servant is both confirmed and empowered the Holy Spirit.

Matthew tells us “the heavens were opened” and “the Spirit of God descending like a dove” upon Jesus (Matthew 3:16).

Jesus mission is also confirmed when a “voice came from the heavens,” saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). These words seem in part to echo Psalm 2:7 “You are my son; today I have begotten you” but also today’s reading from Isaiah 42:1 “my servant . . . with whom I am pleased.”

If John’s Baptism was pointing forward to something new, what does Jesus Baptism mean to each of us today? In ancient Judaism, the covenant of circumcision allowed each Jewish person to begin their life as part of God’s family. One did not need to earn their way into the covenant, it was a gracious gift, which you could accept or reject.

St. Paul notes that in a certain sense Christian baptism is like a spiritual covenant of circumcision or a “circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11). St. Paul notes that we are joined to Christ in baptism, “You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God” (Colossians 2:12). Yet for those baptized as infants, a personal act of faith is necessary to ratify this covenant.

In his Pentecost sermon, the Apostle Peter replies to the crowds, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38).

St. Peter notes that the normal journey to fullness of life in Christ involves a number of key elements: faith, repentance, Baptism, and reception of the Spirit. While not suggesting we can do anything to merit our salvation, the graces of baptism require an individual response of faith and repentance as well as the reception of the Spirit.

The faith of our parents and Godparents brought us to Baptism as an infant, but this is only the beginning of our faith journey. As the fathers of Second Vatican Council noted we also require a personal response called “the obedience of faith” (Romans 13:26; 2 Corinthians 10:5-6).

The council fathers tell us this type of faith is “an obedience by which man commits his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals,” (Dei Verbum 5). This act of faith leads us to a life in the Spirit. “The grace of God and the interior help of the Holy Spirit must precede and assist, moving the heart and turning it to God, opening the eyes of the mind and giving ‘joy and ease to everyone in assenting to the truth and believing it’” (Dei Verbum 5).

As Jesus modeled for us at his baptism, this spirit-lead and faith-filled movement of the soul is also intended to result in an interior relationship with the Spirit who cries out “Abba Father” in our hearts (Romans 8:14-15, Galatians 4:6). Confirmation allows us to receive the fullness of the Spirit, but faith and our full cooperation is necessary to experience the intended fruits of this sacrament.

Imagine what would happen in our families and parishes if each one of us concluded this Christmas season with a resolution to renew our docility to God in prayer and in fullness of faith to unwrap his most precious gifts to us. Yes, Lord I give you my heart!

Deacon Scott McKellar is pastoral associate at St. Therese Parish, North.

For this Sunday’s scripture readings and readings throughout the year, visit the USCCB website.

The post The Baptism Of Jesus appeared first on Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

January 10, 2020 - 10:05am
Megan Marley
Guest Column
Fr. Joseph Cisetti, pastor of St. Therese, North

On the beautiful celebration of the Epiphany we met the Magi, those mysterious, gift-bearing people from the east, who came from afar to pay homage to the newborn Christ. They followed a star, they came to worship, and Christ was shown forth not just to the Jewish people but to the nations.

The word, epiphany, literally means manifestation, the showing forth of Christ to the world. At Christmas Jesus is born, but at Epiphany Jesus is shown forth to the nations. And yet underlying this beauty there dwells hidden darkness. When Herod realized the Magi were not coming back to him, he reacted with great violence and cruelty.

This celebration reminds us that Jesus came not for one tribe, not for one nation, but ultimately, for all people. Each of the readings for Epiphany makes this point. One of the many values that the Epiphany reveals is that God’s love is universal and the word, catholic, literally means universal.

In my own parish of St. Therese, more than thirty countries from five different continents, are represented, and that starts to reveal the universality of the Church. On the cross, Jesus stretched out his arms to embrace the whole world.

The Magi come at the beginning of St. Matthew’s Gospel and at the conclusion of this Gospel, after his resurrection, Jesus will tell the apostles to go out and to teach all nations, not just some nations, but all nations, and to baptize them, to bring them into the family of God. This universal dimension of God’s love, the invitation to all to become part of the Kingdom, the call to repentance and conversion, are for all. These are all Epiphany Values.

Once you understand these values, you can better understand what conflicts with them. In other words, start with what is right and then you can better see what is wrong. While there are Epiphany Values, underlying the beauty of this celebration, there are also many anti-values that contradict what this feast celebrates. What are some of the anti-values?

Racism is an anti-value that contradicts the Epiphany. Racism looks to what a person is rather than who a person a person is. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, goes so far as to describe racism as a type of idolatry that can take the place of God in our lives. [CCC 2113]

The disrespect for human life, both born and unborn, at every stage and at every age is an anti-value that contradicts Epiphany values. Jesus will say that he has come that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Each human life is created in the image and likeness of God, but furthermore, as the Second Vatican Council noted, through Jesus’ human birth, he has, in one way, united himself with every human person. Pope Francis has wryly observed that it is not progressive to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.

To disrespect the lives of the unborn, the terminally ill and the severely disabled, contradicts the values of the Epiphany. To exploit workers, the poor, the stranger, the undocumented, the refugee and the vulnerable, disrespects human life and contradicts the values of the Epiphany.

The list of anti-values goes on but there is one that seems to be spreading around the world and it is called nationalism. Now there is critical distinction to make between patriotism and nationalism.

Patriotism is a virtue. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that patriotism is a type of piety. Patriotism realizes that after God and our parents, we are debtors to society. There are many people in our diocese and in every diocese, who have shown their patriotism. Obviously, we think of those who are honorably serving or have honorably served in the armed forces but also of many others who have exercised this virtue in many other ways.

Who we are as a nation unites us with our fellow citizens but who we are as disciples of Jesus, unites us with believers around the world. Who we are in terms of our common humanity unites us with all people.

Nationalism takes something good like patriotism and twists it into an idol that takes the place of God. Nationalism throughout the world becomes an impediment to peace, stability, human solidarity and the common good. Nationalism rejects the universal character of the Epiphany and is also a place where racism can rear its ugly head.

Speaking to the United Nations in 1995, St. John Paul II, who personified patriotism to his native Poland, clarified what he called, . . . an unhealthy form of nationalism, which teaches contempt for other nations or cultures, and patriotism, which is a proper love of one’s country.

He went on to insist that, Nationalism, particularly in its most radical forms, is . . . the antithesis of true patriotism, and that it can give rise to totalitarianism. In its extreme forms, nationalism based on fear, like Herod, reacts with violence and cruelty. We are called to love our parents, but we do not love our parents by hating someone else’s parents.

As the Magi stepped out in faith looking for Jesus, so may we follow him with lives of intentional faith. As the Magi opened their treasures before the infant Jesus, so may we open before him the treasures of our lives in what we have and who we are. May we respond to his universal love in every little way and in a universal way.

In the Eucharist, Jesus opens up the treasures of God’s love to us as he continues to give himself to us under the form of bread and wine, so that we can be strengthened to be signs of his love, not just to one group, or one country but to all whom we meet.

May we see and serve him in others and by his grace may others see him in us. May we reject anti-values and share with all whom we meet, the love God extends to all. May we embrace, share and live, Epiphany Values.

The post Epiphany Values appeared first on Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

December 18, 2019 - 11:56am
Megan Marley

‘The Dream of St. Joseph’ by Luca Giordano, c. 1700. Oil on canvas, Indianapolis Museum of Art.

The Good News:
God’s Word in Everyday Living
Marc Cardaronella

The gospel on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, the last Sunday before Christmas, presents Matthew’s narrative of Jesus’ birth. In Luke’s gospel, we see Mary’s perspective—the angel Gabriel’s message and her fiat. In Matthew’s account, we get Joseph’s viewpoint, including insight on his agonizing decision…what to do about the untimely pregnancy of his betrothed, Mary. There’s an explanation for Joseph’s actions I’ve never fully bought. It seemed too pious. However, in reading it for this article, I noticed something new that changed my mind. So, in this article, I’ll explain why I’ve been wrong about Joseph for a long time.

Here is the passage, “When his [Jesus’] mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly” (Matthew 1:18-19). Here’s how I always thought about it. At some point it came to light Mary was pregnant (obviously), and Joseph had to follow the Law, so he decided to divorce her. However, Mary’s punishment would be death. So, because Joseph was kind, he decided to divorce in secret so no one would find out. He was a righteous man, so he couldn’t marry her. There was too much scandal. But he didn’t want her dead. Then, the angel came to him in a dream and sorted everything out.

The Church doesn’t officially say how we should read this passage. However, three theories have surfaced over the centuries as the most plausible explanations. The faithful are free to choose whichever sounds best. The first is the Suspicion Theory: Joseph suspects Mary of adultery and plans to divorce her but the angel intervenes. Joseph remains righteous because he follows the Law and refuses any immorality. St. Justin Martyr, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Augustine held that one.

The second is the Perplexity Theory: Mary’s pregnant so the only option is divorce. But even though he can’t explain it, Joseph also can’t believe Mary was unfaithful. She must be innocent and shouldn’t be killed but, at the same time he can’t understand it. He’s perplexed. So, he decides not to expose her. Joseph remains righteous here because he lives by the Law but still gives Mary the benefit of the doubt and spares her life. St. Jerome went by that theory.

Most people think along the lines of these two theories. But there’s a problem. Being a righteous man, Joseph would have to turn Mary in if he believed she was an adulterer…and how could she be anything else? That was the Law and if you’re righteous, you follow the Law. How could he just look the other way?

Now there’s a third theory, the Reverence Theory. This is the one I thought least plausible. Here Joseph understands the miraculous nature of Mary’s pregnancy from the start and feels unworthy to be with her. The quiet divorce safeguards her secret. But the angel reveals that he’s a central part of this plan, as well. So, he gets married. Joseph remains righteous because of his great reverence for God, his humility, and his obedience in the face of difficulties. St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Thomas Aquinas held this view. This always seemed too pious. It gave too much to Joseph. How would he know? However, I’m rethinking that position.

Here’s what changed my mind. The Scripture says Mary “was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit (my emphasis added).” It doesn’t just say she was just found with child…and that’s all. It says she was “found with child” and that child came from “the Holy Spirit.” So, Joseph does know! And really, is it all that impossible to believe given all the other miracles in this passage? Perhaps the Holy Spirit gave him the grace to believe Mary’s explanation. He knew, and he wondered how could an ordinary man like himself have a part in so extra-ordinary an event? He needed an angel to reveal the true nature of God’s wish for him. Once he got that piece, he was good to go.

This solves the dilemma I spoke of earlier—how could a righteous man go against the Law and not expose Mary? It’s because he’s righteous and in tune with the Holy Spirit that he realizes Mary is telling the truth! The child is miraculously from God and she is without blame. In fact, she’s too without blame. He feels completely out of his league and tries to excuse himself.

I think we often overlook the example of St. Joseph as protector, provider, and guide to Jesus. Joseph is most like us. A simple, ordinary man striving for faithfulness to God’s call. However, he did this in an extraordinary way. And, for he’s been venerated and given a special place in the Church.

Pope John Paul II’s Guardian of the Redeemer portrays the sterling virtue and high sanctity of Joseph. It’s a portrait I haven’t always appreciated…but it’s growing on me. The Pope Saint says, “St Joseph is the model of those humble ones that Christianity raises up to great destinies…he is the proof that in order to be a good and genuine follower of Christ, there is no need to do great things­ it is enough to have the common, simple and human virtues…”

May we all look to St. Joseph to teach us fidelity to Christ’s mission of salvation, a mission in which each of us must play a part, even though we feel unworthy and it seems impossible. God has a plan for you. Like St. Joseph, you can see it through with his grace.

Marc Cardaronella is the Director of the Office of Catechesis and Faith Formation.

For this Sunday’s scripture readings and readings throughout the year, visit the USCCB website.

The post Rethinking St. Joseph appeared first on Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

December 4, 2019 - 12:45pm
Megan Marley

(‘The Preaching of St. John the Baptist’ by Alessandro Allori, c. 1601-1603, oil on copper.)

The Good News:
God’s Word in Everyday Living

Deacon Scott McKellar

Advent is a season of watching and preparing. At this time of year, many people are cleaning, decorating their houses and buying gifts, in order to be ready for the celebration of Christmas. In a spiritual sense, we are preparing to welcome Jesus who is our most esteemed guest this Christmas.

John the Baptist is the perfect patron for Advent. John called people to acknowledge their sins and repent. He asked them to make a commitment to change their lives and to give witness to this commitment through a baptism of repentance.

Although there are some similarities, John the Baptist’s baptism was not yet a Christian sacrament. He reminds us that Jesus is “the one mightier than him,” that Christ would baptize with the “Holy Spirit and fire.”

It is interesting to note that knowledge and credentials do not guarantee that one is on the right path spiritually. John tells the Pharisees and Sadducees to produce fruit in keeping with repentance and rebukes their ‘presumption’ that they will be saved merely because of their religious background and training.

As someone has wisely said, ‘God has no grandchildren.’ We cannot presume that because of the faith of our family, school or parish, that we necessarily have personal faith ourselves.

John the Baptist is offering people a chance for conversion. Our bishops have defined conversion as “the acceptance of a personal relationship with Christ, a sincere adherence to him, and a willingness to conform one’s life to his. Conversion to Christ involves making a genuine commitment to him and a personal decision to follow him as his disciple” (NDC, p. 46).

Many people seem to think of conversion as a light switch. They might think that to experience conversion you need to be in darkness and then to suddenly turn on the light. We might get this impression from John the Baptist who starkly cries out, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

There has been a renewed interest recently in studying how conversion or spiritual change occurs in the lives of Christians. While clearly some people do undergo sudden dramatic conversions, we have discovered that for most people, conversion is an ongoing process with definable stages.

Because conversion is primarily about relationship and the heart, a helpful comparison might be the process one might go through to make a decision to get married. We need to journey through the early stages of getting to know someone, and then eventually as the relationship deepens, to develop personal trust and attachment. It is only after journeying to a place of deep trust and attachment that a couple thinks of forming an exclusive, permanent lifelong commitment.

So, we might ask, if we want to experience deeper conversion in our faith, do we start by dating Jesus? This question definitely sounds odd, but there is an element of truth in it. When interviewed about their faith, a large number of people said they came to a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Christ by spending time alone with Christ either in prayer or in the devotional reading of the Bible.

At some point, these individuals begin to spend time alone with God and to pray and listen to him in their hearts. This is not time spent reciting prayers, but a time of conversational prayer with God. It is through a personal relationship with Christ that we learn to trust and attach ourselves to Christ, and then ultimately become willing to conform our lives to his.

Other Christians describe a similar experience of spiritual awakening, but instead of focusing on prayer, they describe an encounter with Christ through Sacred Scripture. In a sense, this is another way to begin to listen to God and to become aware that he is alive and interested in our lives.

This is not just studying the Bible as history, or as a great narrative story.  When these people describe the change that has taken place, they have discovered that the Scriptures have a practical meaning for their life.  They began to ask themselves, what does this passage mean to my life? Or perhaps, what is God saying to me personally in this passage? Again, the important point is that the Bible becomes a means to develop relationship with God.

While certain people have emphasized either prayer or Sacred Scripture as their primary means of change, it is obvious that both of these practices work together. We can spend time alone with God and read the Scriptures asking ourselves what God is saying to us personally. We can then talk to God about what we have discovered while relating it to our life and needs in conversation with God.

This is precisely the method suggested by St. Teresa of Avila for a time of prayer and reflection on Sacred Scripture. She suggests we begin with a time of preparation and adoration. Set aside your immediate thoughts and concerns and enter into an attitude of prayer. We can offer him our adoration in words of love. We then read a passage from Sacred Scripture and consider its meaning.

Next, having given ourselves some material to think about, we begin a loving conversation with our Lord.  We can express our love for him and thank him for his favors to us.  We can tell him the things that burden us and take time to petition him. We can relate this to the Scripture we have just read and ask him for further insight and application.

Finally, we can ask him for the courage to make new resolutions and to examine ourselves on our spiritual progress. We can conclude our time of prayer with an act of thanksgiving.

Imagine what would happen in our homes and parishes this Advent, if each one of us would commit to spending regular time alone with Jesus in prayer and in meditation on Sacred Scripture.

Deacon Scott McKellar is pastoral associate at St. Therese Parish, North.

For this Sunday’s scripture readings and readings throughout the year, visit the USCCB website.

The post Building a relationship with Jesus appeared first on Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

November 21, 2019 - 2:32pm
Megan Marley
The Good News:
God’s Word in Everyday Living
Marc Cardaronella

This week’s second reading, Colossians 1:12-20, is a Christological powerhouse. There are many profound things I could write about from this short passage. But one stands out above the others deserving the spotlight. It’s one sentence that captures the heart of Christian faith. In verses 1:13-14 Paul says, “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” This simple verse is the core of Christian belief, the central point of all Catholicism — how we are saved.

Imagine you’re in an ancient Jewish courtroom standing trial. The charge is association with someone who committed an offense. If found guilty, that association makes you subject to punishment, as well. However, if the court finds you not guilty, you will be “justified,” or found in right standing. In this case you’d be exempt from punishment. Not only that, your status in the community would be restored. Instead of an outcast criminal, you’d be again considered an upright member. In Israel, the Mosaic Law also played a part in the trial. A guilty verdict could mean the loss of more than mere community status. Inclusion in the community was tied up with God’s covenant. Lose secure standing in the covenant and you lose its blessings, as well. The stake is salvation.

Paul’s language about salvation comes from the courtroom. He’s speaking in terms his audience would understand, the ancient juridical process. Justification comes up a lot in another of Paul’s letters, Romans. In particular, verses 5:16-19:

“And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification.  If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (emphasis added).

This passage can be difficult to understand. Simply put, Adam’s sin led to condemnation for all of humanity because as the first-born he represented everyone. As the first-born of the new creation, Jesus Christ represents everyone, as well. The free gift of Christ’s life sacrificed on the Cross makes up for the trespass of Adam. The second man’s righteousness brings acquittal from the first man’s condemnation. Now this acquittal is meant for all, but at first Jesus is the only recipient. How does it get to the rest of humanity? All of us are given a choice. Associate yourself with the first man, Adam, and you incur the result of his sin … loss of eternal relationship and communion with the Father. Or, you could believe in Jesus’ promise of eternal life in relationship with God and associate yourself with him.

It’s like a class-action lawsuit. Say someone sued a company for a faulty product, and because you bought that product, you’re given the decision to side of the plaintiff. If he wins, you get a share of the rewards. But you must make that decision known. If you don’t, there’s no money. This is where Colossians 1:13-14 comes into play. Paul says the Father “transferred us” from the “dominion of darkness” to the “kingdom of his beloved Son.” So, he allows us “to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” because we “have redemption.” Justification in a religious sense means being in right relationship with God. It’s God declaring us “not guilty” of association with Adam’s trespass. When we decide to believe in Christ, to follow him, and make him the center of our lives, God transfers us from Adam’s family into his own family. Adam is no longer our representative; Christ is … and so we receive Christ’s grace and blessings. This is clearly echoed in the Council of Trent which said justification “is a transition from that state in which a person is born a child of the first Adam to the state of grace and adoption as children of God through the agency of the second Adam, Jesus Christ.”

Additionally, we’re not just pronounced justified. God’s Word is power and creative action. God’s declaration of righteousness makes us inwardly righteous. Incorporation in Christ changes us. First, when we have faith and commit ourselves to Jesus. Then, in a real way through Baptism, which makes us true children of God, adopted sons in the Son. The final blessing of covenant community with God comes at the end of time with the Last Judgment.

That one, simple sentence encapsulates the central principle of the Christian Faith — the Gospel Message. God created us to be in communion, in relationship with himself. However, Adam’s trespass destroyed that relationship. Christ’s sacrificial death atoned for Adam’s sin and made it possible for mankind to have relationship with God once again. Now God invites you to change your association. He asks you to make Christ your representative, the Lord of your life. It’s a simple decision. Your decision. God won’t force you. You must fully commit, though. You can’t have one foot in and one foot out. Go all the way or you’re still in association with Adam. Are you committed to Jesus? Is he the center of your life? Your decision changes the court’s ruling.

Marc Cardaronella is the Director of the Office of Catechesis and Faith Formation.

For this Sunday’s scripture readings and readings throughout the year, visit the USCCB website.

The post The Ultimate Decision appeared first on Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

November 6, 2019 - 9:57am
Megan Marley

The Resurrection by Sebastiano Ricci, circa 1715. Oil on canvas, Dulwich Picture Gallery.

The Good News:
God’s Word in Everyday Living

Deacon Scott McKellar

Pharisees and scribes frequently confront Jesus in the Gospels, but in this passage, Sadducees question him. The Sadducees were the Palestinian aristocracy who took the name of their party from Zadok, the high priest at the time of David and of Solomon.

The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that the Sadducees claimed that the soul perished along with the body at death. St. Luke confirms this point describing the Sadducees as, “those who deny that there is a resurrection” (Luke 20:27). The Sadducees favored the first five books of the Bible, and denied the existence of angels (Acts 23:7–8).

The Sadducees confront Jesus with a dilemma story, which they use to disprove the resurrection. According to the laws of Levirate marriage (Genesis 38, Deuteronomy 25:5–10), if a married man died childless, his brother was required to marry his widow and to produce a male child. “The firstborn son she bears shall continue the name of the deceased brother” (Deuteronomy 25:6).

This type of marriage was a popular as means of caring for widows and securing property rights. Arranged marriages at this time had more to do with land, inheritance, and kinship bonds, than with mutual love.

Using the laws of Levirate marriage, the Sadducees present an absurd dilemma to trap Jesus. What would happen if a certain widow married a second time to her bother-in-law, and then he in turn died childless? In the Sadducees story, the widow eventually marries seven brothers, each of whom dies childless. Finally, the woman herself dies.

Attempting to make their point, the Sadducees ask, “Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her.” The Sadducee’s believe this line of argument proves that the resurrection is a ludicrous idea.

Jesus counters by first pointing out that the dead who rise will “neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Again, reaching across different cultures, the primary purpose of marriage in the ancient world was the production of children. The dead who rise will no longer die, so Jesus says they will be ‘like’ or ‘equal to’ the angels who also never die and have no need to produce children to perpetuate their kind.

What does Jesus mean when he says the resurrected children of God are like angels? In popular culture, it is common to tell someone who has recently lost a love one that they “now have an angel in heaven.” God created angels as beings of pure spirit. Unlike angels, humans have a body and a soul. Although our body temporarily separates from our soul at death, this is not our final state. At the resurrection of the dead, our souls will be reunited with eternal resurrected bodies.

Although our transformed bodies will be very different from our present bodies (1 Corinthians 15:35–58), we will still spend eternity not as spirits but in bodily existence. Jesus says we will be like angels because we will never die, not because we become angels. Since we will no longer die, marriage is not necessary in our heavenly existence.

Jesus then uses Scripture to answer the Sadducees. He could have quoted Daniel 12:2-3, which is a clear reference to the resurrection, but since the Sadducees especially reverenced the traditions of Moses, Jesus makes his point from Exodus. In the narrative at the burning bush the Lord says, “I am the God of Abraham  . . . of Isaac . . . and of Jacob.” (Exodus 3:2–6). Jesus says God “is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” (Luke 20:38).

What does this encounter with Jesus mean to us today? First, many people in our modern world treat religious doctrine and dogma, as an infringement on their personal right to choose whatever beliefs they want. They simply seek to be ‘spiritual’ in their own way. Does it really matter to Jesus what we believe about the resurrection? Based on this Gospel, we would have to say; “Yes, the resurrection matters to Jesus.”

St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, if Christ is not raised from the dead, our faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:16-18). Without the resurrection our faith is a fraud and meaningless! Why is this the case? The resurrection teaches us three central things about our faith. First, the resurrection demonstrates God’s love for us. Secondly, it is through the resurrection we have eternal life, and finally the resurrection holds us each accountable before God’s judgment.

Christ demonstrates both his desire for connection and his personal vulnerability, by taking the initiative in sharing his love with us. God’s love is a gift, which we do not have to earn. St. Paul writes, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Not only is the resurrection a proof of God’s love, it is also the means of eternal life for us. Jesus humbled himself taking on human flesh so that he might become “obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8) and after this to rise to newness of life and to share that life with us in baptism (Romans 6:4).

Finally, if death is simply the end of our existence and there is nothing else, then there is no accountability. Without the resurrection, who cares! We simply cease to exist.

On the contrary, we confess in the creed, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” Love is always our starting place, and even though we were each chosen for adoption as God’s children before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), we are still held accountable for our own freely chosen actions in this world.

In truth, nothing could be more central to our faith than the resurrection. God reveals his love and manifests his power to save us on the cross and through Christ rising from the dead.  Duty may induce us to some actions, but love will move us to selfless sacrifice. “For the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died. . . . so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14–15).

Deacon Scott McKellar is pastoral associate at St. Therese Parish, North.

For this Sunday’s scripture readings and readings throughout the year, visit the USCCB website.

The post Proof of God’s Love appeared first on Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

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