Sunday, November 10, 2019

Do You Want To Know The Truth, Or Do You Simply Want To Win Arguments?

(Thirty-second Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on November 10, 2019 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Ray Suriani. Read 2 Maccabees 7:1-14; Psalm 17:1-15; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-35; Luke 20:27-38.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirty-second Sunday 2019]

Were they trying to discover the truth, or were they simply trying to win an argument?

That question emerges when you know the background of today’s Gospel story from Luke 20.

So here’s the background:

At the time of Jesus, the Pharisees and the Sadducees (two groups or sects within Judaism) disagreed about a number of important issues: how many books there were in the Bible, the immortality of the soul, the existence of angels, and the resurrection of the dead, to name but a few. 

Regarding the resurrection, the Pharisees said Yea while the Sadducees said Nay.  The Pharisees accepted the idea that people would rise in some manner after they physically died—they considered it to be a fundamental teaching of the Jewish faith—while the Sadducees rejected the notion completely.

And so one day a group of Sadducees decided to approach Jesus to see where he stood on the matter.  They began by quoting something Moses had said in the Book of Deuteronomy (a book that both they and the Pharisees accepted as part of Scripture): “If someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.”

Then they set up a very interesting case-study.  It concerned a woman who married a man and his six brothers without ever having any children.  They obviously thought this extreme example would discredit the Pharisees by making it clear that the resurrection was a ridiculous teaching.

When they were finished, they said to Jesus, “At the resurrection whose wife will [this] woman be, since all seven brothers married her?”

Jesus responded by making it clear that life after death is qualitatively different than life on this side of the grave.  On this side of the grave marriage is necessary to propagate the species (this, by the way, is one reason why marriage can only be between a man and a woman: “Adam and Eve” not “Adam and Steve”).  But after the resurrection people will not die anymore, hence marriage won’t be necessary any longer.  

Jesus ended by quoting Moses again (knowing how much the Sadducees loved and respected Moses).  He noted that in the Book of Exodus, Moses referred to God as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,” the implication being that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were still alive somewhere.  But all three of those men had lived and died hundreds of years before Moses!  Hence, Jesus was saying that Moses must have believed in the resurrection also, if he believed that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were still among the living.

That’s where the story ends.  The next line of the text says that some of the scribes commended Jesus for his response (one of the few times they actually agreed with our Lord!); and then it says “they [i.e., the Sadducees] no longer dared to ask [Jesus] anything.”

This means that, in all likelihood, they were not convinced by what Jesus had said!  They did not change their minds on the matter; they continued to live in error.   Which leads me to wonder: When they came to Jesus that day, were they trying to discover the truth, or were they simply trying to win an argument?  Did they really want to understand the truth about the resurrection, or were they simply trying to score a victory against their arch-rivals, the Pharisees?

Because of the way the story ends, I think it’s clear that their minds were closed from the start.  That’s why the words of Jesus had little or no effect on them. 

I mention this today because I’m convinced that there are many people in our society right now who are just like the Sadducees in this story.  That is to say, they are much more concerned with winning arguments, than they are with knowing the truth.

And there is no better illustration of this than what we see going on right now in the world of politics and in the world of social media.  It’s horrible.  Almost every night on the evening news, the issue for the pundits is not, “What’s the truth and who’s telling it?”  The issue is, “Who had the most effective tweets today?  Which politician got the better of his or her opponents?  Who won the war of words in the last 24 hours?  President Trump?  Nancy Pelosi?  Adam Schiff?  Someone else?”

And then the battle extends to the rest of America on Facebook and Twitter and the other social media outlets.

Welcome to the U.S.A. in 2019!

Perhaps the problem is that too many contemporary Americans have confused these two realities: winning an argument, and telling the truth.  They presume that if a person is victorious in a debate or wins an argument, it’s a sign that what that person told us is true.

Not necessarily!

In fact, sometimes the person who tells the truth is the very same person who loses the argument decisively!  And there’s no better example of that than Jesus Christ himself!

In a certain sense you could say that Jesus “lost the argument” he had with his enemies during the course of his 3-year earthly ministry.  His enemies, of course, included these Sadducees, and also the Pharisees and scribes.  As we know from reading the Gospels, these men were almost always contradicting the things our Lord said.  And because Jesus lost this 3-year “argument” with the religious leaders of the Jews, public opinion turned against him.  The end result was Good Friday!  The end result was the crucifixion!

But the fact that Jesus was defeated by his enemies and was nailed to a cross did not mean he was a liar!

He still told the truth; in fact, he himself WAS the Truth!

In your life, do you want to know the truth—do you want to accept and embrace the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—or do you simply want to win arguments?

From today’s Gospel, we know how the Sadducees would have answered that question.

How do you answer it?