Preparing for Sunday anticipating this day.The Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Second Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
Psalms 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15
Second Thessalonians 2:16--3:5
Luke 20:27-38 or 20:27, 34-38
After the homily today, the community will profess a litany of beliefs, which we call the Creed. In almost each phrase of this declaration of our faith, there is a history of theological controversies. We recite them easily without understanding fully the battles, which resulted in these truths.
There were debates about the Trinity, especially concerning Jesus as God and human. The readings, which the Church gives us today, center our reflections around the last few words of the Creed. “We believe in….the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” A few days ago, we celebrated All Souls Day when we pray for and with those who have gone before us in faith. We prayed with the memories of departed friends and family members and found comfort in their being together with God in heaven. This is a tremendous mystery and one which gives us hope and consolation. That our bodies will rise again was not a belief of our early Jewish ancestors. What we hear in today’s First Reading begins a change in Jewish thought and belief.
We hear from the Second Book of Maccabees in which there is a terrible persecution in Israel by the king Antiochus Epiphanes who is bent on putting an end to Jewish rituals and traditions. We hear of seven brothers who refuse to eat the meat of a pig. Eating pork was ritually unclean. For their refusals, they are killed. For their faith in God, through acting according to God’s laws, the brothers profess that they will rise again and live forever. They also predict that their persecutor will not be raised.
Here begins a little part of the controversy. Will all be raised or only the “Just.” Will God be so merciful as resulting in Universal Resurrection? This persecution is taking place about one hundred and seventy years before the birth of Jesus and so there is this developing thought about what happens to us after life. Jesus is to meet this argument in today’s Gospel.
Here in the United States there are newspaper columns and radio programs dedicated to solving personal, social and especially marital problems. One can call Dr. Laura or write Ann Landers and pour out one’s problems about divorce and resultant child-custody. Jesus receives a similar, but trick question from a group who did not believe in the resurrection. They are familiar with the teaching from Deuteronomy chapter twenty-five where it is written concerning the question about who should marry the wife of a deceased husband. It is very clear in the law that the brother of the dead husband should step forward and take the woman as his wife.
It is also very clear in the law that the reason for this is the perpetuation of the family name through having children. This of course was seen as a blessing from God and was not to be taken lightly. This group of Pharisees, who are called Sadducees, projects a possibility, based on the law, that would make the resurrection from the dead to eternal life in heaven, problematic.
The reply that Jesus offers to His questioners can be confusing and can seem contradictory to the sacred sacrament of Marriage. The “children of this age” are those who marry so as to be blest by having children. The perpetuation of their name on earth is their experience of eternity. Jesus does not say one should be unmarried to be worthy of heaven. He takes the discussion to a higher level by referring to those who believe in Him as “children of God.” They will rise and more than their names will live forever.
So we had to get through all the above to face the central issue here. God is the God of the living and there is more to living than this biological existence we prize and pride so much. Our family names may fade, but this God of the living blesses us not only through having children, but claims us as eternal children whose names are written in God’s book. Having children is still a blessing, but being “children of God” is our eternal blessing. Jesus is replacing an aspect of the Law by His extending His life into His new family. Our immortality flows from His coming into our family of humanity and we gain eternal life through His being the Eternal Word.
A few years ago, I read in an American history periodical about a cemetery in Chicago where many of the rival gangsters of the Roaring Twenties are now buried within seventy-five feet of each other. The author commented that he wished he were going to be there at the resurrection of the bodies. “Only God will keep the peace then.”
We believe and so we do not have to know for sure how this will all
take place. What we do know is the invitation from Jesus to live
this life in faith is more important than having children whose perpetuating
of our name means we are blest. We are blest by His becoming one
with and for us. This faith, this rising above having to have certainty
is the very beginning of the ultimate rising and living with God into eternal
famlihood with all to whom God has given life.
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