daily biblical sermons

In the next life there will be no more marriage, for all that are saved shall be celibate like angels
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Saturday, 33rd Week of the Year, November 23, 2019
1 Maccabees 6:1-13, Psalm 9, Luke 20:27-40


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him” (Luke 20:34-38).



The Sadducees, who do not believe in the resurrection at the end of time nor in any kind of afterlife or recompense or retribution after death for what we have done in the body, ask Jesus a question to try to make his belief in the resurrection look ridiculous. They give him the example of a woman who had seven successive husbands who were brothers who each took her as his wife as each one of them died not leaving a child, for the book of Deuteronomy says, “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married outside the family to a stranger; her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her” (Deuteronomy 25:5).



Now the question that the Sadducees put the Jesus is this, “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife” (Luke 20:33). No Jew could accept that a woman would have seven husbands simultaneously, but here is a woman alive in the world of the resurrection with all seven men that had been her husbands; so she now either has seven husbands, or if not, then which one of them would be her husband?



Jesus sides with the Pharisees, who believe in the resurrection and the afterlife, and says that this woman who had these seven successive husbands will not have any trouble at all in the afterlife being present with them all alive before her, for once we die and enter into the world of the resurrection there is no more marriage. Those who were married in this life will not be married in the next life; but rather in the next life all will be celibate, for marriage does not exist in the next life. Jesus says, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:34-36).



Now there is another problem with this passage, because it speaks of the resurrection. So what happens to this woman and her seven husbands immediately after their death, for none of them have risen yet, since the resurrection is still in the future? Will they all be dead and then rise again and come to life at the resurrection, or will they continue to live after death with their souls in God’s presence, if they are saved, while their bodies decay and become dust, until the resurrection? It seems that the solution to this problem is that what Jesus says about the world of the resurrection also applies to the next life which begins as soon as we die and are taken to God if we are saved.



Jesus indicates that this is the correct solution, for he says that God has revealed himself in the Old Testament as “the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him” (Luke 20:37-38). The meaning seems to be that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive right now as Jesus is speaking, for he is God of the living, not of the dead, “for all live to him” (Luke 20:38b). So I think it best to conclude that when Jesus is here talking about the world of the resurrection, he is also talking about the life that comes after death before the final resurrection. In other words, after our death we will live as souls separated from our bodies until the day of the resurrection of the dead when our bodies will once again be joined to our souls and live with God if we are saved.



So today’s reading focuses on the afterlife, which begins at death and is gloriously and triumphantly concluded in the resurrection of the dead for those that are saved. This is the overall focus in the liturgy of these final days of the liturgical year. So now is the time to focus on what will come after we die, or what will happen when Jesus Christ returns again and we rise from the dead – whichever comes first. And when we think of the afterlife following our death, we should also think of its final glorious fulfillment when the Lord Jesus returns again and the dead rise and live on a new earth under a new heavens in risen and glorified bodies, for “according to his [God’s] promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).



What will this life to come, which we are now supposed to meditate on, be like? Today’s gospel tells us a lot about what the life after death will be like, namely that it will be a life where there is no marriage, no sexual relations, no exclusive spousal relationship with any human being. It will be a life of perfect celibacy where everyone that is saved will be in an exclusive nuptial relationship with the Lord alone, a relationship that excludes a human spouse so that all the intimate love of our heart might, in an undivided way, go directly to the Lord and not be divided from him by our being in love with a particular person of the opposite sex with whom we would be united in marriage and have a lifelong exclusive sexual relationship.



We see, then, that celibacy in this life is really an image of the heavenly life that we will all live if we are saved. We know what a celibate life is like, because we are either celibates ourselves or we know celibates or we have at least heard of people who live celibate lives for the love of God. What is the celibate life like? If we can answer that question, then we will have an idea of what the afterlife, which we should now be meditating on, is like. And since we are now supposed to meditate on the afterlife and on how we will live in the afterlife, we will have something concrete to meditate on, namely that the afterlife will resemble an ideally lived dedicated religious celibate life on earth.



So what is a dedicated religious celibate life like? It is a single-minded, single hearted way of life. A celibate does not want to fall in love with another human being of the opposite sex. He wants to keep his heart free of this kind of intimate love so that he can be totally devoted to the Lord and totally happy in his love of the Lord, and not have that love divided or diminished in any way by having to share such an intimate love with another human being of the opposite sex. In its best form, it is an angelic life of deep peace and loving dedication to the Lord as the sole love and goal of our life.



Then, for the Lord’s sake, we devote ourselves to the good of other people, especially by preaching the gospel to them. The highest service we can give to other people is to preach Christ to them and help give birth to them as “new men” in Christ, born again in the Spirit as a new creature, a new creation, through their faith in Christ, who justifies them by their faith so that they might then live a life of good works in accord with God’s normative biblically revealed moral law. The celibate life is, therefore, a life that grows daily in holiness (sanctification) through living in a way that pleases God; and we know what to do to please God, for he has revealed it to us in his biblical moral law, which the grace of our justification now both enables and obliges us to keep.



Celibacy is the highest form of life, higher than marriage, for it better enables us to enter into an exclusive intimate nuptial relationship with the Lord, for St. Paul says about couples that are betrothed, “He who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better” (1 Corinthians 7:38). St. Paul also says about a married woman, “If the husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I have the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 7:39b-40).



St. Paul gives a beautiful description of the superiority of the dedicated celibate life for the Lord as compared to the married life, saying, “The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:32b-34).



So we see that the celibate life is one concerned about the affairs of the Lord and pleasing him, but the married life is one that is concerned with worldly affairs, namely how to please one’s wife or husband.



But celibates who are now living ahead of time the angelic life of the world to come also greatly benefit married people by the good example they give them of dedication and of a loving, intimate, exclusive nuptial relationship with the Lord. Furthermore celibates are a constant visible reminder to married people of the final goal of their own married life, which is be to be celibate in heaven and in the world of the resurrection.



So may all you who are celibate “be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). May our lives shine not only for ourselves but also for all that see or know us, so that we might truly be what we are called to be, lights in the world.


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