Father Donald Senior, CP

Would you give your life for your faith?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

Nov. 6: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Mc 7:1-2, 9-14; Ps 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15; 2 Thes 2:16—3:5; Lk 20:27-38

The readings for this Sunday present us with some unusual biblical passages. The first reading is from the Second Book of Maccabees and tells a story meant to inspire the Jews at a time of great threat. 

The word “Maccabees” in Hebrew means “hammers,” and was a popular nickname for the Hasmonean family that led the revolution against their Greek overlords a century and a half before Jesus. This passage tells the excruciating story of a mother and her seven sons who suffer brutal torture and death rather than renounce their Jewish faith; the mother is forced to watch each of her sons die in turn. In the climax of the story — not included in Sunday’s reading — the mother encourages her sons to give their lives and then she, too, is martyred.

The Gospel selection is a famous encounter between some Sadducees and Jesus about resurrection. The apparent link with the first reading is presumably the fact that again we have seven brothers involved. But in the Gospel account, they lose their lives not through martyrdom but through the misfortune of marrying, each in turn, a woman who had outlived their oldest brother without giving birth to a child.  

The rationale for this is the Old Testament custom of the Levirate marriage. In order to protect her economic and social status within the clan, the brother- in-law of a widow who had no children was obliged to marry her in the hope of giving her an heir. In this story all seven brothers who marry their brother’s childless widow die and then the woman herself passes away.

The Sadducees tell this sad tale in an effort to trip up Jesus. The Sadducees, an elite Jerusalem-based religious group at the time of Jesus clung to older religious traditions and, unlike the Pharisees who were more innovative, rejected the notion of resurrection. So they tell this story that they think makes resurrection faith absurd: “at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?”

Jesus’ response brushes their test case aside and goes immediately to the heart of the matter. In the mystery of God’s love and power, the children of God will not be subject to eternal death. The God of the Scriptures, Jesus reminds his questioners, is the “God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” 

Here is the bedrock of biblical faith and the heart of our Christian tradition. None of us can understand how the inevitable reality of death can be overcome. Nevertheless, we yearn to see our departed loved ones again and we believe that the power of love — above all, God’s love — is stronger than death. This is precisely what Jesus affirms.

What might we draw from this Sunday’s readings as we celebrate the supreme act of Christ’s love for us in the Eucharist? Two questions come to mind. First of all, the vivid and sensational story of the Maccabean martyrs — and the courage of Christians today who face similar acts of brutality in witness to their faith — challenges me to ask myself what would I be willing to give my life for? My family and my dearest friends surely. Do I believe courageously enough that I would give my life in witness to my Christian faith? Does it mean that much to me? 

Second, what is the basis for my ultimate hope in life? When all is said and done, do I trust that the God of love will — in ways that surpass my wildest imagination — defeat the power of death and give me eternal life?

We might make our own the prayer of Paul for the Christians of Thessaloniki to whom the second reading is addressed: Brothers and sisters, may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.”


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