We are invited by the readings for this Sunday to believe that to
grieve will lead us to be comforted. There are many things in our Christian
tradition which invite us to trust that which we can not see. The presence
of Jesus in the Eucharist and in the people of our lives, especially the
poor, homeless, hungry, and in prison. Of all these, the most challenging
and yet hopeful is the “after-life.”
This past Tuesday we celebrated our belief that the souls of the faithful
departed are in God’s merciful presence. We believe in the “Communion of
Saints,” and we believe that God is the God of all the living, those on earth
and those beyond.
We pray with the meekness to kneel before this mystery and enjoy
the comfort of our faith that those whom we grieve in their passing will
welcome us with Jesus into whatever this “next-life” is and will be for us.
We are praying not to avoid hell and eternal separation. We pray with the
joy that union and completion will be ours for eternity. We pray to persevere
in our beliefs and honor our ancestors by living faithfully all they lived
and passed on to us.
Fidelity to Torah and all its blessed prescriptions constituted real life
for the Jewish nation. Fertility of family and the land was the divine response
to this conformity. What we hear in today’s First Reading advances the relationship.
The brothers Maccabee are a steadfast and most faithful family. They have
lived the laws and customs of their Jewish faith. A foreign power, King Antichus
IV is dominating Judea and has designs to profane the temple and dedicate
it to Zeus, the Greek god of all gods. He and his commanders meet with resistance
from the seven brothers and their mother. What we hear is the questioning
of these faithful Jews and the prayerful answers they give to their persecutors.
We hear of the torture they receive and the prayers of hope as they suffer
and die. They exercise an option.
The Seven brothers look towards more than family or field fertility as their
reward for faithfulness. The God of their ancestors will be the Lord of their
futures. They forsake earthly life and choose life to come as their hope.
Their mother watches each of them as they are tortured, frying in a pan and
as we hear having the tongue cut out for not eating pork. She encourages
them to their staying faithful to their traditions and to the God who will
be faithful to them after death. Each of the brothers, before dying, offers
a prayer, a boast, and a challenge to the King’s authority and his own eternal
destiny. They will die for their beliefs and thereby rise. The king will
live his days of rage and torture and thereby not live on after his terror
is silenced by death.
In the Gospel, Jesus has entered Jerusalem and is teaching the people in
the temple about the Good News. This scene becomes the stage for the leaders
of the various religious parties within the Jewish tradition to try to make
their position clear to the other groups and also discredit Jesus’ teachings.
The Sadducees are such a faction. They hold strictly to the literal reading
of the Torah themselves. This puts them in opposition to the Pharisees who
gain their power from their own collective interpretation of the same teachings
of Moses. Both groups question the authority of Jesus to teach such new things.
They ask Jesus various trick questions such as to whom should the tax be
paid, to the Roman government or, because of religious teachings, pay only
the Temple Taxes. They would like to trap Jesus so as to hand him over for
The Sadducees desire his removal and so they try to trap him by asking about
life after death. They did not hold to this. A certain woman marries and
buries seven brothers. Whose wife will she be in the after-life? A good test
question and Jesus passes the exam by his own use of their scriptures. They
are familiar with Moses’ being encountered by God at the Burning Bush. Jesus
quotes the verse from that section of their scriptures which God is spoken
of as being God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Jacob. Certainly God is God of
the living and not the dead. The Sadducees acknowledge that Jesus has spoken
When we were kids we played a game called “School”
in which the one who was the teacher hid a pebble in one hand and presented
both hands to those sitting in a line on the bottom step. The first “student”
would exercise a choice and if the correct hand was slapped, that “student”
could move up one step. If the wrong hand was guessed, that “student” stayed
in First Grade. The first “student getting to the top of the stairs became
the new “Teacher.” Our joys were simpler in those days.
Every day presents us with such tight-fisted options. We live towards rising
up to heaven and life eternal. Often we make options that involve dying to
ourselves that we might choose life eternal. Like the Seven Martyrs for their
faith, we witness to a life-style now that indicates we would exercise our
option by choosing the promised-life in the hidden hand of God. Each
time we do choose for the life-after we are making a statement as did the
Maccabees, as did the early martyrs, as did the Martyrs of El Salvador, and
as does any one who follows Jesus up the stairs towards Jerusalem. We not
only grieve those who have gone before us, but we grieve often the various
calls we receive to witness to our belief in the life to come. Not all the
steps towards eternal life are easy to climb.
“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. In green pastures he gives me rest,
he leads me beside waters of peace.” Ps. 23