Luke 20:27-38
Divine Oracles
by Rev. Jerry J. Pokorsky
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to Jesus, saying, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us, If someone's brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless.  Then the second and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless.  Finally the woman also died.  Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?  For all seven had been married to her."  Jesus said to them, "The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.  They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.  That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out 'Lord', the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and his is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive."

Throughout history divine oracles have been popular. Oracles have no earthly entanglements and demand an immediate and complete surrender of freedom. Far from liberating us, we are made intellectual and moral slaves to the wishes of the oracle who often is too eager to claim mastery over us. From the ancient Greek Oracle of Delphi to seers and palm readers in our day, in our sloth, we can be all too eager for the quick and easy answers to difficulties in our earthly journey. But it is impossible for anyone to be an oracle of divine wisdom from a truly Christian point of view.

In this regard the encounter in Sunday’s Gospel is instructive. The Pharisees and Sadducees look to Jesus to resolve a religious dispute dividing the two groups. The Pharisees believe in the resurrection of the dead; the Sadducees do not. In the question posed to Christ, the Pharisees busied themselves with complications of multiple marriages preceding the resurrection of the dead. It is up to us to guess their motives, but it seems safe to conclude both sides were putting Jesus to the test, at best seeking an ally in Him. The answer Christ gives, however, not only proves to be unsatisfactory to both sides but reveals how God teaches us day to day.
 

Christ weighs in on the side of the resurrection of the dead but not to the full satisfaction of the Pharisees. He insists, “The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.”
 

In His response, Christ reveals that His authority does not deny the history of salvation; He embraces it. He has not come “to abolish the law or the prophets.” He has “come not to abolish but to fulfill” (cf. Mt 5:17-37). Unlike the credentialed religious authority of the Pharisees and Sadducees, Christ roots His teaching in tradition, invoking Moses: “Even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out, ‘Lord,’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

The high point of the synthesis of the old and the new in the person of Christ can be found after the Resurrection on the road to Emmaus. Here the risen Lord, unrecognized by His forlorn disciples, says to them, “‘Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures” (cf. Lk 24:13-35). The teaching of Christ fulfills the tradition of Scriptures. He is not a revolutionary stand-alone “oracle of divine wisdom.” He is the word made flesh who reconciles all humanity to Himself.

The way of Christ, therefore, cannot be reduced to the relatively few words contained in the Gospels, as vitally important as these words are. Christ and His teaching can only be understood with the full weight of the Old Testament before Him and the authentic interpretation of the “deposit of faith” by the magisterium of the church over the centuries. Hence, expecting a priest, bishop or even a pope to “change the teachings of the church to catch up with modern ways of thinking” is, in effect, treating the church as a magical “oracle of divine wisdom.” She is not. The church — and all popes, bishops and priests — are mere guardians of God’s self-revelation within the context of all of man’s history where we all “work out (our) salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12-18).

Living a good and upright life is the fruit of a continuing encounter with the living God in Scriptures, church teaching, prayer and the sacraments. It is not a matter of surrendering one’s freedom to a mysterious oracle. It is not slavery. It is the hard work, with God’s grace, of freely living a life of Christian principle and virtue in Christ.

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