Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading 2 Maccabees 7:1–2, 9–14
Psalm Psalm 17:1, 5–6, 8, 15
Second Reading 2 Thessalonians 2:16–3:5
Gospel Luke 20:27–38
Psalm 17:1, 5–6, 8, 15
Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry;
give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.
My steps have held fast to your paths;
my feet have not slipped.
I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me, hear my words.
Guard me as the apple of the eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings,
As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.
Reading the Word
2 Maccabees 7:1–2, 9–14
It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and thongs, to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh. One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, “What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”
And when he was at his last breath, he said, “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.”
After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands, and said nobly, “I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.” As a result the king himself and those with him were astonished at the young man’s spirit, for he regarded his sufferings as nothing.
After he too had died, they maltreated and tortured the fourth in the same way. When he was near death, he said, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!”
2 Thessalonians 2:16–3:5
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
Brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere, just as it is among you, and that we may be rescued from wicked and evil people; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will go on doing the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
Hearing the Word
“An Antidote to Despair”
All people face the prospect of death: this may lead to despair. Today’s liturgy shows how to combat despair with the prospect of the resurrection, built on the sound understanding of God and the Scriptures.
In 168 BC, king Antiochus Epiphanes reacted violently to the opposition by faithful Jews to his imposition of Greek culture and religion upon all his subjects. Antiochus banned the practice of Judaism in all its forms, and imposed the death penalty on all Jews who remained faithful to God’s Law. One of the ways to determine who among the Jews resisted the king’s decree was to require them to eat food forbidden by the Law, such as pork meat.
The first reading describes how Antiochus attempted to force a family of seven brothers and their mother to break God’s law by eating pork. They resisted and kept God’s Law even when subjected to gruesome tortures.
The first brother stated that he preferred to die rather than transgress the Law of God because God would raise his faithful up to eternal life. Another brother whose tongue and hands were cut off stated that his mutilated body will be restored to wholeness in the resurrection of the dead. The third brother spoke about God’s judgment and justice, stating that those who die for God will be raised to life, while the evil king will experience no resurrection.
These words show that their heroic faithfulness did not come from simple stubbornness. Rather, they relied on a sound understanding of God and the Scriptures. They understood that God will not allow his faithful to suffer permanent loss of life. Since they experienced death as a result of their faithfulness, God will demonstrate his faithfulness and justice by restoring their life, and their mutilated bodies, in the future restoration.
This conviction about the resurrection of the body and eternal life developed among the Israelites over time, as the Scriptures demonstrate. The prophet Isaiah was among the first who expressed hope for the resurrection (Isa 26:19), which was echoed by a number of other biblical texts (cf. Isaiah 25:8; Hosea 13:14; Psalm 16:9-11; 17:15). The first clear and explicit statement on the resurrection of the dead and judgment is found in Daniel 12:2. This text was written about the same time as the books of Maccabees, in the same historical context of persecution of the faithful Jews by king Antiochus reflected in our reading. Reflecting on their past experiences of God and the image of God reflected in the Scriptures, it became obvious to the persecuted Jews that God will not allow both the faithful and the wicked to share the same fate after death. The just God of life will raise his faithful to a new life, while the persecutors will face judgment and eternal death. The mother and the seven brothers were the living examples of this conviction, which was for them an antidote to despair and the source of unwavering hope as they faced a cruel death.
Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians with the aim of correcting misguided teaching about the second coming of Christ, which brought much confusion to the community. This teaching was introduced by false teachers who opposed Paul and challenged his understanding of the Gospel. Paul began by praying for comfort and strength. The Thessalonians needed this comfort of hope for salvation as they waited for Jesus’ return, and they needed strength to live righteously in the meantime. Paul also requested their prayers for the effectiveness of his work of bringing the message of salvation to all people, and for protection from those wicked teachers who worked to destroy the faith.
Paul assured the Thessalonians that the Lord is faithful, and will continue to guard them. Expressing confidence that they will keep on doing “the things that we command”, Paul indirectly admonishes them to remain faithful to his apostolic teaching, through which their hearts will be set firm in the love of God, and in the steadfastness of Christ.
These prayers and admonitions highlight that the Thessalonians can remain steadfast in their Christian faith only through God’s grace and adhering to Paul’s teaching. This was to be for them an antidote to despair and the loss of hope for eternal life which the confusion sown by the false teachers.
The Gospel reading narrates a confrontation between Jesus and the Sadducees. Sadducees were a group of wealthy aristocrats and priests who managed the Jerusalem Temple, closely collaborating with the Roman authority. They were religious conservatives who rejected all beliefs not found in the first five books of the Bible, the Torah. The resurrection of the dead was one of those beliefs. They challenged Jesus’ teaching on the resurrection by showing how it leads to the contradiction of the Torah.
According to the law of levirate found in Deuteronomy 25:5, if a man dies childless his brother must marry the widow and raise offspring for the deceased. This law was intended to lessen the impact of death on the family because many saw having children as the only way in which their life could continue past death.
Posing a question about the seven brothers who marry the same widow to fulfill the law of levirate, the Sadducees attempted to show that Jesus’ teaching on the resurrection leads to an absurd situation in the afterlife. If a woman was married seven time in this life, she would have to be married to seven men in the afterlife, which would violate the laws of the Torah regarding marriage.
Responding, Jesus shows how the Sadducees’ arguments are baseless and misguided. First, since there is no death in the afterlife, there is no need to take steps to ensure the continuation of life through marriage and children. Those in the afterlife are immortal, like angels, and their life needs no further assurance. It is a different kind of life from the life lived on earth.
Next, Jesus shows that the Sadducees do not really understand their own Scriptures. Citing Exodus 3:1-6, a part of the Torah, Jesus called their attention to God’s self-introduction as the God of the patriarchs. Since God is the God of the living, then it means that those patriarchs who had long since died must be alive with God. Thus, Jesus defeated his opponents with their own argument. According to the Scriptures which they accepted, the dead must be alive and their arguments against the resurrection are baseless.
Today’s liturgy shows that careful reflection on the Scripture and on the experiences of God leads to the conviction about the resurrection which can overcome despair caused by inevitability of death. The seven brothers and their mother faced their death with an invincible conviction about the resurrection, which was based on Scripture and a correct understanding of God’s faithfulness. Paul taught the Thessalonians that they ensured their eternal future by relying on his sound teaching and remaining faithful to Jesus while waiting for his return. Jesus offered a decisive argument for the truth about the resurrection by interpreting God’s words in the Torah. This conviction about the resurrection provides an antidote to despair, because it allows the faithful to say confidently with the Psalmist, “I shall behold your face in righteousness, when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness”.
Listening to the Word of God
Death remains the scariest inevitable event that awaits people. The feeling of not knowing what will happen when earthly life ends unfetters phantoms that whisper words of despair into restless hearts. Consequently, the shadow of death and not just death itself, has held many in a cage of shivers. Even those who wish for death shudder at the hour of their wish.
In a quagmire of despair, words of hope spring forth from the Scriptures – there is life beyond the grave. This piece of good news has inspired many to live meaningful lives and to hope for a bright future. Faith in the resurrection is not an opium to ease the pain of dying but a light to illumine the dark process of dying. St. Theresa of Lisieux exclaimed, “Yes! What a grace it is to have faith! If I had not had any faith, I would have committed suicide without an instant’s hesitation…”.
Unperturbed by the threats of death, seven brothers and their mother, at a time of great opposition to the Jewish faith, chose martyrdom rather than apostasy. They declared their deep faith in the resurrection, “you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws” (2 Macc 7: 9). To the Sadducees who were doubtful about the prospect of resurrection, Jesus said concerning God, “now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive” (Lk 20:38).
A world of consumerism encourages us to push deep into the subconscious the thought of dying and to pursue immediate gratification and a carefree lifestyle. It says, “live as if death never existed”. Paul rightly said, “not all have faith” (2 Thess 3:2). There are some who do not look beyond this world. They chose to construct their own subjective world and to live in a cave of denial. They forget that, “no matter how much water you pour into the sea, you can never dilute its salinity” (an Akan proverb). There are certain realities that can never be diluted – death is one of such. We will all taste the salinity of death someday.
We cannot choose not to die but we can choose to die either in despair or hope. Those who hang on to hope are inspired to believe that beyond this material world, there is an eternal world awaiting that awaits us. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer “After death something new begins, over which all powers of the world of death have no more might.”
How we live our lives today matters. We are on a journey that begins with birth and does not end with death. There is no final destination here on earth. Every choice we make resonates in eternity. On earth, we have many stopovers but in the world to come there is only a destination. The counsel of St. Therese of Lisieux holds true, “the world is thy ship and not thy home”.
“No matter how much water you pour into the sea, you can never dilute its salinity”.
Am I afraid of death? Why?
If I should die today, will I have the courage to stand before God?
Response to God
I choose to spend ample time meditating on Scripture texts that speak about life after death and to renew my faith in the resurrection.
Response to your World
I will keep present the thought of death in my mind and see how that impacts my behaviour and choices.
To become disciples of hope, we will plan a visit to a hospital or a hospice where death looms and bring a message of hope.
Eternal Father, I thank you for the gift of eternal life, offered to us in and through your Son Jesus Christ. Someday, when my life span on this earth expires, may I rise to see your glorious face. Amen.
Scripture quotations from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.