Reflection on Today’s Daily Readings by Fr. Bertrand Buby, SM
Scripture: Lectionary 157. 2 Maccabees 7:1-2,9-14. Psalm 17:1.5-6.8.15. II
Thessalonians 2:16-3:5. Luke 20:37-38.
Two themes mesh today in our liturgical readings: eternal life through the
mystery of rising from the dead which is seen in our first reading and in
the Gospel. The other theme is common to the epistles of Paul and it
supports the first theme since it is the dynamism of the living word of God
that endures forever.
II Maccabees chapter seven contains the whole account of the martyrdom of
this Israelite woman with her seven sons. We have the words of the first
four sons in this selection from the Septuagint, therefore, II Maccabees is
a deutero-canonical writing that is not found in the Hebrew Scriptures nor
accepted into the inspired scriptures by Protestants who follow the Hebrew
canon. This book was used by Greek speaking Jews about 150 years before
Jesus was born and it witnesses to life after to death and even to praying
and offering sacrifices for the dead in I Maccabees, therefore, is used in
our teaching about purgatory. Catholics accept the divine inspired nature
of these books among the seven that are called deutero-canonical, that is,
a second "canon or rule" for divinely inspired scripture. It is in every
Catholic Bible. Now that the apocrypha and pseudoepigrapha are being more
and more researched these books take on added value for those who are not
II Maccabees is a power-filled drama of the mother of seven sons who are
facing execution because of their fidelity to observing the ritual law of
not eating pork either as a sacrificial offering to a god of the
executioners or simply not eating it because it is forbidden. They will die
because of their faithful observance of the ritual law. They are able to
make the sacrifice of their lives for the first four explain how they are
convinced of a far greater after-life than the present one. They believe
firmly in bodily resurrection. The first four sons will explicitly state
their faith and their belief from different perspectives. The mother too
will be martyred seven times through their death and then put to death.
They demonstrate their holiness or righteousness by this act of courage for
their faith believing that their death is the key to eternal life.
Jesus is confronted by the Sadducees who do not believe in the
resurrection. They adhere only to the Torah and its laws but do not read it
as Jesus would who gives us the deeper spiritual interpretation whenever he
is accepting their confrontation as a challenge. He always wins his case
in the New Testament Gospels, but he also will be put to death dies because
of his convictions and way of living out the word of God. The confronters
use an absurd example of a woman who loses her husband and then according
to the levirate obligation for the next of kin takes her as wife; this
continues with the rest of the clan till she has married seven of them!
Jesus sees through their weak example that they are making fun of him and
his teaching. He then goes on to show them what Pharisees and he believe
about the after-lfe--no marrying but a different level of existence far
superior to the fragile limits of our life here on earth. This example of
the Sadducees is a far cry from the excellent example of the first reading
where the mother has seven sons martyred and not the death of seven
husbands. She is convinced of the resurrection; the Sadducees are only
convinced of their clever but faulty argumentation. Jesus trumps them.
After this life we are compared to heavenly beings called angels or are the
"children of God" no longer sons or daughters of humanity.
The Patriarchs of our faith are considered to be alive and well in the
presence of God. Luke and John both bring this out. They are among those
who are intimately connected to the presence of God and are his saints and
friends. Their bodies have been transformed into a higher state of being
and living. Jesus himself will attest to the resurrected body that is his
after his suffering and death. Again, we call to mind the wonderful
insight of Fr. Brown who says,"It is disturbing to hear from Catholics the
facile claim 'My faith in the Resurrection would not be disturbed if
Christ's body were found in Palestine.' Much more to the point is whether
the faith of the Eleven would have been shaken by such a discovery."
Many Christians have doubts about the bodily resurrection. They may follow
the philosophical position that sees afterlife as the immortality of the
soul without bodily resurrection. This is a Greek philosophical reasoning
and not similar to what the mother of the seven sons is attesting to
through her children. Nor is it what the Gospels are saying about the
Risen One. Paul adds strength to the resurrection narrative in his own way
of explaining it to the Corinthians in his first letter to them in chapter
fifteen. Thomas Aquinas reasons to the absolute uniqueness of each
individual person that comes about through their body (matter) and soul
(form) being united and made in the image and likeness of God. (Genesis
Fr. Roland Faley, T.O.R. in his homiletical interpretation for the Sunday
readings comments on our passage from Luke with these remarkable words:
What we do know about our future life with God is that it is not only
superior to the present life, it is also vastly different. Discussion
about that difference is not particularly fruitful. Paul himself found
discussion about the resurrected body of little profit. It is as different
from the present body, he said, as the full grown plant is from the seed
that produces it. The central joy of heaven is life in and with God with
no fear of loss. There is the further belief, rejected in II
Thessalonians, that we will be reunited with those who have gone before us.
And while it may be said that there is considerable discussion about what
it will be like, there is no discussion about the basic fact. Eternal life
is a gospel given,a New Testament datum. Yes, there are moments when many
of us have doubts. And there is nothing unusual about that. With Paul we
simply pray to be strengthened, with the firm conviction that the God who
is faithful will bring us home." (Footprints on the Mountain, p.724).
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