In our gospel today, Luke gives a glimpse of God’s plans for us after we pass from this world to the next. Jesus speaks about the resurrection of the body. He tells us that God is of the living and that the life He gives does not end with death or time. We pass from this life into the next; then “one day” in the resurrection, at the end of time, our bodies in a glorified form will be reunited with our spirits, which we call our souls. We express this belief as we recite the Creed every Sunday. The importance of our belief and its implications for us is almost lost in the framework of the gospel story.
The Sadducees were a well-educated and typically wealthier Jewish group who held both secular and religious power. They were quite conservative and they had strict interpretation of the Scripture they held to be authentic. For the most part the Sadducees held there was no resurrection of the body or the existence of angels. In the story today the Sadducees are not simply trying to challenge Jesus, but in their minds provide an unresolvable scenario to support their authority, forcing Jesus into making contradictory statements. They would have understood that there was no marriage in heaven, since they held no resurrection. Their arguments simply made the afterlife look like a continuation of life here on earth.
Jesus uses this occasion to teach on the afterlife using Scripture that even the Sadducees would accept. Jesus also helps us to understand that marriage is to build up God’s kingdom in this world. When time comes to an end, marriage comes to an end. Humanity is now complete and how we exists changes. Jesus teaches that our bodies will function and act differently after the resurrection in the afterlife. Jesus says the dead are like angels. We don’t turn into angels, but are like angels and are children of God. The point of the story is not about marriage in heaven, but rather that we are live with physical presence in heaven. Jesus quotes from the Torah, the Scripture accepted by the Sadducees, that God is of the living and even those who have passed from this life are alive in God’s eyes.
An aspect of faith is that it is an invitation. It is an invitation to conversion and witness. It is an invitation to go beyond the familiar and comfortable to seek and live the truth. With any invitation, however, we must acknowledge it and respond to it in order for us to receive the benefit of it. Faith calls us to choose. We choose to seek, to accept, to embrace and to live it.
In today’s gospel, Jesus continues his journey and his ministry. Everywhere he goes, Jesus encounters great crowds of people who want to see the great healer and miracle worker. While there are some who are true followers, many of those present are simply curiosity seekers. Jesus uses the visible signs of healing and other miracles as an invitation. He invites not only those whom he touches, but also the curious observers, to seek a deeper relationship with God. Jesus seeks out and offers to everyone; even those who are comfortable and those who are called sinners.
Zecchaeus was the chief tax collector of the area and had great material wealth. He was one of those who were curious about this special prophet of God. Zecchaeus was comfortable but still must have felt something was missing from his life. Zecchaeus sought to see but did not realize that it was he who was being sought. As he climbed the tree to get a better look, he exposed himself to Jesus and ultimately, his invitation. He acknowledged the invitation to seek and find. Jesus did not disappoint. He invited Zecchaeus to come to him. Jesus invited him to have faith, to convert his life, and to be a witness. Zecchaus accepted the invitation knowing that he would need not only to change, but to live his life differently. He demonstrated this by sharing of his wealth and repaying those he may have wronged.
God is all-merciful and forgiving. However, it takes a truly humble person to recognize and accept God’s mercy and forgiveness. In today’s gospel story, the Pharisee, as a result of his self-centered arrogance, does not recognize his faults or his need for God’s forgiveness. The Pharisee is certain that, because he does the outwards signs of fasting and tithing, he has no need of forgiveness. He judges himself worthy based upon his own perceived merits. In a very real sense, the Pharisee believes he can buy his way to heaven.
The tax collector, on the other hand, sees his imperfections. He knows that it is not through his outward actions that he receives forgiveness. It is God who initiates forgiveness. He judges himself unworthy to even stand in the temple. He is truly humble in God’s presence. He begs for the help, compassion and mercy of God to make him whole again.
The Pharisee in today’s story would sooner have kept the tax collector out of the temple area rather than share the space with him. To the Pharisee, God’s love was reserved for only those who appeared to be good. He thought only the sinless was worthy of God’s love; only those who abided by the Law could have a place near God. To him God could not love sinners, which is far from the truth. Though God does not approve of the evil committed, God loves the sinner. He does not forsake the person. God sent his Son to save us from our sins, and gives us his grace to help us avoid doing what is wrong. We humbly ask and God gives.
Each of us needs to look inward and see our own faults and sins. We must recognize that we cannot buy our salvation. We pray, we repent, we love, and we serve because God loves us first. It is God who makes us worthy to be forgiven. God offers his forgiveness to every one and wants everyone to come to his salvation. Remember, our actions are a result of God’s mercy and forgiveness, not the cause. Our mission is to help others find God’s mercy and love.
Pray always without becoming weary. Jesus calls us, in today’s gospel, to make prayer an integral part of our everyday lives. Prayer is a voluntary response to the awareness of God’s presence. It is true communication with God and communication is usually a two way street. We talk, God listens; God talks, we listen. We are told we need to be persistent and constant in our prayer life.
Jesus uses the parable of the widow badgering the judge with the goal to get a favorable decision. The judge could care less about those whom he serves. He is only concerned about himself. The widow relentlessly presses the judge to hear her case and grant her request. In the end, only the judge’s self-centered concern for his personal reputation pushes him to give in to the widow’s demand to render a decision. We must take care not to draw too much of a parallel with God and the judge in the gospel story or the widow and our persistence in prayer. Jesus uses this type of parable to teach a truth rather than draw a strict comparison. He teaches that regular communication through prayer creates a personal relationship with God.
Our goal in prayer is not to break God down so that God will finally give us what we want. We cannot threaten God or his reputation so that He grants our wishes out of fear or just to stop us from pestering Him. We need to work at keeping God as the center of our lives. The parable conveys that we should not give up, become discouraged, tired or bored with our prayer life. Prayer is the cement that binds our personal relationship with God. It fosters our reaction to God’s presence. It builds our trust in the will of God. We trust in God but that trust comes with work on our part. That is not to mean that we are to live only as in a meditative state or constantly say rote prayers every moment of our lives. That is not being a real human being in the real world. However, the way we live our lives is a prayer to God. Doing His will is communicating with God.