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  • Fr. John Jennings

Our Sacred Stories: “Ain’t Life Mysterious" – Need for Faith & Hope

We seek certitude. Not knowing, being uncertain, wondering how it will all turn out is uncomfortable. We want some kind of clear conclusion to things. This is one reason why we are attracted to mystery novels or movies or TV series. Uncertainty that is not resolved does not sit easily with us. We want to know how it all ends.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has a conversation about resurrection with the Sadducees a segment of the Jewish people (Luke 20:27-38). They did not hold any belief in the resurrection and were unable to think outside the box with what might be possibilities of life after death. Whatever view they might have, was quite fixed. Risen life could only be more of the same, more of the current life.

Seeing risen life as a continuation of our current life has an attraction for us. We can relate to it. We can recognize it. Such a view responds to our longing for clarity and certitude. It is a lot easier to see risen life as an extension of our current existence. But Jesus challenges this view and certitude with another expression of faith. He challenges them (and us) to take the risk of seeing God’s promise differently, a view that is outside the box they are in.

Jesus’ challenge had two aspects. The first is, there is indeed a life after death: “Now God is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all of them are alive” (Luke 20:38). The second, unsettling for the Sadducees (and us), is that it is not simply an eternal continuation of present life. This was tough for the Sadducees. And it is tough for you and me. It takes us to uncertainty. As much as we accept in faith that there is life, resurrected life with God, we do not know how this is to be. This is unsettling.

All of us have experienced grief in the death of a loved one – a spouse, a parent, a child, a friend. In our grief we look for answers to our confusion and questions. We so want the certitude that our loved one continues, that our relationship somehow continues. This is where faith and hope connect.

In faith we encounter our eternal, loving God. We don’t know everything about this God, but we do hold something – it is revealed to us in the person of Jesus. This is what we mean by mystery. Mystery is to know something whose meaning cannot be exhausted. The more we know, the more there is to know. Mystery applies to the God of our faith. It applies to our relationship with God. (In some amazing way it seems to apply as well to our relationships of human love.)

This is where hope enters. Hope allows us to look beyond our present, even our grieving present, to possibilities which surpass our control and imagining. The Sadducees would struggle with this, as we often do. To hope is recognize that we do not, cannot know it all. There is mystery in life,... and in death and it demands that we trust and allow for the unexpected, the surprise.

Life is full of uncertainties, aspects we do not and cannot know, so too with death and risen life. At the same time, it is full of possibilities. This is the life-giving role of mystery – inexhaustible possibility. Risen life, revealed in Jesus assures us that “God is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all are alive.” We do not know how, but faith reveals this in Jesus own resurrection and it engenders in us the possibility of hope.

In some way, what Luke presents as God’s words to Mary at a time of possibility in her life are God’s words to us, especially in times of grief: “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). May we hold to this trusting faith and healing hope in our moments of pain and loss.

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