Intransigent - this one word sums up the Saducees. This political, religious, and aristocratic party within the Jewish hierarchical structure held that unless something was explicitly stated in the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, it simply was not true. Their counterparts, the Pharisees, while possessing their own negative traits, at least accepted the oral tradition that surrounded the study of the Torah. Consequently, the Saducees did not believe in life after death. Moses didn’t write about it. Therefore it did not exist.
When Jesus introduces the theme of eternal life into his teachings, the Saducees resorted to ridicule. Unfortunately, that reaction is often found among religious people who have closed their minds to new ideas. When I speak of religious people, I am talking about you and me. I know that my readers are people of faith. I also know that I don’t like change, and that I tend to cling to my own ideas. I am not alone in that position.
So if the Gospel is saying anything to me today, it is teaching me that my ideas are not the only ideas that matter in this world. In fact, the unwillingness to listen to another perspective, to think about options, to embrace a new idea is an indication that I am already dead. Living, breathing organisms must adapt, must change if they wish to thrive. This goes for all people of all faiths, of all political persuasions, and all social strata. If we wall ourselves off from new ideas, then we are no better than the Saducees. If we, like they, ridicule others, then we are no better than they are.
A primary example of this is found in the person of St. Paul whom we also hear from today. We are currently reading from his Second Letter to the Thessalonians. In his first letter to this community, he made the claim that he fully expected to be alive when Jesus returned. By the time he composes subsequent letters, we hear him coming to the realization that he was probably unwise in this thought.
St. Paul was a Pharisaic Jew. He believed that he would be saved by his observance of the Law. He believed that Gentiles were not much better than the dirt under his feet. He believed that Christians should be arrested and persecuted for corrupting the Jewish faith. However, when he “met” Jesus, he began to change his mind. He came the realization that he was saved not by anything he had done, but that he had been saved by Jesus. He stopped arresting and persecuting Christians and joined them. He then turned to the Gentiles and preached the Gospel to them. None of this could have happened if he had been unwilling to change.
As we heard in today’s reading, he addresses his master as the Lord Jesus Christ. Each of these names or titles is important. By calling his master “Lord,” he gives him the same title that he gives to God. By acknowledging his name “Jesus,” he places his faith in what the name means: “the one who saves,” “the Savior.” By naming him as the “Christ,” he accepts Jesus as the Messiah, the anointed one. None of this could have been possible unless St. Paul had been willing to accept a new proposition, to embrace a new idea, to let go of his own way of doing things.
If we, like Paul, accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, then we must be willing to change. I am not saying that it is easy. I am saying that it is necessary.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator