“Those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more” (Luke 20:35-36)


For many people eternity is only an occasional thought. Perhaps it is inspired by the death of a loved one, the experience of sickness, or is simply the fruit of aging. What we are usually consumed by is our life in this world: what I am going to eat for supper, how I am going to manage my money, where I am going to go on vacation this summer, and so many other worldly questions and concerns.

  God, on the other hand, though concerned about our life in this world, is mostly consumed by the reality of eternity for each one of us. St. Paul reminds us of this when he says, “each one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12) therefore, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). It would be impossible then to understand St. Paul, and especially the Gospel, without this eternal perspective in mind.

It is worth asking ourselves, is eternity something that I spend time each day meditating on? Do I allow the reality of eternity to form my thinking, influence my decisions, and even evangelize my emotions and feelings? Does the reality of eternity increase my desire for prayer and the willingness to grow in virtue? Why must we daily place ourselves before the reality of eternity?

Primarily because it is our destiny at the end of the temporary pilgrimage that is our life in this world.

Several years ago, I was giving a talk at a parish and afterward, I stood at the door to say goodbye to all those who attended. A man, most likely in his 50s, pulled me aside and asked to speak with me in private. He retired, he told me, when he was forty years old after working on Wall Street for only ten years. He asked if I could recommend any charities for him to donate a large sum of money. After I mentioned a few different organizations that do tremendous work with the poor and suffering, I asked him how much money he intended to donate. When he told me the amount, I assumed I misheard him and when I asked him again, he repeated the same amount. I was shocked and said to him, “Are you sure you want to donate that much?”

Immediately, he responded, “This life is so short Father, I can’t take all this money with me to eternity, so I might as well make good use of it while I am here now.” This man, I was convinced, thought regularly about eternity and by doing so his life in this world was properly ordered.

St. Augustine reminds us that, “The sole purpose of life in time is to gain merit for life in eternity.” [1]Nonetheless, despite our best efforts none of us can adequately prepare for eternity by ourselves. To do this each one of us must allow Christ to lead us beyond this world. We do this best not only when we ponder his word and seek his presence in our lives, but when we surrender ourselves wholeheartedly to him.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is often seen in conversation, and quite often in tension with a Jewish group known as the Sadducees. The Sadducees, often translated from Hebrew as “righteous” were an elite and aristocratic school of belief within Judaism. They denied the resurrection of the dead, the existence of angels and the soul, and only accepted the Torah, (the first five books of the Bible also known as the Pentateuch) as authoritative. [2]

There is an episode in the Gospel of Luke (20:27-40) where the Sadducees attempt to discredit Jesus’ teaching regarding eternal life by presenting to him a dilemma based upon Moses’ teaching (Deuteronomy 25:5) found in the Torah. The dilemma is this: if a man’s brother dies and has no children, that man must take his wife and raise up children for his brother. However, if the first man marries her and dies childless, and the same thing happens to the second, third, fourth… up to the seventh brother, then if there is a resurrection from the dead, whose wife will this woman be since all seven were married to her? The Sadducees hope that this exaggerated story will not only undermine Jesus’ teaching regarding eternal life but also his reputation as a holy and wise teacher. In many ways, their strategy and even their argument is a good one, from a purely earthly perspective.

However, Jesus responds to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Luke 20:34-35). Jesus’ response to them is startling, and for which they were not prepared. Eternity, Jesus is reminding the Sadducees and each one of us, is unlike anything they can fathom. There are no analogies and metaphors that we can use from this life that will ultimately give credence to the reality of eternal life. Why?  Because God is unlike anything we can fathom.

Because God is unlike anything we can fathom.

Furthermore, what Jesus is trying to do is not merely to correct their thinking, but to open their hearts to follow him. Why?  Because in Him eternity is present and speaking to them.

Because in Him eternity is present and speaking to them.

In Jesus eternity is revealing itself, breaking into this world and calling each one of us beyond it. St. Catherine of Sienna once famously said that “All the way to heaven is heaven, because Jesus said, ‘I am the way.” Hence, if we are sincerely following Jesus, if our hearts and minds our open to him, and we are listening to His Word and His presence in our life, then we are to some extent already living in eternity. Heaven then is not a question but a reality in which to some degree we are already participating.

Heaven then is not a question but a reality in which to some degree we are already participating.

This is why the ultimate answer to the Sadducees question is Jesus. He is the answer that can’t merely be taught and accepted in a formal and academic way. Rather, he is the answer that must be believed and lived from in the depths of one’s heart.

There are many great questions that all of us face in life: Who is God?  What is Heaven like? How do I pray?  It is necessary that we seek answers to these questions from wise and holy people, from good books, and even from our own soul-searching. However, all these resources, as good and necessary as they are, have their limits. What all of them can do is point us towards the truth. They cannot bring us into the truth. If we believe that Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), then the only way we can be brought into the truth is through discipleship, through a greater surrender to Jesus, and a deeper following of him in our whole life. Teachers, books, retreats, and spiritual conversation are all helpful, however they are not enough. Ultimately, we must leave the comfort and even the consolation of books, retreats, and spiritual conversations, and follow Christ wherever and however he is leading us.

Ultimately, we must leave the comfort and even the consolation of books, retreats, and spiritual conversations, and follow Christ wherever and however he is leading us.

This is evidenced so clearly in the life of the disciples as recorded in the New Testament. When Jesus appears to two of his disciples after the Resurrection on their walk to Emmaus, he upbraids them for their lack of faith: “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). The disciples here are not simply having a bad day, nor is this is an isolated event. All throughout the Gospels we witness the disciples’ lack of faith. We see them arguing with each other about who is the greatest (Lk 9:46),we witness Peter denying Jesus (Lk 22:57) and much to our own horror we see Judas betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Lk 22:5:48). There are many other examples we could use from the Gospels to illustrate the disciples’ weakness and their spiritual immaturity. However, the point is already made clear, these disciples are not yet saints. There is still something necessary they lack.  

However, after the Resurrection, there is an extreme transformation that has occurred among the disciples. The Acts of the Apostles records that after Pentecost, these same fearful and weak men are no longer hiding and running away from the crowds. Rather, they are now publicly proclaiming the Gospel everywhere. What has happened to them? First, their encounter with the risen Lord has calmed their fears and quieted their anxieties regarding the true nature of Jesus. Second, the descent of the Holy Spirit has enlightened their hearts and minds by helping them to understand more deeply the mysteries of faith.

These occurrences, as necessary as both are, are not enough to bring about this transformation. Something else is needed.

What is needed from the disciples is a personal yes to the presence of Jesus. Jesus, for them and for us, cannot remain an object of curiosity or fascination, or even a “what if” hypothetical question that we entertain occasionally in our minds. To experience the reality of who Jesus truly is, a person can not only mediate upon his words or consider him in times of quiet and prayer. They must, as best they can, put these words into action, and allow his presence to carry them through this life and beyond it to eternity. The significant difference between a disciple of Jesus and one who is not is that a disciple no longer spends time wondering if Jesus’ words are true and considering the possibility that he may be God. Rather, a disciple orients his entire life around the presence of Jesus who he knows is God and anchors his life in the truth of his word.

The problem with the Sadducees, specifically in the Gospel passage we reflected on earlier, is that they are attempting to interpret life, the Scriptures, and God apart from Jesus.

By doing so, all their answers will be incomplete. To understand life, the Scriptures, and God we must lay aside what we think and understand and give ourselves entirely to Jesus. By doing so, not only will he reveal the truth to us about these realities and so much more, but he will also take us beyond ourselves and this life to eternity.


[1] The Westminster Collection of Christian Quotations Compiled by Martin H. Manser. Westminster John Knox Press, London. 2001, 92.

[2] Catholic Bible Dictionary. Scott Hahn. Doubleday, New York, 2009, 802-803.


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