Saturday, November 9, 2013

God's love for us - a taste of Heaven


One day, a zealous young preacher came upon a farmer working in his field. Concerned for the farmer’s soul the preacher asked, “Are you laboring in the vineyard of the Lord my good man?”  Not even looking up at the preacher the farmer replied, “No sir, I’m planting wheat.”  “You don’t understand,” said the preacher. “Are you a Christian?”  With the same amount of disinterest, the farmer said, “Nope my name is Jones. You must be lookin’ for Jim Christian. He lives a mile down the road.” The determined preacher tried again asking the farmer, “Are you lost?”  “No sir! I’ve lived here all my life,” answered the farmer.  Frustrated the preacher asked, “Are you prepared for the resurrection?”  Finally, this caught the farmer’s attention and he asked, “When’s it gonna be?”  Thinking he had accomplished something the preacher replied, “It could be today, tomorrow, or the next day.”  Wiping his brow, the farmer remarked, “Well, don’t mention it to my wife. She don’t get out much and she’ll wanna go all three days.”

My friends, our Scriptures today are asking us essentially the same question: are you prepared for the resurrection or, perhaps more simply, what happens to us when we die?  Is there any more profound question?  Is death simply the end, like a candle that burns down to its last?  Or if there is life after death, what is it like?  I’m sure there’s not one among us who hasn’t asked these questions at some point in our lives.  November is a good time to think about these things as the leaves fall, our skies begin to turn gray and we celebrate a month of prayer for our beloved deceased. It is a good time to hear today’s Gospel and Jesus’ own words about what lies beyond earthly life.

There is nothing more central to our faith than the resurrection from the dead that Jesus came to bring us.  “I have come to give life and give it to the full.”  But, many people today think that being a modern Christian includes jettisoning the belief in things that cannot be scientifically proven – things like resurrection.  After all, when was the last time some one you knew rose from the dead and came back to talk about it?  But what people don’t realize is that this questioning of the resurrection is not modern at all. Even at the time of Jesus there were people who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead – namely the Sadducees.  

In today’s gospel, some Sadducees came to Jesus and wanted to prove to Him how absurd it is for any reasonable person to believe in the resurrection. They came up with this story of seven brothers who were all in turn married to the same woman and asked, “In the resurrection whose wife will the woman be?”  Jesus replied that it was impossible to understand life in Heaven in the same way that we understand life on earth.

Notice that the problem of the Sadducees has to do with how things are in the resurrected life, whereas Jesus’ response has to do with the why of the resurrection. There is a resurrection quite simply because our God is God of the living. God has created us from the moment of our conception for life and not for ultimate extinction. God does not breathe life into us like bubbles, here now, gone in a moment. No, God gifts us with life even after our time on earth is complete.

Jesus fundamental point is that our hope of life beyond death is not based on wishful thinking or a fearful understanding of death.  Our belief is based on the very nature of God.  The God who Jesus reveals is not an unknown, unseen, architect of the universe.  Our God is the God of the living, not of the dead, and this God of the living is a loving God who wants only one thing from us – our love and our eternal dwelling with Him.

If there is one belief that the men and women of our world need today it is the belief in the resurrection. Why? Because it is the effective antidote to the infectious disease of materialism that focuses all our energy on the here and now, on the grabbing of things, the destructive nature of power, the accumulating of money, the competition of ownership.  The resurrection looks at that and says, “so what?”  Our God loves us individually. He has counted even the hairs on your head He knows you so well, and He wants you to be with Him forever.

What will heaven look like? We simply don’t know.  Or maybe we do.  It looks like the love that God has for us.  And, I think in this extraordinary moment that we are honored to be living in, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, continually shows us some passing glimpses of this love. Think of the way that he washed the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday, or the way that he embraced the young boy with cerebral palsy in April – or so powerfully perhaps you saw this week, the pictures of Pope Francis embracing the man whose body was covered in disfiguring boils, a condition known as neurofibromatosis.  It is an image that has gripped me, and if you’ve seen it, perhaps it has gripped you.  As a Franciscan, it reminds me of the singular moment in the life of St. Francis when in the early stages of his conversion, he embraced a leper in the countryside of Assisi.  He got off his horse, embraced and kissed that leper – the kind of people that he formerly despised  - and after he had done that, the man disappeared.  He later understood that man to have been Christ incarnate. That encounter changed the course of his life, he would later describe it  this way, “What was bitter to me had been changed to sweetness of body and soul.”  And now this new Francis, Pope Francis, does something so similar before the whole world.  And perhaps this profound act of love, God’s love on display for the world to see, is meant to change us again.

In the Pope’s embrace of this disfigured man we see something so powerful.  Fr. Jim Martin, SJ, said that the Pope’s kiss, his embrace, reminds us of God.  Pope Francis is reminding us that this is the way God loves us. He is reminding us that God loves us in all our pain, in all our struggles, in all our humanity.  Few of us suffer the way this man is suffering.   We are not physically disfigured the way he is. But maybe our scars are on the inside.  Maybe there is something in us that makes us feel unworthy of God’s unconditional love. Yet our gracious and loving God wants nothing more than to embrace us as tightly as the Pope embraced that man.

What will heaven look like? What does God’s love look like? Look no further than Jesus. Look no further than our beautiful and loving Pope.  And look no further than the daily opportunities to love in the same way that God places before each and every one of us. Do we embrace them or do we run away?

My friends, resurrection is real.  God’s unconditional love for us – which is the most basic definition of Heaven – is real.  Jesus doesn’t give us the final answers about heaven, but He does give us the way to prepare for our homecoming – through Him, with Him and in Him.  “God is not a God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.”  Let us live for God.  Let us have the courage to love others as God loves.   

May God give you peace!

1 comment:

  1. "But maybe our scars are on the inside. Maybe there is something in us that makes us feel unworthy of God’s unconditional love. Yet our gracious and loving God wants nothing more than to embrace us as tightly as the Pope embraced that man."

    Well said. In fact, the entire homily is well said. I'll be tweeting a link to this post. I hope my (very few) followers will read and and both appreciate tho logic of resurrection, as you so well state it and appreciate that they needn't pretend that God doesn't exist in order to pretend that they are not sinners in his sight. We're sinners, and it's okay, as a priest once told me in confession.

    What's scary, though, is the idea that we're supposed to behave like Pope Francis.
    It's rea