Sunday Reflection–Heaven: A Fact or Fancy

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The month of November is indeed most appropriate to reflect on the reality of death and the fact of heaven despite its nonacceptance by some western humanist philosophers who describe it as a mere fancy used by religious men to enslave humanity. Little wonder Friedrich Nietzsche declared “God is dead and the churches are the tombs and sepulchers of God” such that the only values left for man’s survival is the idea of a “Overman” or “Superman” (Der Übermensch).

In his interpretation, this means the power of the human will and intellect to overcome and give meaning to human needs and problems independent of God. The liturgical cycle confirms the concern of this month with the celebration of All Saints and All Souls.

Nature corroborates this reality when we observe our immediate environ during this month: there are no live leaves on the trees or just a few, green grasses are disappearing; the air we breathe in is becoming less and less humid and dry. There are dead leaves everywhere on the ground.

On the pavements, we are greeted with leaves, on the road we are decorated with dust- our real self and from where we come. The gutters along the roads are so dried up because its natural resource has seized-rain fall. Our bodies are beginning to dry up, we experience lifelessness resulting from the lack of rainfall and the beginning of the

scorching heat of the sun. Gusts of wind heap leaves together in sheltered corners, like mounds of earth on a grave. Should water be said to be synonymous to life; we can be said to have been physically denied life since rainfall has a tradition of quitting at this same month. November reeks of death. Another year is laid to rest. The liturgy follows the secular season by commemorating the dead in November and bringing to an end the liturgical year with the Solemnity of Christ The King.

What is heaven? We have celebrated both our brothers and sisters in purgatory and those in heaven with the celebration of All souls and All saints respectively. In the Bible, heaven is described as the vision of God, face to face, and that hell is eternal separation from God. Heaven therefore is an eternal reward for the saints who while on earth cooperated with the grace of God.

Eternity here referred is a timeless “now’, a futureless present with the Lord. This is an article of faith such that “for those who do not understand, no words are possible, and for those who do understand, no words are necessary to explain the reality of heaven.” The example the Sadducees use is exaggerated, and humorous; but it was the best they could come up with by way of a hypothetical case, to test how Jesus would respond to human condition afterlife.

Then we will be free of the constraints and appetites of the body that are part of our present experience and will be like angels. The natural resilience within the human spirit tells us that, even if today is bad, to-morrow will probably be better. There is some sort of inherent resurrection-hope within the human heart. Remember, hope sustains the world!

The Sadducees’ chief concern was about money, power, and control, not about religion as such. Politics and profit were their big concern. Life after death didn’t matter much to them because they really didn’t believe in the immortality of the soul and the soul’s resurrection into everlasting life. Thus they were the first Jewish sect to become disappointed with Jesus when they discovered he was not ready to overthrow the Roman government as he declared his kingdom.

Jesus was a threat to the power of the Sadducees. Jesus kept doing and saying things that threatened their power and influence. His teachings cut into their business interests and their cash flow. His most defined challenge to them was the whipping of their moneychangers and throwing around of their tables in the temple. Thus they considered Jesus to be a dangerous fanatic who had to be dealt with and as such did not hesitate to join with the Pharisees plotting to kill Him. The Sadducees who question Jesus in the Gospel believe only in the continuation of their race and family through procreation but did not believe in resurrection.

That is why all through the Old Testament we have rules and regulations ensuring that a man has a son to carry on his name and as such it seemed like a disgrace not to be given a child, or for women to be barren. Little wonder the emphasis on today’s Gospel reading.

The Sadducees we read about today were very wealthy Jews who accepted only the written law of the Old Testament. They only believed in the written law of Moses, they didn’t put much faith into the prophetic books, they didn’t accept the Book of Maccabees from which our first reading came today and they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, in angels or even in spirits. For the Jews, when the body dies and decays, there was no more person.

They rather believe in perpetuity of their names in their children. Thus they always quoted Deuteronomy which says that if a man dies childless, his wife must marry the man’s brother, and that the child resulting from that marriage should bear the name of the original dead brother.

During the time of the patriarchs and at least until the time of David there was simply a primitive tribal belief that the dead were somehow re-absorbed into the tribal stock, that they “went to join the ancestors.” More developed, but overlapping with this, was the belief in Sheol where the dead person continued to exist in a sort of shadowy non-life of inactivity, a frail life of dust and desolation, cut off even from praise of God. But in the Psalms and the Wisdom literature there begins to appear a conviction that God will not finally abandon those whom he loves, for his promises, are everlasting and cannot end with death.

The most poignant expression of this comes in Job, where the suffering Job protests against all hope and all reason that somehow or other, at the last; he will see God and be vindicated. But until some two hundred years before Christ, these hopes remain mere yearnings and heart wishes. The Maccabean persecution is the first time that the conviction of full, personal survival breaks through firmly and clearly enough.

The Bible teaches that it is the whole person that enjoys heaven, not merely the soul. The survival of the soul is a Greek idea built on false anthropology. The importance of this is that as on earth our salvation is worked out by us as wholes, so in heaven, we remain full personalities, not merely disembodied souls. How and where this bodily presence is possible remains a question seeking an answer. The paradoxes are already suggested by the appearances of the risen Christ, physical but not subject to the laws of physical bodies as we know them, for the risen body is transformed. My question remains that if Christ was not fully risen body and soul, the disciples could not have identified him.

It was like a drama being the encounter between an American tourist who paid the 19th-century Polish rabbi Hofetz Chaim a visit. Very much surprised to see that the rabbi’s home was not in any way over decorated with wealth but only a simple room filled with books, a table, and a bench, the tourist asked, “Rabbi, where is your furniture?” “Where is yours?” replied the rabbi. “Mine?” asked the puzzled tourist.

“But I’m only a visitor here. I’m only passing through.” “So am I,” said Hofetz Chaim. May we not allow ourselves to be duped by the empty, evil promises of a world that delivers only confusion, brokenness and unhappiness. Rather may our prayers always be ‘Keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you Lord’. May this story be a constant reminder of our journey to heaven because heaven is a reality not a fancy. Amen.

Join Sunday homily with Rev. Fr. Anacletus Ogbunkwu on www.anacletusogbunkwu.com

Like a drama being the encounter between an American tourist who paid the 19th-century Polish rabbi Hofetz Chaim a visit. Very much surprised to see that the rabbi’s home was not in any way over decorated with wealth but only a simple room filled with books, a table and a bench, the tourist asked, “Rabbi, where is your furniture?” “Where is yours?” replied the rabbi.

“Mine?” asked the puzzled tourist. “But I’m only a visitor here. I’m only passing through.” “So am I,” said Hofetz Chaim. May we not allow ourselves to be duped by the empty, evil promises of a world which delivers only confusion, brokenness and unhappiness. Rather may our prayers always be ‘Keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you Lord’. May this story be a constant reminder of our journey to heaven because heaven is a reality not a fancy. Amen. was like a drama being the encounter between an American tourist who paid the 19th-century Polish rabbi Hofetz Chaim a visit. Very much surprised to see that the rabbi’s home was not in any way over decorated with wealth but only a simple room filled with books, a table and a bench, the tourist asked, “Rabbi, where is your furniture?” “Where is yours?” replied the rabbi. “Mine?” asked the puzzled tourist. “But I’m only a visitor here. I’m only passing through.” “So am I,” said Hofetz Chaim. May we not allow ourselves to be duped by the empty, evil promises of a world that delivers only confusion, brokenness and unhappiness. Rather may our prayers always be ‘Keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you Lord’. May this story be a constant reminder of our journey to heaven because heaven is a reality not a fancy. Amen.

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