24Nov 24 November. Saturday, Week 33

1st Reading: Revelation (11:4-12)

Two prophets (possibly Peter and Paul) martyred, but taken up to heaven in glory

These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes; anyone who wants to harm them must be killed in this manner. They have authority to shut the sky, so that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have authority over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire.

When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days members of the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb; and the inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to the inhabitants of the earth. But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and those who saw them were terrified. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud while their enemies watched them.

Resp. Psalm (Ps 143)

Resp.: Blessed be the Lord, my Rock!

Blessed be the Lord,
my rock who trains my arms for battle,
who prepares my hands for war. (R./)

He is my love, my fortress;
he is my stronghold, my saviour,
my shield, my place of refuge.
He brings peoples under my rule. (R./)

To you, O God, will I sing a new song;
I will play on the ten-stringed lute
to you who give kings their victory,
who set David your servant free. (R./)

Gospel: Luke (20:27-40)

Jesus defends belief in the resurrection of the dead

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked Jesus a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him another question.


Belief in the hereafter

During the fierce persecution of the churches in Asia under emperor Domitian in the last decade of the first century, the Apocalypse or Book of Revelation was written as a call to courage and perseverance in the faith, in spite of the danger of prison or even of death. In wild and colourful imagery the writer (traditionally Saint John) evokes a strong sense of the life hereafter, where those who have suffered for the message of Christ will have the highest places in glory. In todays’ text the two “lampstands” (possibly referring to Peter and Paul) wer martyred by the powers of evil (Roman empire) who “conquered and killed them,” even as their Lord was crucified. But then “the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet,” and “they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, Come up here!” While we understand that the language is figurative and apocalyptic, we share the underlying belief, that the souls of the just are safe in the Lord’s hands.

“At the resurrection, whose wife will she be?” The woman who had successively married seven husbands is only a story that was told and repeated, probably to the embarrassment of women. Jesus wrong-foots his questioners by answering their question in an unexpected way, to reflect on the nature of life after death and the form human bodies will take at the resurrection, mysterious, yet full of life, because God is the God of the living. The ultimate answer, for which we should risk everything, our whole human fate on earth, rests in God’s heart. Yet we already live within that mystery, feel its attraction, and live off its strength, for already we are part of this earth and part of the life in heaven.

Continuity and transformation

The question the Sadducees put to Jesus is intended to make belief in life after death sound ridiculous. If a woman marries seven brothers in this life, one after the other, because each one died in turn, then in the next life whose wife will she be? The question rests on the crass assumption that life after death will simply be an extension of life in the present time, with the same physical and biological conditions as here and now. In his reply Jesus declares that in the case of life after death, we are dealing with a different quality of life to life in the present time. There will be continuity; as unique individuals we endure. However, there will also be transformation; life after death is infinitely richer and fuller. In the same way, the risen Jesus was in continuity with the Jesus who lived and died; it was the same Jesus. Yet, he also underwent a transformation through his rising to eternal life. He was present to others in a different way. God remains in personal relationship with us after death; he continues to call us by name. Indeed, he draws us closer to himself, and in so doing he draws us into a fuller and richer life. In drawing us closer to himself God also draws us closer to each other, because the closer we come to God, the closer we come to each other. In that way we can be assured that our deepest relationships will not be destroyed by death but will be deepened and transformed.


(Saint Andrew Dung-Lac and companions, martyrs)

Andrew Dung-Lac (1795-1839) was a Vietnamese priest ordained in 1823 and executed in 1839 during the persecution under Minh Mang. He took the name Andrew at his baptism and changed his surname to Lac to avoid capture, and so he is remembered as Andrew Dung-Lac. His memorial also celebrates all of the Vietnamese Martyrs of the 17th to the 19th centuries (162-1886).

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