Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 6, 2016
A new sit-com aired on network television this fall. It’s called “The Good Place.” I’ve only seen the first episode so I’m not an expert on the program, but it appears that the plot involves a young woman who is quite beautiful on the outside, but not so attractive on the inside. The audience doesn’t know how, but she died. Through some “administrative error,” she was sent to “The Good Place” although the glimpse we see of her earthly life makes it clear that she doesn’t belong there. While the words “heaven” and “hell” are never used, we are given enough of a glimpse of her life on earth to appreciate that her destination should have been “the other place.” She is completely aware of the fact that she is not where she is supposed to be, and is extremely concerned that the mistake will come to light and she will be evicted. We can’t blame her for staying undercover because “The Good Place” is very, very nice.
The show is filmed on a set that brings Fantasy Island or Disneyland to mind. It is a beautiful little town with ice cream shops, candy stores, bakeries, and cafes where everything is free…you never get full…and best of all…you never gain weight. Everyone is given a wonderful place to live. No one wants for anything.
The reason I’ve only seen episode 1 is because, although it is somewhat entertaining, I am concerned that it might be “harmful to our spiritual health.” The show offers such a simplistic image of what is obviously The Kingdom of God that people without a mature faith, grounded in Sacred Scripture, could very well develop an extremely limited view of paradise. Even though the program means no harm and is merely light entertainment, it really does demean the reality of resurrection from the dead.
I am not trying to be a TV critic or to discourage folks from tuning in. I’m only making the observation that the show is terribly misleading because it reduces the reality of The Kingdom of God to a fantasy world reflecting the most pleasant aspects of this world. In fact, The Reign of God is infinitely greater than the most pleasant of earthly experiences; to the point of being beyond the ability of the frail and finite human mind to even begin to imagine.
But it’s not just Hollywood script writers who try to shrink eternal life into some sort of good dream. Most of us do it whenever a loved one dies and those left behind are forced to deal with the harsh and painful emotions that come with grief and loss. As a coping mechanism, we tend to envision our beloved dead surrounded by the people and the things they treasured and enjoyed most in this world.
We often do the same thing when we consider our own passage out of time and into eternity. Imagining heaven as the perfect “here and now” makes our own death a little less threatening. We are in good company in approaching the end of our “earthly life” in this manner. After all, the 23rd Psalm paints a picture of green pastures and mouth-watering picnics when we pass on to the other side. Certainly, this is an effective way of helping children through loss and grief; calming their fears about death. A mature faith, however, should approach the thin veil between time and eternity without fear and with an eagerness to see more of what REALLY awaits those who have loved and served the Lord. In this week’s Gospel (Luke 20:27-38), Jesus invites us to do just that. This passage which immediately follows our celebration of All Saints and All Souls Days broadens our horizon and gives us a lens to enjoy a glimpse of the infinite beyond.
What awaits us in the Kingdom of God is far more than a reunion with our loved ones, which, of course, is something we hope for. In dealing with a question intended to make Him look foolish, The Lord makes religious leaders appear immature and childish in their beliefs. There is a cautionary lesson set within His response. Jesus is warning us not to trust our own imaginations when it comes to resurrected life. It limits us when we try to describe something that is, in fact, beyond description.
What the “final outcome” will be is too far beyond us to grasp until that part of us which is eternal has shed our earthly bodies; flesh and blood always intended to be “disposable.” The Good News which Jesus brought to us, however, assures us that we are each unique and intimately known and treasured by our God. This means that once we leave all that is temporary behind to enjoy the total freedom of timelessness, we somehow retain our identity. We don’t fall out of existence. On the contrary, we become part of the pure and everlasting existence of God.
Jesuit theologian Fr. Karl Rahner suggests that those anxious or worried about the inevitability of death might find it helpful to ponder what awaits us BECAUSE OF DEATH, rather than wondering about what to expect AFTER DEATH. BECAUSE OF DEATH, our hearts are no longer plagued with uncertainty and fear, but finally know the perfect peace and freedom that is to be found in union with the Resurrected and Glorified Christ.
Back to the sit –com.
In my view, if there is anything worthwhile about “The Good Place,” it is that all residents find their perfect soulmate. The idea is that each couple will enjoy unconditional love with another for all eternity. That part of the TV show is accurate. BECAUSE OF DEATH, our souls are reunited in perfect harmony with the Cosmic Soulmate….Christ.
For those who need more details about what to expect BECAUSE OF DEATH, strive to be more loving and charitable in all earthly relationships. That is the best way to get a glimpse of our final reunion…our eternal union with The Sacred Mystery of God!