Texts: Maccabes 7:1-2, 9-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5; Luke 20:27-38
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ
(2 Thes. 3:5)
As the liturgical year winds down, and we enter the season of Remembrance: All Saints, All Souls, Remembrance Sunday and so on, the Gospels for the next few weeks address our deepest fears and offer our most profound hope.
Today Jesus speaks of God as a God of the living, who promises us that the ones who will rise will be God’s children. Next week the readings (at the 8am Mass) speak of the persecutions that will precede the return of the Son of Man, with the promise to Jesus’ disciples that “not a hair on your head will be destroyed.”
Whilst we are away at Walsingham, the feast of Christ the King will show Jesus offering salvation and paradise at the moment of his death, while the First Sunday of Advent turns again to preparation for the return of the Son of Man.
These Sundays seems so relevant, when we are confronted by conflict in the Gulf, Piracy on the Seas, Fear and Uncertainty at home. Yet a thread winding through this tapestry of readings is victory over death and the promise of unending life.
In the Gospel today, the Sadducees, who accepted the authority of the Torah alone and who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, try to trap Jesus in a battle over the meaning of Scripture. They quote the law of Levirate marriage from Deuteronomy 25:5: if a man’s brother dies, his widow must marry the surviving brother, so that the firstborn son can continue the name and line of the deceased brother.
Apparently knowing of Jesus’ belief in the resurrection (which he shared with the Pharisees), the Sadducees then offer an absurd interpretation of the law—seven brothers for one bride—and crassly ask whose wife she will be at the resurrection.
Jesus counters their interpretation with a true understanding of resurrection and cites one of the most important texts for all Jews, the revelation of God to Moses that speaks of God as a God of the living, not of the dead. Another clear indicator to me that Christ calls us to interpret the Holy Scriptures intelligently and not to simply take what is written on the page at face value: God created you to think for yourself, not in the mould of some bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic preacher, but to use Scripture to seek the heart of God.
Notice the contrast between “the children of this age” and “the children of God…who will rise”. Throughout Luke the children of this age are concerned about status, honour and relationships of debt and reciprocity (Luke 16:8), while the children of God are marked by mercy, generosity and love of enemies.
When Jesus says that the children of this age neither marry nor are given in marriage, he is not advocating universal celibacy but is countering the materialistic and pragmatic view of the Sadducees, in which the wife is handed from brother to brother to assure male honour. We know that men and women are not commodities, but full and equal partners of a sacrament given by God.
The Gospel therefore affirms the victory of God and God’s love over the power of death: he truly is the God of the living more so than the dead.
This victory evokes the dramatic first reading, an excerpt from the story of the martyrdom of seven brothers during the persecution of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-64 B.C.) before the Maccabean revolt.
Each of the brothers, urged on by their mother (always listen to your Mother) affirms their fidelity to the law and trust in the resurrection in the face of unspeakable torture and death. The fourth brother shouts out in faith: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him” (2 Macc. 7:14).
The fidelity and victory of the Maccabean martyrs are recalled the Jews today at the feast of Hanukkah, celebrated this year in early December.
These seasonal readings offer hope: we learn from them that our relationship with God transcends earthly relationships: all in the next life will be reunited as brothers and sisters, as Children of God. Fidelity and trust in God nurture a hope stronger than tyranny, whether the year is 165BC or 2010AD.
Remember: remember the Saints, those we have loved and see no longer. Remember those who gave their lives in conflict and especially those who continue to serve in Her Majesty’s Forces. Remember that the Kingdom of Heaven is a world apart from this one: earthly rules do not apply and Remember that God’s Love transcends all.
With thanks to Fr JR Donahue