32nd Sunday in Ord. Time
2nd Macc. 7:1-2,9-14; Ps. 16: 1,5-6,15; 2 Thess. 2:16-3:5; Gospel of Luke 20:27-38
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 10 November 2019
Today’s Gospel invites us to reflect on the quality of the daily living of our faith. Jesus explains to the Sadducees that for those who are judged to be worthy of receiving the gift of being the Children of the resurrection, they do not marry and take wives or husbands, when they are in heaven. As such today, we are invited to reflect on the meaning of “eternal life.”
What is “heaven” going to be like? The truth is that being finite human beings we will never know what heaven would be like because our experiences while on earth is always limited and confined within our preferences and perceptions of what we imagine God would be like in heaven, and thus, how being with Him can be like.
As it is impossible for an ant that is crawling across a table to understand what human love means because of its limited nature as an insect, so also in our finite nature as a human person, it would be impossible for us to imagine, let alone comprehend what heaven is going to be like. The reality of heaven is in the realm of the Almighty Being of God, who Created us and everything that exists, through His infinite and unconditional Love.
Even the word “eternity” is beyond our understanding. What does living forever mean? Our limited experiences of life keep us within less than one hundred years of living in this world. And so, what does living for millions, billions, trillions and zillions of years, without aging going to be like, in spiritual existence? None of us would know, until we actually get into heaven.
Then, there is even the greater mystery of living “with God in heaven.” This reality is also beyond our comprehension and imagination. What does living “in the Presence of God” and experiencing “eternal happiness, joy, peace and infinite Love of God” going to be like is also clearly beyond our limited and finite human experiences of love.
Nevertheless, in today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, Jesus proclaims that this “eternal happiness with God in heaven is real, and is precisely the message of the Good News of Salvation. Jesus proclaims to the Sadducees, that the “those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world and in the resurrection from the dead do not marry because they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels . . . and being children of the resurrection, they are children of God.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we can see that the benefits of eternal happiness are immense . . . and beyond what we can ever achieve and experience in our finite and passing world. However, the great mystery of humankind is, “Why are the infinite rewards of eternal happiness of the Good News of Jesus, not attractive and not accepted by so many millions and billions of people? Let us reflect on some of the possible reasons:
First, unbelievers and atheists live under the illusion that eternal life is not a reality, and does not exist. Or even if heaven exists, for them, the relevance of the existence of heaven exists only after we die. Meanwhile, they make superficial assertions like, “Let us enjoy life while we are on earth, be happy and not worry about what is going to happen to us after we die.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, not to believe in “eternal life” or not to believe in the Good News of Jesus, but to choose to live a life that is solely focused on materialistic needs, and the secular glamour and glory of this world is to live in the falsehood that the secular and materialistic passing world can give us the happiness, peace and love that we, and all human persons long to have. We all know that such falsehood is furthest from the Truth. Not to live our lives in God’s Love and Ways is to choose to live in the falsehood, lie and pride that “happiness” comes from choosing to think and live the ways that I want in life, regardless of how narrow and distorted our views of life can be.
There is a story of Tony who was walking his dog on a beach. He then passed by Jack whom he had not met for many years. Tony being very proud of his dog said to Jack, “My dog is special”. Jack replied, what do you mean? Tony then threw a stick far out into the sea, and gave a command to his dog to fetch the stick. Amazingly and unexpectedly, Tony’s dog started to walk ON the water and eventually fetched the stick and brought it back to Tony. Tony being very proud of his dog asked, “Jack, what do you think of my dog? Don’t you think he is so special? Jack, while walking away replied, “Your dog doesn’t know how to swim!”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, in many ways like Jack, our negative, narrow and self-centred views of life may sadly, end up destroying precious relationships, and the true meaning, peace and love that God wants to give to you and to me in our lives. And worse still, like Jack, if we are not careful and not truthful in the way we live our lives, the pride we may have in our hearts can turn us away from the Truth of the Gospel of Christ that offers Eternal life.
I have no doubt you and I know of many people who live in such “emptiness and fantasies of the secular world,” and are clearly finding life to be meaningless, miserable and depressing. Jesus in today’s Gospel is challenging you and I to ask ourselves honestly, “Are we one of such persons?
Another possible reason of why we choose to “ignore the truth and the gift of eternal life” could be that we have taken God’s Goodness, Love and blessings for granted. Sadly, we live on the presumption that all that we have and who we are today, is of our own making: that our successes, wealth and good standing in the secular world are because of our intelligence, ingenuity and hard work. We live on the presumption that we are a “self-made” man and woman and indirectly, we develop the attitude that we do not really need God.
In living such a presumptuous life, we are essentially living a life of ingratitude to all the blessings that God has given us. There is a story of a beggar holding out his bowl to the king who was passing by. The king stopped, and gave the beggar a gold coin. The beggar pleaded further, “Your Majesty, I have great needs, can you fill my bowl?” The king graciously grabbed a handful of gold coins and put them into the bowl.
To his surprise, as soon as he put the gold coins into the bowl, they all disappeared. The beggar continued to hold out his bowl to the king to be filled. The king, having such a wealthy kingdom refused to admit that he is being defeated by the beggar’s pleas, continued to pour more and more bags of gold coins into the bowl. Every time did so, the coins disappeared and were swallowed up by the bowl. Finally, in humility, the king conceded defeat and asked the beggar, “What is your bowl made of? How is it that I am not able to fill your bowl, and if I were to continue, my whole kingdom will be swallowed up by your bowl that is bottomless?”
The beggar lowered his head, remained silent and left . . . The king was not going to take the beggar’s silence for an answer and pursued him and insisted that he give him an answer. Finally, the beggar said, “Your majesty, my bowl is made of ‘ingratitude’; I have an ungrateful heart.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, insofar as we have an ungrateful heart towards people and more so towards God, we will always remain a “beggar”; a beggar who has no authenticity, and no self-worth. We will be eaten up by our self-absorbed needs, and these are often at the expense of and the good and needs of our loved ones, and more importantly of our faith in God.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, as I sum up our reflection, let us pray for the grace and the wisdom to have grateful heart that is able to see the goodness of the many people in our family, homes and lives. Let us never take them for granted, and let us learn to be more self-giving, generous and grateful in our love for others.
More importantly, let us pray for the grace to be ever grateful to God for all the abundant blessings that we have received and continue to receive from Him daily and at all times. Most importantly, let us pray for the wisdom to see the reality of the “Eternal Happiness” that God wants to give to you and me, and indeed to everyone.
In other words, let us not allow the “deceptions” of the secular world of materialism, and the greed for gold, glamour and glory to distort, dilute and destroy the Truth of the Gospel of “Eternal Happiness” that Jesus unceasingly proclaims in the Gospel.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we are truly honest with ourselves and in our relationship with people, we have to admit that if our lives are not built on the foundation of our relationship with God, and on our faith, as Jesus has taught and shown us, then we all know that such a living will sooner or later turn us into self-centred persons, whose pride would surely rob us of our identity as “sons and daughters of God our Father,” and eventually even the gift of Eternal Happiness in heaven that God wants to give to you, to me and to all peoples. I like to end our reflection by reading a poem by Bill Hoeneveld, entitled, “Heaven in a Nutshell” (6th Jan, 2008)
We think of Heaven as in the clouds,
High and out of sight.
A Holy place with golden gates,
And angels dressed in white.
A mortal view with what we know,
Is far from what will be.
A spiritual space filled with grace,
With no sand or sea.
A new dimension yet unknown,
With no wind or rain,
An infinite source with such force,
No boundaries to contain.
Transformation and elation,
Will be just the start.
A Journey for eternity,
Overflows the heart.
Timeless and boundless,
Far beyond belief.
Euphoric melding of the minds,
With no pain or grief.
New found senses will surprise,
The power they possess.
Lessons learned on the Earth,
A basis to express.
Then comes understanding,
The mysteries are no more.
His grand plan now so clear.
Such wonders are in store.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus is offering us the gift of eternal happiness, and is reminding us of how precious this is, through today’s Gospel. Let us pray for the grace and wisdom to be more resolved to live in God’s Light and Love as Jesus has shown us, and not take the most precious gift of Eternal Life for granted, and worse still lose it . . . through being fooled by the falsehood and fantasies of the materialistic and secular world, that cannot fulfil our hearts and cannot bring true meaning and lasting peace to our lives and world.