Memorial of St. Justin, Martyr
The Sadducees seek to trip up Jesus intellectually, presenting to Him a seemingly impossible conundrum. They are completely unprepared for His answer; they give Him options A, B, and C, and Jesus choses D: none of the above.
Today’s saint, Justin Martyr, was also an intellectual, famous as an apologist for the Christian faith, even writing the Roman emperor of his day in an effort to clear up rumors and misconceptions of the Christian faith. After a debate with a famous philosopher, he was denounced by his opponent, put on trial, and beheaded sometime in the latter half of the second century. Another example of a person who gave their life to and for Christ.
It is always God who initiates the exchange; from the moment He breathes His own Life into the nostrils of Adam, to the moment He fashions our nascent souls at conception. He gives us Himself again and again in each Sacrament, but only we can reciprocate with the gift of our lives. This is, at least according to St. Ignatius, the very reason God created us: to love us, in the hope we might love—“praise, reverence, and serve” in his words—Him in return. Every saint we have known from Mary onward has grasped this truth and found joy in fully giving themselves to it; we are invited to join them.
Our Gospel today reminds us of this reality, the fact that we are created for God, that we belong primarily to Him not as property, but as freely-given gifts, given out of our love for Him. When Jesus responds to the Sadducees He says, “When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels in Heaven.” Like the angels?
The angels (the good ones) are beings with a singular state of mind: to praise, reverence, and serve God. He created them to serve Him, not because He can do nothing for Himself but because He knows what a joy it is to serve God; Jesus said that doing the will of the Father was His “food!” (John 4:34) Those angels who serve Him yet, those that did not join in Satan’s rebellion, belong entirely to God: their joy comes from living the life for which they were created. It is not an enslavement to latent programming, but rather a free choice, as we see in the fact that not every angel serves God! The saints are those who have found a similar joy in living out the same purpose, loving God with their whole lives. That is, in effect, the very definition of Heaven: to live in perfect, loving union with God.
Jesus therefore teaches the Sadducees that in earthly marriage a man and a woman freely give their self to the other, not because they ultimately belong to each other, but as means by which they help the other give themselves more fully to the God to whom they belong, the One who first gave Himself to them, to us all. From ancient times our God identified Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who belonged to these men, their families, and their descendants. This is the God that is the God of you, of me, the God who desires you to be His as well.