How many angels can dance on the point of a needle? How many monks does it take to change a light bulb? In today's Gospel, the Sadducees ask Jesus a similar, hypothetical question. But before we go there, do you recall some time ago the church taught that children at age seven achieve reason and could make their First Communion since they then had sufficient understanding and could commit a mortal sin.
Now there was a boy named Johnny who had just reached his seventh birthday. His family was celebrating the event, sang happy birthday to him and watched him blow out all seven candles on his cake. At that same moment his older sister smiled at him and announced, "Congratulations, Johnny, now you can go to hell!"
"Going to hell" wouldn't have bothered the Sadducees in today's Gospel because they didn't believe in hell : or heaven, for that matter. In fact, they didn't believe in any kind of afterlife. But they did welcome the Bible verses that imposed the Temple tax supporting their wealthy lifestyle and social position. So their Gospel question about which of the seven brothers got the wife in heaven wasn't just silly. It was a trick question. And if these brothers were smart, they would have recognized early on this woman had an extremely poor track record for a lasting marriage.
How do otherwise smart, educated people ask such foolish "what if..." questions? Do they shut their eyes to the wonders of the world? Do they close their ears to what their hearts are telling them?
We come to know God through the beauty of creation and the vastness of the universe. We come to know God by appreciating God's creatures, especially people : since each of us is a unique image of God. If we want an honest answer to the question "Is there life after death?" call to mind the good people you have known in your lives. Remember their courageous struggles against great odds to build decent lives, to raise good families, to become trusted friends and honest workers. Remember their love and how hard they worked to get life right : especially when they faced weighty obstacles and had no guarantees. Remember their goodness!
These people we are remembering all came tumbling forth from the loving hand of God. How can we doubt the ultimate destiny of these amazing people who graced our lives? In his Letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul writes: "Faith will end. Hope will end. Love though never ends!" Since this is so, there can be no doubt of our destiny. Our origin is from God. Our destiny is with God. Our hearts and our faith tell us that love survives and goodness lives on because of God.
Pity the poor Sadducees whose question is as empty and meaningless as their lives. At the end of today's Gospel, apparently some Sadducees agreed that the answer Jesus gave to their question was good. Perhaps it even got some of them thinking about a deeper meaning for their lives. As for us, let's be glad we've heard the message loud and clear: love accompanies us throughout life, then it accompanies us through death as we move into newer, deeper and more abundant life! Amen!
Incidentally, since angels are pure spirits, they don't take up space, so I think all angels could dance together on the point of a needle : if the music was right! As for how many monks it takes to change a light bulb, I really can't tell. At the Trappist monastery I visited in Gethsemane, Kentucky many decades ago, the monks prayed, studied and ate by candlelight!