These are bloody readings! Readings of torture and death — yet here we are moving towards the holiday season! Our year is moving to its end in celebration, while the Church year comes to an end in violence. Which is more real?
In these weeks, Jesus has been on the road to Jerusalem. Last week in Jericho with Zacchaeus he drew close. This week he’s here, in the Holy City, which has welcomed him with a political rally and great rejoicing and will soon crush him as it always crushes the prophets of peace. Next week he’ll be in the very heart of the Temple promising its downfall and his own death. And soon, just outside the walls of Jerusalem, he will be nailed, under a mocking sign, between earth and sky.
“Ah! Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” he says, “How I have desired to gather you up the way a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you would not!”
He moves to his violent end as we move into the season of family and peace and goodwill. There is an awful challenge here today! A week ago Yitsak Rabin was shot dead by a murderer who believed that God loves a principle more than a human life. Rabin found his Jerusalem in Tel Aviv, his Golgotha at a rally for peace. What are we to believe, faced with this violence, this hatred of life? What are we to do in a world of torture, a world where the death of seven brothers could only make the evening news for a single day? In this world as we hurry to the end of our year, where are we going?
Jesus has found his way to Jerusalem, the city of his death — and today we find him being tested on catechism by those who will kill him. The traditionalists among Jesus’ people pose this obscenely trivial problem of the woman seven times widowed, seven times bereaved. They put the question glibly, unable to notice the human pain, only eager to show the absurdity of an idea — the idea of resurrection. They don’t care about life, or pain, or the violence they are prepared to do — they only care about their dogmatic puzzle. And Jesus, the one who knows that he will soon die, answers them not with talk of death but with talk of life, answers them not with dogma but with God. They ask for a clear line to be drawn between life and death — and Jesus draws one —but in a very different way: “God is not the God of the dead but of the living. All are alive in God.” God is not the God of death but the God of life and living. God has no part in death, no part in murder, no part in violence. God is alive. And all who live in God are alive. Jesus’ questioners want to disprove life. But Jesus, knowing only life, disproves death — disproves it in his answer, and disproves it in walking the way to the cross and making it the way to life.
In these weeks before the end of our year we too are caught between life and death and reminded of the choices we always have to make. Let’s pray that by following Jesus we may know the difference between what gives life and what deals death, and knowing the difference we may be able to make a difference in this life.