THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2022)
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
Psalms 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15
2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
We have all wondered what heaven will be like, assuming, as most people do, that they will make the cut. As we get closer to the end of the liturgical year, many of our readings will become more eschatological, focusing on the end times. Such a focus is two-pronged, looking not only at the end of our personal lives, but also looking at the end of time as we know it, when God will return on the clouds of heaven and claim all things to Himself.
Our first reading from the second Book of Maccabees, while highly abbreviated, tells the story of a mother and her seven sons who were “tortured with whips and scourges by the king, to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law.” Such dietary restrictions were very much a part of the religion of the Israelites, and they were viewed as part of what distinguished them from the pagan world. Although it can be hard for us to imagine choosing death over eating a piece of ham, the brothers are not unlike the many Christian martyrs that are part of our rich Catholic history who chose death “rather than transgress the laws of [their] ancestors.”
Some 40 verses recount the extreme torture and death of all seven sons while their mother looks on, who, after the death of her youngest son who she encourages to be steadfast, also surrenders her life. For our purposes, the first reading is meant to highlight their strong belief in an afterlife. Speaking for all his brothers, one son states: “you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.” The unfortunate mother and her seven sons serve as an Old Testament example of an incredibly strong belief in an afterlife, an afterlife that will be in the presence of the Hebrew God who is the giver of every good gift, and is so often lauded in the psalms.
The Maccabee brothers’ belief in an afterlife is genuine, while the Sadducees’ feigned interest in an afterlife, which is at the heart of the question they ask Jesus. The Sadducees were noted for their denial of an after life, that is why “they-were-sad-you-see!” Their question to Jesus was purely meant to have Jesus say something embarrassing, something that might upset His followers. They were not interested in the childless seven brothers, they were not interested and did not believe in a “resurrection.”
Jesus, wisely, doesn’t take the bait. Instead, He waxes eloquent that “those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” The God we wish to spend eternity with, is a God whose kingdom is not subject to the niceties we are familiar with in this life. If the truth be told, we want a heaven which is a mirror image of the world we presently live in. We not only want all of our relationships to be intact, we want to be surrounded by our pets, our gardens, all that we value, just minus the suffering that can afflict us in this life. We are happy with Jesus telling us that in heaven we “can no longer die,” but we are a little more ambivalent about His reminding us that in heaven we will live “like angels.” God’s perspective is different than our human perspective. “He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.” As Paul says in his second Letter to the Thessalonians, our God “has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through His grace,” and He encourages “our hearts and strengthens them in every good deed and word.”
We live our lives in hope! We are not oblivious to the hardship and difficulties that surround us, but hope lets us set our sights on the future that awaits us. Hope enables us to rise above the messiness that surrounds us, and keep our sights focused on the future that awaits us, a future that is all about mercy, life, and peace. As Bette Midler sang: “God is watching us, God is watching us, God is watching us from a distance.” His promises to us will be fulfilled, and we will one day hear God say to us “well done good and faithful steward, now enter into the joys of God’s kingdom.”