11/6/22 Homily: The Water Bug
Updated: Dec 12, 2022
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE].
As a child, I remember being at a wake service for someone who had died, and there was a brochure rack in the back of the Church. On it, I found a short book, titled, “The Story of the Dragonfly,” which I read at some point during that service.
The story was about a water bug who lived in a colony with other water bugs at the bottom of a quiet little pond. Some of the water bugs noticed that every once in a while, one of them would gradually lose interest in the normal routine and begin to climb up the stalk of a water lily. They would go up, but they would never return.
Now, one of those water bugs had an idea: the next one of them to climb the lily must promise to come back and tell everyone else where he or she went and why. Well, one day, that very same water bug found himself climbing up the lily stalk. And before he knew it, he had broken through the water’s surface and had fallen asleep on a lily pad.
When he awoke, he couldn’t believe what he saw. His old body had changed. He now had four silver wings and a long tail. He had become a dragonfly. After the sun dried his wings, he very naturally flew happily through the air.
Then he happened to look below him to the bottom of the pond; and he could see his old friends. And he remembered the promise: “the next one of us who climbs the lily stalk must come back and tell the rest of where he or she went and why.”
And so, without thinking, the dragonfly darted down. But he suddenly hit the surface and bounced away. Now that he was a dragonfly, he could no longer go back to the water’s depths.
“I can’t return,” he thought, “but at least, I tried.” “And even if I could go back, no one would recognize me in my new body. But they will understand everything when they become dragonflies, too.”
The story is meant to teach little children about death, as a transformation from one life to next. And the difference between a water bug and a dragonfly is meant to illustrate the difference between life in this world, and the life to come, especially the life of the resurrection, which is our promised inheritance.
The memory of this book came back to me when reflecting on our gospel this weekend. The Sadducees denied the resurrection of the dead, because they saw it as incompatible with life as we experience it today. And so, they presented to Jesus an apparent incompatibility using a hypothetical situation of seven deceased brothers, and a widow who had been married to all of them. If that woman had been equally married to all of them at some point in her life, then how could any of those brothers have a greater claim to be her husband in the resurrection? A resurrection from the dead would result in many such paradoxes—the Sadducees seemed to argue.
But in short, it’s a nonsensical argument. It’s a misapplication of categories. It’s like saying, “the color blue doesn’t exist because you can’t hear it,” or like saying, “two plus two doesn’t equal four, because you can’t taste it.” That’s a common fallacy when it comes to the understanding God and his kingdom. Unbelievers may doubt God’s existence simply because he can’t be contained by one category or another.
As in the story of the dragonfly, the life that we live now bears very little resemblance to the life of the resurrection, like a mustard seed planted in the soil bears very little resemblance to a fully mature shrub in full bloom. The two are in completely different categories. The life of the resurrection is not governed by the laws of this present existence.
Our own personal experience already gives witness to the possibility of transformation. We all once lived, breathed, and were nourished in our mother’s womb. But that all changed when we were born. We’ve already experienced how the way we exist can change at various stages.
Likewise, life will also change at the resurrection from the dead. Jesus Christ inaugurated a whole new era of human existence when he rose from the dead. He showed us the final stage of human life, which is not subject to decay or death, nor the limitations of time or space; and certainly not bound to the marital paradox set up by the Sadducees.
In the end, the Resurrection is incomprehensible to us until we experience it; like soaring through the air is incomprehensible to a water bug, until it becomes a dragonfly. As Saint Paul reminds the Corinthians, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has ready for those who love him.”
As a last word, somewhat on the subject of life after this world, I’d like to briefly call your attention to Catholic burial rites. I mention this because it seems increasingly rarer for families to actually request Catholic funeral liturgy, which all baptized Catholics are entitled to.
As we approach the end of our celebration of Ordinary Time, you may notice that our readings tend to focus on the end of the world, and the resurrection of the dead that is to come.
I’ve typed up a few notes for this weekend’s bulletin, located near the doors and on our website, which you can read at your leisure. In short, all Catholics are entitled to three events, which should never be omitted: a memorial service (like a vigil, wake, or rosary), a funeral Mass, and a Catholic burial. I encourage you to read more about each of those in our bulletin.
Through the grace of the Mass, may God inspire in us detachment from this present life, and yearning for the life of the Resurrection. May God bless you.
Christ among the Pharisees, by Jacob Jordaens, c. 1660-70, oil on canvas, Netherlands Institute for Art History. [Public Domain]