The readings are from the Catholic lectionary for daily mass, while the headline is meant to keep my thinking real:
COSTA RICA DECLARES PERPETUAL NEUTRALITY AND OUTLAWS WAR
Revelation 11:4-12 ©
I, John, heard a voice saying: ‘These, my two witnesses, are the two olive trees and the two lamps that stand before the Lord of the world. Fire can come from their mouths and consume their enemies if anyone tries to harm them; and if anybody does try to harm them he will certainly be killed in this way. They are able to lock up the sky so that it does not rain as long as they are prophesying; they are able to turn water into blood and strike the whole world with any plague as often as they like. When they have completed their witnessing, the beast that comes out of the Abyss is going to make war on them and overcome them and kill them. Their corpses will lie in the main street of the Great City known by the symbolic names Sodom and Egypt, in which their Lord was crucified. Men out of every people, race, language and nation will stare at their corpses, for three-and-a-half days, not letting them be buried, and the people of the world will be glad about it and celebrate the event by giving presents to each other, because these two prophets have been a plague to the people of the world.’
After the three-and-a-half days, God breathed life into them and they stood up, and everybody who saw it happen was terrified; then they heard a loud voice from heaven say to them, ‘Come up here’, and while their enemies were watching, they went up to heaven in a cloud.
The prophet John gives his readers this interlude which depicts again the double-sidedness of history. The two witnesses are fashioned by John from the stories of Moses Elijah, Enoch, Zerubbabel and Joshua; that is, they are typical prophets of God. They are unsuccessful in spite of their capacity to create dramatic warnings of God’s anger. In the end they are defeated by the “beast from the abyss” which is a symbol of the demonic power of empire. The Great City is the empire itself containing all races. God’s faithful witnesses will become corpses lying in the main street of the city of injustice, as in our own time the corpses of faithful people have lain in Birmingham Alabama, in East Berlin, in TIananmen Square, in San Salvador, in Damascus, in Phnom Penh, in Rangoon, In Srebenice, wherever truth-tellers have fought the beast of power. We know this reality well, so well that we frequently turn our eyes away from it.
But according to John, that’s only one side of the story. After a “three and a half days”, that is, not so much a time as a switch from a worldly to a heavenly perspective, they are raised to life and lifted into God’s presence before the faces of their enemies. John’s awareness of the violence which underlay the Roman Peace makes him a useful prophet for violent times.
The shape of this story is the shape of the story of Jesus Messiah; it is meant to give courage to those who are witnesses to God’s goodness in the face of injustice and brutality.
Luke 20:27-40 ©
Some Sadducees – those who say that there is no resurrection – approached him and they put this question to him, ‘Master, we have it from Moses in writing, that if a man’s married brother dies childless, the man must marry the widow to raise up children for his brother. Well then, there were seven brothers. The first, having married a wife, died childless. The second and then the third married the widow. And the same with all seven, they died leaving no children. Finally the woman herself died Now, at the resurrection, to which of them will she be wife since she had been married to all seven?’
Jesus replied, ‘The children of this world take wives and husbands, but those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world and in the resurrection from the dead do not marry because they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels, and being children of the resurrection they are sons of God. And Moses himself implies that the dead rise again, in the passage about the bush where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive.’
Some scribes then spoke up. ‘Well put, Master’ they said – because they would not dare to ask him any more questions.
The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, while the Sadducees did not. The question is a sort of reduction to absurdity of conventional ideas of resurrection, such as are still held by many today. “We’ll be re-united with our loved ones,…we’ll be together again in heaven”. Jesus says that the life of the resurrection is unimaginable, as it is life with God. That does not make earthly lives and relationships of no account, but recognises that there will be transformation. God is not a new addition to the circle of family and friends.
The great Jewish teacher, the Baal Shem Tov, says of the passage Jesus quotes, “Notice that it is not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, for God reveals himself personally to each person.” In the same way, Jesus asserts that each individual person is alive to God for ever.
I don’t know any more than Jesus did about the promise of resurrection. He held it as a firm hope that the Love to which he witnessed in his life, was not negligent, but aware of the fall of every sparrow, and would raise him to new life. That’ll do for me.