In a recent episode of The Simpsons, the wealthy businessman Montgomery Burns nearly drowns in a fountain. With what he thinks is his last breath, he says, “Apparently I’m dying. Sure wish I’d spent more time at the office.”
We laugh because we know that the reality is that most people will do anything they can to carve out more time for their families, their friends, their lives outside of the workaday world. Time management seminars tell us that the goal of everything we do should be “to live, to love, to leave a legacy.” And that legacy involves far more important things than a savings account and an investment portfolio. It means teaching our children the things that really matter: strong values, solid relationships, an enduring faith in God.
Today’s Scripture readings show us what really matters in life—and in death. In the Gospel, the Sadducees approach Jesus with a question that to their minds shows the absurdity of the concept of an afterlife. Will the woman married to seven brothers belong to one, none or all of them after death?
At the time of Jesus, many people still believed that the only chance a person had of attaining any kind of immortality was to raise up children and grandchildren to carry on their name and their bloodline. Jesus is trying to get them to see beyond this narrow concern and to appreciate how very different life in the afterlife will be. He cuts through their knotty puzzle and says, “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.”
The reading from the Book of Maccabees also speaks of seven brothers, but the true connection with the Gospel lies in the belief in an afterlife expressed by the boys and their mother. It gives a nobility to their martyrdom and a purpose to their witness. At the time this book was written, Jewish scholars were just beginning to grasp a notion of the afterlife.
Samuel Johnson said, “when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” The same holds true for those who regularly put their lives at the service of others, knowing full well that they could be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice. On this Veterans Day we think especially of those who have been killed in battle, but also of police officers and firefighters, all those working in dangerous occupations to preserve the common good.
Parents often say that they would willingly give their lives for their children, and many have proved the truth of that statement by doing just that. The Harry Potter books are based on the idea that Harry’s protection from the powerful and evil Lord Voldemort comes from the fact that his mother and father were willing to be killed to save his life. That kind of love can withstand even death. And of course we believe that it was that love that led Jesus to give his life for us, teaching us how to live, how to love, how to die and how to rise to new life.
These are just a few examples that show us the power of the Scriptures, the reality of our faith, and the futility of those who try to turn religion into an intellectual exercise, a series of required tests. They also offer a powerful argument against those who scoff at the very notion of belief in God. God is love, and love is stronger than death. If we live our lives and love others with this in mind, we will indeed leave them a lasting legacy.