Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Medical developments have increased our ability to extend life, but they also raise questions about the quality of life of those being supported by medications or life-support systems. Will that person have a desirable “quality of life” or become sedated in an almost vegetative state? Is it worthwhile to sustain that person’s life, or is it even cruel to do so? That is a question frequently raised, although the person concerned may have no voice in the matter. How do we define quality of life? Does just “living” or going on going on qualify for quality of life? It is a question that can rise in anybody’s life. The repetition of pointless activity can lead to its own form of stagnation and deadness, relieved only by entertainment and distracting novelty. Some can be moved to utter despair by the very burden of life without meaning that they take life in their own hands in one final act of choice by suicide. Just going on becomes intolerable.
The Sadducees of today’s Gospel are the voices of those who find salvation and security in maintaining religious, social and political systems which will provide insulation from threats or even questions to accepted interpretations of quality of life. They are masters of good management and maintenance, the transactional pragmatists who work with available reality – even when this means collaborating with political powers that define what is legitimate and possible. We can work within the system. What works and what is reasonable provide scope enough for them to function. It provides a quality of life, even if the poor, the weak, the infirm and disabled cannot qualify or prove themselves socially useful and beneficial. Consistency and certainty are the paramount benefits provided by this interpretation of life. They are the sacred pillars at the foundation of its construction of the world.
Those who look forward to the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting (our Creed) are not just engaging in dangerous fantasies, they are also threats to the stability and coherence promised by good management, playing by the rules, and making no waves. These beliefs cannot be reached by following the path of logic and legal correctness. Their ludicrous nature is easily demonstrated by the apparent conundrum of one wife with seven husbands in “paradise.” Whose wife shall she be? The laws of the eternal must follow our rules of the game. Looking forward to life eternal seems to be indulging in the fairy tale’s happy ending.
The pragmatic and agnostic (you can’t really know) world of the Sadducees has defined itself as closed to the experience of the Living God. The very experience of life is an experience of God, is experienced as coming from the hands of a Creator who is capable of restoring to life what has been cut off from the living. From him I hope to receive them again. As creatures, living in time and history, we are already participating in a life which has no bounds, the life of angels which is a life lived in the presence of God. We already breathe this life in the hope and courage which do not live by the definitions of quality of life which simply maintain and prolong the functioning of society and exclude those who do not meet its demands. The Burning Bush of God’s intense love has not been uprooted from our lives. It calls out to us to live from the image and vision planted in our souls at baptism. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word (2 Thess 2:16).
Our faith and courage invest our lives with a quality that does not come from what the world counts as strength and viability. Romano Guardini has described this courage: The courage that accepts life and meets it bravely in each instance implies a conviction that within us there is something that cannot be destroyed, but rather which derives nourishment from everything, becomes stronger, richer, and deeper through every experience rightly faced and carried out. Because that something comes from the creative power of God. This something IS the power of God itself. In the depths of my being … there I find God’s power which maintains me in existence. This preserving power is indestructible, (Guardini, The Virtues).