A reflection on the readings for Sunday, November 6, 2022, the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.
I write this reflection while visiting my homeland, India. Last week, I spent time with a priest friend whom I have known since we studied together in the seminary. We were ordained together and then worked together in the missions. My friend started losing his eyesight in 2008; now he is completely blind. During our visit, he asked me to hold his hands and take him out for a walk. He reflected on his life experiences with me, telling me, “God has been slowly removing one after another from my life.”
What did this mean? He described how much he loved the city where he was born and brought up, and how he had always wanted to minister there. But after a few years, he was not accepted in his own diocese, and was transferred to another state where he has lived for the past 18 years. God removed him from his own home. Next, while traveling, he lost his cell phone. That was the end of all his contacts, their phone numbers all lost. God removed from my friend his ability to reach out and communicate with friends, family, and colleagues. My friend loved his parents. A few years ago, his dad came to spend a few days with him. His dad fell in the train station, sustained a terrible head injury, sank into coma, and died ten days later. God removed his dad from him. God seems to have removed everything from him, the place that he loved, his dad, his social contacts, his eyesight, and free movement.
What is God doing with him now?
After all of this, my priest friend told me that he finally understands his true calling. He went through a time of depression. He was angry. Now he says that he is happy because God is completely in charge of his life. Today, he preaches retreats and helps priests in several dioceses across India. He can no longer read or write. He spends many hours before the Blessed Sacrament. “I tell the priests what God tells me in my prayer,” he told me. His calendar is filled with retreat days for priests and bishops. A TV channel regularly invites him to preach. His message is simple, but his words are powerful. Every word is filled with the Holy Spirit.
I see resurrection in my friend’s experience. He rose from the ashes of loss to the possibility of life. This is the resurrection: to rise from the ashes, but not only once. This resurrection is a daily event.
Resurrection in Scripture
The question of resurrection is as old as the struggles of Job, who asked, “If mortals die, will they live again?” (Job 14:14). The first reading (2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14) and the Gospel today (Luke 20:27-38) speak about the resurrection.
This is the only place where the Sadducees appear in the Gospel of Luke. Here they pose a question that does not concern Jesus, and Luke makes no explicit reference to an attempt to trap him. Their question about the resurrection points to an issue on which the Sadducees and the Pharisees disagreed. The Pharisees believed in angels and the resurrection of the dead, while the Sadducees did not. As the Sadducees did not believe in any resurrection, they were posing a hypothetical situation. Those who believe in the resurrection must explain how the woman in this hypothetical case would manage seven husbands simultaneously in the age to come—a silly situation on its face. For Sadducees, if there were a resurrection and life with God in heaven, then what a mess there would be for people who had married more than once!
The Sadducees’ question assumes the practice of levirate marriage. Levirate marriage, a term that derives from the Latin, ‘levir,’ “brother-in-law,” is attested in Ugarit, Middle Assyrian, and Hittite law codes. Prior to belief in resurrection, the Israelites believed that one lived on in one’s descendants and in their memory. Hence, if a man died without children, his brother was obligated to take his wife and have children with her. The provision of children in this way also ensured the perpetuation of property within the immediate family and security for the brother’s widow. Deuteronomy 25:5-10 provides that the widow shall not marry a stranger. Rather, the deceased’s brother “shall come to her, marrying her and performing the duty of a brother-in-law.” (Deut 25:5). If the man refuses to take his brother’s widow, she shall summon the elders, pull his sandal off his foot, and spit on his face (Deut 5:9), thereby demonstrating that she is free from any further obligation to her husband’s family. Thereafter, his house would be known as “the house of him whose sandal was pulled off” (Deut 25:10).
The problem with the Sadducees is that they can’t imagine anything bigger or better than the small world they know. Life in the resurrection will not simply be a continuation of life as we now know it. Jesus turns to the root of their question: the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. In Mark 12:25, Jesus says, “When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Immortal beings don’t need to reproduce; only living mortals do that to ensure the continuity of the human race. Hence, the question of marriage is moot in the resurrection.
The resurrection that Jesus talks about happens not only at the end of time but is also a living reality, an experience we may live daily, here and now. Jesus said to Lazarus, “Lazarus come out.” (John 11:43). Resurrection was an experience Lazarus had on this earth. Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Truly I say to you. You will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23: 39-43). This promise of life was the thief’s experience. To the little girl, Jesus said, “Talitha Koum! which means ‘Little girl get up.” (Mark 5:41). Arising was her lived experience. Resurrection is not only an end-of-life experience, it is a living experience. It is a daily experience—as in the lives of my priest friend and the people in the gospels. It can happen every day.
I just returned from a very famous Marian Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Good Health in a town called Velankanni in South India. In this apparition, Mother Mary appeared to a physically disabled Hindu boy and asked for milk for Baby Jesus. On pilgrimage, I saw thousands of people from different parts of India and the world. The pilgrims flocking to this place are young and old, married and unmarried, sick and healthy. Many are broken people, in body or spirit. When they come to this shrine, they come with all their burdens, questions, and hopes. When they leave, they go with renewed hope, peace, and security that they are safe in the hands of God and with the assurance of the intercession of Mother Mary. That is their lived experience of the resurrection that Jesus speaks about. People rise from the ashes of their problems and walk into a life of hope and peace. It is a foretaste of what will happen at the end of our lives.
When God pulls us out of a life of depression or hopelessness and leads us to a life of peace and hope, that’s our resurrection. When a family member is reunited with us and we experience unity in our family, that is an experience of resurrection. When a person finally comes back to the faith community and experiences renewed faith and meaning in life, that is an experience of resurrection. Every situation, every word, and every action that gives us hope for the future, that gives us light and peace, is our experience of resurrection.
Today I pray that we may be sensitive to our daily experiences of resurrection. May God open our eyes, hearts, and minds to see the resurrection in our day-to-day lives.
Fr. Fredrick Devaraj comes from India. He was a member of the Congregation of the Holy Redeemer, the Redemptorists of Bangalore Province. Now he is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Missouri, serving at St. Alban Roe Catholic Church.