Then with much grief and anguish of heart I wept, and with groaning began to pray: "You are righteous, O Lord, and all your deeds are just; all your ways are mercy and truth; you judge the world. And now, O Lord, remember me and look favourably upon me. Do not punish me for my sins and for my unwitting offenses and those that my ancestors committed before you. They sinned against you, and disobeyed your commandments. So you gave us over to plunder, exile, and death, to become the talk, the byword, and an object of reproach among all the nations among whom you have dispersed us. And now your many judgments are true in exacting penalty from me for my sins. For we have not kept your commandments and have not walked in accordance with truth before you. So now deal with me as you will; command my spirit to be taken from me, so that I may be released from the face of the earth and become dust. For it is better for me to die than to live, because I have had to listen to undeserved insults, and great is the sorrow wihin me.
Command, O Lord, that I be released from this distress; release me to go to the eternal home, and do not, O Lord, turn your face away from me. For it is better for me to die than to see so much distress in my life and to listen to insults."
On the same day, at Ecbatana in Media, it also happened that Sarah, the daughter of Raguel, was reproached by one of her father's maids. For she had been married to seven husbands, and the wicked demon Asmodeus had killed each of them before they had been with her as is customary for wives. So the maid said to her, "You are the one who kills your husbands. See, you have already been married to seven husbands and have not borne the name of a single one of them. Why do you beat us? Because your husbands are dead? Go with them. May we never see a son or daughter of yours."
On that day she was grieved in spirit and wept. When she had gone up to her father's upper room, she intended to hang herself. But she thought it over and said, "Never shall they reproach my father, saying to him, "You had only one beloved daughter but she hanged herself because of her distress.' And I shall bring my father in his old age down in sorrow to Hades. It is better for me not to hang myself, but to pray the Lord that I may die and not listen to these reproaches anymore."
At that same time, with hands outstretched toward the window, she prayed and said, "Blessed are you, merciful God. Blessed is your name forever; let all your works praise you forever. And now, Lord, I turn my face to you, and raise my eyes toward you. Command that I be released from the earth and not listen to such reproaches any more. You know, O Master, that I am innocent of any defilement with a man, and that I have not disgraced my name or the name of my father in the land of my exile. I am my father's only child; he has no other child to be his heir; and he has no close relative or other kindred for whom I should keep myself as wife. Already seven husbands of mine have died. Why should I still live? But if it is not pleasing to you, O Lord, to take my life, hear me in my disgrace."
At that very moment, the prayers of both of them were heard in the glorious presence of God. So Raphael was sent to heal both of them: Tobit, by removing the white films from his eyes, so that he might see God's light with his eyes; and Sarah,
I trust you, let me not be disappointed;
do not let my enemies triumph.
Those who hope in you shall not be disappointed,
but only those who wantonly break faith. (R./)
Lord, make me know your ways.
Lord, teach me your paths.
Make me walk in your truth, and teach me:
for you are God my saviour. (R./)
In you I hope all the day long
because of your goodness, O Lord.
Remember your mercy, Lord,
and the love you have shown from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth.
In your love remember me. (R./)
The Lord is good and upright.
He shows the path to those who stray.
He guides the humble in the right path;
he teaches his way to the poor. (R./)
Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that 'if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.' There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her."
Jesus said to them, "Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong."
Jesus' provocative remarks about marriage are followed by his promise that heaven awaits those who are faithful. We will rise but we will be radically changed, and so will the entire earth be radically new. Marriage and family will be transformed, too, but hardly destroyed. Love will be the determining factor. Our future destiny is decided on such works of mercy as: whether or not we feed the hungry, help the thirsty, clothe the naked, comfort the sick, visit prisoners, and so on (Mt 25:40). If love for others is so remembered and rewarded, surely the love and self-sacrifice in marriage and family life will be too.
Tobit's story points to prayer being answered in the marriage of Tobias to Sarah. This was the providential result of Tobit's becoming blind and his son's subsequent search for a cure for him. The young man's journey not only has him find a cure for his father's blindness, but enables the old man to see his grandchildren and to die in peace. This story speaks of the profound link between marriage and family, loyalty and mutual support.
The gospel declares that patience will have its reward. Jesus defends belief in the resurrection of the body, in a transformed state. But affirming belief in the resurrection of individuals would hardly win the argument unless his listeners already had a deep trust in God's love and compassion. Faith in the value of life and love, and in God as bountifully generous, makes all the difference. We will not be raised up to half-life or half-love. What that fullness of life and love will be remains God's secret, but it is our highest destiny.
Whether human beings have any prospect of an afterlife is a question that has intrigued people for millenia. In today's gospel, Jesus is approached by the members of a party in Judaism, the Sadducees, who saw no prospect of a life after death. They recognized as Sacred Scripture only the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, and found no evidence there to suggest any hope of life beyond this earthly, bodily existence. They challenge Jesus as one whom they know has a different view on this issue. The scenario they put to Jesus indicates a view of the afterlife as simply and extension of this earthly life. But Jesus proposes another scenario: "When they rise from the dead, men and women do not marry; no, they are like the angels in heaven."
In Christian belief, the life that awaits us in heaven is not just a continuation of life on earth; it is qualitatively different. Writing to the Corinthians St Paul speaks about this life beyond death in terms of transformation. "We shall all be changed," he says (1 Cor 15:50). In that same letter he states that love does not fade away; love endures into eternity. Our love for the Lord and for each other will be perfected in heaven, even though it will be expressed in a very different way to how it is expressed on earth. We can be sure, therefore, that because of the transformation that awaits us we will be more like the person God wills us to be and always intended us to be.