There are two big red herrings in the readings this weekend. At first sight, the first reading appears to be about torture and the Gospel seems to be about marriage. These are hugely important subjects. Deliberately inflicting pain on another human being is a terrible, inhuman thing to do, and it is a matter of huge concern that it continues to go on in small ways in many relationships and in extreme ways, sometimes even sanctioned by governments, in some societies. The union of husband and wife for the love of each other and for the continuation of the human family is a core value of society. Our Catholic faith has much to say and to teach about both these important issues. But the central message of our scripture readings this weekend is something completely different.
The story of a mother and her sons being tortured and executed is given to us today because of the reason why they would not break the Jewish law by eating the forbidden food: their faith in the resurrection, while the question the Sadducees put to Jesus is an attempt to argue against that faith. The eloquent answers the brothers give to the King make clear their faith that nothing that happens to us in this life can begin to compare with the reward of everlasting life that awaits those who are faithful. Jesus’ reply to the Sadducees is that life in the resurrection will be so completely different from the life we know on earth that we cannot begin to imagine it. We can’t help trying to imagine it, and we use the language and the images of our experience in this life to try to express our faith and hope in that new life, but we really have no idea what it will be like.
Our faith in God’s goodness tells us that the wounds of the martyrs will be healed in heaven and that the longing of the bereaved for their loved ones will be satisfied, but how we will experience the love which will enfold us all is beyond our imagination. We only know that life in the resurrection will exceed all our expectations.