Sunday, November 10, 2019
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Liturgical Color: Green
First reading: 2 Maccabees 7:1–2, 9–14
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 17:1, 5–6, 8, 15
Second reading: 2 Thessalonians 2:16–3:5
Gospel: Luke 20:27–38
The book of 2 Maccabees is a Christian go-to reference for Old Testament witness to such doctrines as the resurrection of the dead, praying for the dead and Purgatory. This week, in the first reading, we look at parts of the episode of the martyrdom of an entire Jewish family, a widow and her seven sons, at the hands of their persecutors.
In the first part [of the entire biblical narrative], the conviction that the just will rise and evildoers will be punished builds up as the story goes on. Each of the replies given by the six brothers contains some aspect of that truth. The first says that just men prefer to die rather than sin (v. 2) because God will reward them (v. 6); the second, that God will raise them to a new life (v. 9); the third, that they will rise with their bodies remade (v. 11); the fourth, that for evildoers there will be no “resurrection to life” (v. 14); the fifth, that there will be punishment for evildoers (v. 17); and the sixth, that when just people suffer it is because they are being punished for their own sins (v. 18).
In the second part [not part of our reading], both the mother and the youngest brother affirm what the others have said: but the boy adds something new when he says that death accepted by the righteous works as atonement for the whole people (vv. 37–38). (Navarre Bible Commentary)
Several Fathers of the Church have commented on this passage. For instance, St. John Chrysostom, speaking of temptation, says:
All the moderation that they show in the midst of dangers we, too, should imitate by the patience and temperance with which we deal with irrational concupiscence, anger, greed for possessions, bodily passions, vainglory and suchlike. For if we manage to control their flame, as [the Maccabees] did the flame of the fire, we will be able to be near them and have a share in their confidence and freedom of spirit (Homiliae in Maccabaeos, 1.3).
After a truly heartwarming benediction of his flock in Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul begs their prayers for the advancement of the Gospel (“the word of the Lord”) in the world and protection for its bearers. They know, as he does, that the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from evil. Why? Referring back to the beginning of the passage, God is their Father. This means that He has adopted them as His children.
In my case, and I wish the same to happen to you, the certainty I derive from feeling — from knowing — that I am a son of God fills me with real hope which, being a supernatural virtue, adapts to our nature when it is infused in us, and so is also a very human virtue […]. This conviction spurs me on to grasp that only those things that bear the imprint of God can display the indelible sign of eternity and have lasting value. Therefore, far from separating me from the things of this earth, hope draws me closer to these realities in a new way, a Christian way, which seeks to discover in everything the relation between our fallen nature and God, our Creator and Redeemer (St. Josemaría Escrivá, Friends of God, 208).
In view of such a generous gift from God, all Christian believers have the responsibility of helping to spread the Gospel. This is what Paul’s request for prayers is about. But all recognize that the power to progress and the will to proceed belong first to God. Another gift!
For this reason, Paul includes the danger they will always face: not all have faith. Not that God refuses them the gift, but that they refuse it from His hands.
God is faithful. He has promised salvation, he will save you. But, as he said, he will do so on one condition — that we love him, that we listen to his word and his Law. He will not save us unless we cooperate. (St. John Chrysostom, Homily on 2 Thessalonians, ad loc.)
In this passage, we learn about the Sadducees and their view of the general resurrection of the dead. Their interview with Jesus begins with a “test case,” based on the law of Levirate Marriage. Moses legislated that, if a man dies with no descendent, his brother is obligated to marry the widow and thus raise up descendents for his deceased brother. But the Sadducees constructed a scenario that ended in a ridiculous conclusion.
For his part, Jesus gives a twofold answer: first, he points out that, in the age to come (that is, after death), life does not follow the same pattern as life in this world, because in heaven, life is everlasting and marriage is not needed. In this life, children are needed to perpetuate one’s name (= family line); but in the life to come, everyone is immortal and needs no one but himself to perpetuate his name. They are, quite simply, children of God — or as the text in the original language says, they are children of the resurrection. “Jesus’ words also imply that not all attain to this blessing, so people, including the Sadducees questioning him, should focus on doing what is necessary to be deemed worthy by God to receive it” (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture).
Secondly, Jesus points to a biblical passage which directly contradicts the Sadduccees’ assumption that Moses denied the resurrection. In the scene of the burning bush (Exodus 3:6, 15–16), God tells Moses that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. “Though they died centuries before Moses, to God they are living. He is not God of the dead, which means that belief in the resurrection is actually necessary for having a proper understanding of God” (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture).
But how are they alive? The resurrection of the body has not yet taken place, as the Sadducees could point out by referring to the cave of Machpelah in Hebron, where the patriarchs were buried (Genesis 49:31; 50:13), for which Herod the Great had constructed a massive enclosure that still stands. Hence, if Abraham is alive, as the parable about Lazarus also assumes (Luke 16:19–31), there must be some “intermediate state,” as Christian teaching has affirmed with respect to the immortal soul (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1023). (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture)
And this is how we Christians have come to believe in the resurrection of the dead. Indeed, as the Apostle Paul — himself a Pharisee — well knew, the Pharisees believed in it, and at one point he used this doctrinal difference between the sects to save his life (Acts 23:6–9).
For those who need more proof, additional New Testament details on the resurrection are available in Luke 16:19–31; John 5:28–29; 1 Corinthians 15; and Revelation 21:1–22:5.