THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
Psalms 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15
2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
The abbreviated story from the Second Book of Maccabees in our first reading is one of the more interesting stories in the entire Old Testament. In its complete form, with its rather vivid description of the torturous death of seven sons and their mother, it can’t help but take your breath away. But its intention was not so much to shock the reader, as much as it was intended to move the reader to a similar fidelity to God’s Law.
The 42 verses of chapter seven bear reading, for, in spite of the blood and gore, there are some remarkably beautiful verses which display uncanny courage. On account of her hope in the Lord, after watching the death of most of her sons, Maccabees states that the mother, Hannah, was “filled with a noble spirit that stirred her womanly reason with manly emotion, she exhorted each of [her sons] in the language of their ancestors with these words: ‘I do not know how you came to be in my womb; it was not I who gave you breath and life, nor was it I who arranged the elements that you are made of. Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who shaped the beginning of humankind and brought about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life, because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law.’” Although rather ill-defined in the Old Testament, our first reading is meant to give testimony to what the Sadducees in the gospel have no faith in — an after-life. It is that after-life, what we often call heaven, that is the source of the mother and her sons’ courage. It is that after-life that also gives us courage when we are most stressed and challenged by life’s difficulties.
It is the second brother who, just before he dies, says to the one torturing him “you accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to live again forever, because we are dying for his laws.” The theme of today’s liturgy is not who is married to who in heaven, it is, rather, the teaching of Jesus that as children of God we “are the ones who will rise,” or in the words of Maccabees, Jesus promises us that like Him, He “will raise us up to live again forever.”
It happened without notice, but Jesus has now arrived at His destination, Jerusalem, where the reason He came into this world will be accomplished. Jesus is now back to where He virtually started, in the Temple. By this point in the gospel Jesus is no longer “sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Lk 2:46). Now Jesus is the one who is teaching in the Temple, and some of His most important teachings will be given in chapters 20 and 21, before the Passion narrative begins.
Jesus’ encounter with the Sadducees is not unlike those with the scribes, chief priests, and Pharisees, all of whom will get increasingly more angry with Jesus as His crucifixion draws closer. The Sadducees were surely trying to trip Jesus up, and get Him to say something which might discredit Him with the people. The hypothetical and near impossible scenario the Sadducees propose gives Jesus the opportunity to say something important about the after-life: “those deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels.” The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a God of “the living, for to him all are alive.”
The Maccabean martyrs sacrificed their lives to proclaim that faithfulness to God and integrity are more important than life itself, and they did that because they believed that beyond death was a life greater than what they could imagine. Our belief in a life after our death is what gives us “everlasting encouragement,” as Paul says in our second reading, and it is what strengthens and encourages us “in every good deed and word.” As we proclaim at Easter we are an alleluia people, and in the Creed we profess to “look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” We will always be unworthy of the precious gift of salvation, but we are meant to live our lives in such a way that we are made more worthy to have a seat at the eternal banquet. As people who bear the name of Christian, we are meant to understand that life is not about self-aggrandizement or even self-preservation, clearly seen in the Maccabean martyrs. With regards our faith, we are meant to have the same kind of integrity as Hannah and her sons, shunning all things that might threaten our integrity as Christians. Living lives that are free of all bias and prejudice, recognizing the uniqueness of each member of the human family, working for justice for all men and women, and spending our days doing acts of visible love and compassion, will insure that we live lives of genuine integrity, preventing all from ever questioning the label of Christian.