32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
11 NOVEMBER 2001
Scriptual Reference: 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14, 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5, Luke 20:27-38

Seeing Things From a New Perspective

       I heard a story once about a White House staffer. Now, in the interest of being politically correct, I won't disclose which administration this staffer labored under. Now, this staffer was very full of himself. He was a hard worker to be sure, a bright man, and very dedicated. Otherwise, he would not have ended up working for the President of the United States. But this man was a real "know it all." In any conversation, he would dominate the floor with his ideas about government policy and politics. He never really took anyone else's ideas very seriously, and had a frustrating habit of dismissing others. In essence, this staffer always had to be right. And it frustrated the bejeezus out of anyone who tried to have a friendly conversation with him. One day, though, this staffer got his comeuppance. He was in attendance at a Washington cocktail party and joined a group of up-and-coming leaders from Congress who were sipping on martinis and seemingly enjoying the company of a well-dressed woman who was the focus of the conversation. Without knowing the staffer, and in order to draw him into the group, the woman turned to him and said amiably, "Have you heard the newest White House joke?" Looking around the group, he held up his hand and said very seriously, "No, I haven't. But I think you should know that I work in the White House with the President." This impish woman didn't miss a beat. She said, "Oh, don't worry. I'll tell it to you very slowly."

       Today in the gospel we have another type of confrontation: a confrontation between the Sadducees and Jesus. In the days of Jesus, Sadducees and Pharisees were the Republicans and Democrats of the day. Instead of debating issues of tax cuts and spending packages, they fought over theological ideas. The Sadducees were members of the aristocratic elite; they were conservative, and even fundamentalist in their thinking. Like the White House staffer, they were quite full of themselves, and real 'know it alls.' After all, they controlled the lucrative temple worship, and were in collaboration with the governing Roman authorities, whom most the Jews hated. They accepted the authority of the first five biblical books, and disregarded the oral tradition. The Pharisees, whose theology Jesus espouses in the gospel today, were more progressive. They believed in the resurrection of the dead, the existence of angels and even the immortality of the soul.

       Knowing that Jesus was pharisaical in this theological outlook, the Sadducees come to him with an absurd problem. What would happen to a woman who successively married 7 brothers? Would she be married to 7 men in the afterlife? Jesus responds by shedding some light on his position. Marriage is for life here on earth, but those who attain everlasting life do not marry; they are like angels because they will spend eternity praising God, and they are God's children because they will rise again. Jesus then offers the Sadducees a new perspective on the character of Moses, a central figure of the bible's first 5 books. Mosaic law was at the heart of the Sadducees' belief system. Moses understood that the dead would rise again, Jesus says. From the burning bush, God called out that he was the father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And these forefathers in faith were certainly not dead since God is the God of the living, Jesus concludes.

       Today, some 2000 years after Jesus came, the debate has changed a little bit. We are no longer arguing, as Christians anyway, about whether or not the dead will rise again. If you stop at any church here in Brownsburg, each one of them will affirm the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. But this gospel is entirely relevant to us because of another message imbedded deeply within it. Many times, we are like the Sadducees. We think that we know it all. We can be a little too full of ourselves. In essence, we are in need of hearing a new perspective in order to pull us out of our rigid ways of thinking.

       To illustrate this point, I'd like to tell a story I recently heard. There was once a parish financial consultant who used to work for the Archdiocese. This consultant would visit and assist different schools and parishes who were having money problems. She was extremely bright and professional. Her no nonsense approach, coupled with a friendly demeanor, made her an excellent fiscal advisor. This lady knew her stuff. One day, she was called into one of our center city schools because their cafeteria was losing money. She took a look at their books, and their procedures, and saw that there were some serious discrepancies that needed to be corrected. So, she sat down with the principal to explain the changes that needed to be made. In her most convincing tone, she exhorted the principal to oversee the changes herself, in order that the cafeteria would be run in an efficient manner without losing money. But the principal crossed her arms and looked suspiciously at the consultant. The consultant couldn't understand why the principal was giving her such a stern look. After all, she knew she was right! These changes were important, and fiscal responsibility was the responsibility of the principal! Finally, the principal looked at the consultant and said, "Are you done?" She gulped and said, "Well, yes." The principal then said, "Let me explain something to you. I have two top priorities as principal of this school. Every day, I take it upon myself to make sure that every child in this school has eaten, and that each one has shoes on their feet. I don't have time to chase down nickels in the cafeteria." Suddenly, the consultant was given a new perspective. Even though she was right, she realized that something more important was at stake.

       A wise monk once said, "Christians have the incredible dexterity for missing the point." The financial consultant had missed the point when it came to the administration of that inner city school. Her heart was opened to a new perspective. And we know how often in our lives, it can be easy for us to miss the point. The gospel this weekend is calling us to look at some of our ways of thinking and to reconsider them in the light of Jesus' teaching, just as Jesus challenged the Sadducees to see things from a new point of view. What needs to be challenged in our thinking? Is it our notions about war and peace, especially with regards to the bombing in Afghanistan? Is it our thoughts about people who are different from us: people of color, gay men and lesbian women, divorced and remarried people? Or, is it our proclivity to judge others for how they do their work, or how they raise their children? That's a question for each one of us to answer for ourselves. When we find an answer, then, we called to heed the message of today's gospel: to seek out a new perspective, so that we might grow and learn as we journey towards ever lasting life.

       You know, many times, seeing things from a new perspective does not invalidate what we know to be right or wrong. The financial consultant was right in challenging the principal, but like her, we many times we need a bigger picture. And when we can see a bigger picture, when we can respect the viewpoints of others who are different than we are, we promote the well-being and peacefulness of humanity. After all, if we buy into what Jesus is saying today, all of us are going to be together again for all eternity when each one of us rises from the dead. We might as well start getting on along here on earth as best we can. +

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