November 6, 2016 — Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Resurrection is at the core of today’s readings. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#647) states, “…Although the Resurrection was an historical event that could be verified by the sign of the empty tomb and by the reality of the apostles’ encounters with the risen Christ, still it remains at the very heart of the mystery of faith as something that transcends and surpasses history.” It is something to which we attest in every creed. For example, the Nicene Creed includes this statement: “We confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead and life in the age to come.”
The Resurrection is reinforced by Jesus Himself as well as throughout Holy Scripture. Today’s First Reading comes to us from the 2nd Book of Maccabees. It tells the story of a mother and her sons who died for their faith. It is the first story of martyrdom for the faith in the Bible. History tells us that some 100 years before the birth of Christ the Seleucid King Antiochus IV outlawed temple worship, the observance of holy days, and the keeping of the Torah. That is the setting for this particular story.
Seven brothers and their mother are called before the king because they have violated his orders relating to worship and practice of the faith. He asks that they do something that is against their practice of faith. The first son declares at the point of death, “…you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world (Jesus Christ) will raise us up again to live forever.” The king then proceeds to martyr the rest of the brothers and finally their mother. When the 4th brother is martyred he first declares, “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him.” It is this hope that gives us the strength to be Christ’s disciples. We are not asked to necessarily die for our faith, but we are asked to be committed to the faith so that we have the courage to live lives of stewardship.
This hope is the same as that to which St. Paul refers in the Second Reading from his 2nd Letter to the Thessalonians. Paul opens this particular reading by writing, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.”
We are all familiar with the importance of faith, hope, and love. Paul wants the Thessalonians, as well as those of us to whom the Holy Word is also addressed, to recognize how closely faith and hope are associated. In two simple phrases he emphasizes this: “for not all have faith…But the Lord is faithful.” It is the Lord who provides us with hope; it is His promises on which our faith is based. It is those same promises that assure us that discipleship and stewardship should be our goals.
The Sadducees, who are at the center our Gospel Reading from St. Luke, are mentioned often in the Bible. They are different from the Pharisees; however, both groups continuously made attempts to discredit Jesus. As an affluent political group, the Sadducees had specific roles and beliefs. One of their beliefs was that the soul is not immortal; they believe there is no afterlife, thus the question posed to Jesus about seven brothers (interestingly the same number as in the First Reading from Maccabees), their responsibility due in relation to a widow married to one of the brothers, and the complexity of heaven if there indeed was one. In the society at that time if a husband died childless, it was the duty of his brother (or in this case each brother in succession) to marry and be responsible for the widow.
Jesus immediately recognizes the challenge of the question in relation to Resurrection; in spite of this, the Lord chooses to change the focus and make it clear that we are in error if we think heaven is like life on earth. Often in scripture we hear that heaven and the promise of heaven is beyond our ability to comprehend. That does not lessen the promise nor reduce our hope. Jesus reminds us that life in heaven is eternal, and although it shares some characteristics to our existence on earth, it is a different life per se. “They can no longer die, for they are like angels, and they are the children of God.” Our entire lives and the focus of our lives need to be based upon this hope and belief.