The traditional clasping of our hands together in prayer speaks of begging or pleading. We petition God with hearts and hands in a posture of poverty and diminishment. We kneel in a similar posture of deep need.
Our reception of the Eucharist is the acceptance of the always-present offering of Life into our hands and received while standing. Open hands speaks of an abiding sense that the divine generosity is available and expected.
These days as we prepare for celebrating this Divine Presence, we might practice open-handed praying and receiving of all the other ways the Divine Generosity is revealed. We can pray with open hands with what has already been offered and maybe not accepted totally just yet. We can live prayerfully these days with the increased awareness of all the other presences of God which can quite easily slip past our closed hands and hearts.
We hear from the book of the Brothers Maccabee in our First Reading for the Liturgy. King Antiochus from Antioch has ravaged Jerusalem and especially the temple and its treasures. He has left behind officials to subdue the Jewish people and force them to reject their customs and their God.
An old man, Eleazar in the previous chapter, has made a dramatic protest of his faith in the “living God” as he rejects the demands that he eat the forbidden flesh of pigs. He is offered, by some friends among the dominating officials, a kind of meat substitute and declares his life a witness to God’s eternal presence. He moves to the chopping block in a spirit of prayerful reverence.
What we hear today is the narrative of the seven brothers and their mother who also reject their having to eat pig meat. They are killed for their faith in the God of life Who will raise them to a higher life, because they have remained faithful to living faithfully while on earth. As for those who are oppressing God’s people, there will be no higher life offered them.
Notice the prayers or little speeches which those going to death announce. Eleazar ended his life as well proclaiming the reasons for a willingness to die on earth rather than die to the after-life.
One young brother says that his tongue and hands were given him by God to be used well while on earth, but to have them sacrificed means nothing compared to the loss of the life to come if the body rebels against God’s “law”. Keeping the strictures of the “law” is not a legalistic conformity here, but a way of living a relationship of praise and trust. The “law” is meant to keep order within the community and within each person’s life. The “law”, for the Jewish people, was an expression of how God desired the people to resist being dominated by the inner-laws of selfishness and the outer-laws of other nations. These brothers and their mother were not legalistic fanatics fearful of punishment, but faithful Jews who loved God firstly and their own lives secondly. They were making an option for the later rather than the sooner.
The Gospel is one more mouse-trap story where Jesus is presented with an apparently unsolvable proposition. A group of Jewish fundamentalists, the Sadducees, whose philosophy was that there is no life after death, comes to Jesus, not to talk about marriage, but to push their agenda as opposed to Jesus’ teachings about the life and kingdom to come. They invoke the writing of Moses to fortify their proposal to Jesus. In responding Jesus reminds them that during the encounter that God initiated with Moses at the “Burning Bush” Moses called out, “Lord”, Who is God of the three foundational persons in the history of Israel, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
The debate ends with no further words from the Sadducees. Your eye or ear might have caught something about those who do get married and those who do not. “Those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry or are given in marriage.” These seem words of exclusion. It might mean that those who enjoy the heavenly experience of being married on this earth, during this life-experience will not receive eternal life. The single person, because they are like “angels” and they will rise. These verses seem contradictory to other Scripture passages and to the sacramental sanctity of Marriage!
Jesus is speaking more clearly of the life to come and the life that leads there. Being married or single is not the question. All human beings are invited to live on this earth without making answers, ideas, other persons, any things, any relationships into ultimates or gods. Married and unmarried, all humans, long for completion so deeply that we all can drift toward grasping greedily any one or anything which will do as a substitute. What Jesus is saying is that this present life leads to the beyond and not to itself.
It does seem to me, a single person, that those who are married can come so close to completion. That’s it though, that sharing, that intimacy can make the longing all the more intense for the ultimate or total completion. Married persons reveal to each other how they are not a god, but mutual invitations to keep heading toward the beyond, toward the real completion, toward the real God. Living this way leads to the resurrected life which Jesus came to offer. Our universal problem is that we all want the final completion of the here-after to be experienced in the here-before.
“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. In green pastures He gives me rest; He leads me beside the waters of peace.” Ps. 23
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