Sixty-second in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time
Readings: 2 Maccabees 7:1-2; 9-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5; Luke 20:27-38
The end of the Church’s year is when we spend a great deal of time talking and thinking about the Last Things – death, judgment, heaven/hell, and resurrection – and the end of the Year of Mercy is no exception. We begin the end by observing two great days of the Church calendar: the feast of All Saints, when we celebrate the realization of our destiny in the heavenly Church Triumphant; and the commemoration of All Souls, when we pray for and reflect on the purifying sufferings of the Church Penitent. So where does that leave us, the Church Militant, marching towards these destinations? By the grace of God we will transition to the ranks of one, maybe both, of these members of the Communion of Saints, after death removes us from this physical world and we have that long talk with our Maker which constitutes our particular judgment. And yet, even heaven is not the end for God’s faithful. There is still more to come! And it is this last of the Last Things that gives the people and characters in our readings today their sure and certain hope, the hope that was guaranteed by the Redemption: resurrection.
In the First Reading, the seven brothers arrested during the turmoil of the Maccabaean revolt against the Seleucid Greek powers in the 2nd century B.C. readily endure severe punishments and even brutal torturous deaths rather than transgress even the smallest part of the Law. Perhaps to us moderns the choice of “eat pork or die” seems easy enough (just eat the bacon!). It was easy for these brothers too, just not for the same reason. Consider the words of the second brother: “[Y]ou are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.” These brothers considered their sufferings to be as nothing in the face of the prospect of an eternal life with their God. And suffer they did. All of them were lashed and scourged. One of them lost his hands and tongue before he died. Their mother was also arrested and tortured (our reading does not include her dying remarks, but you should definitely go read them on your own). And so great was their hope in the life to come that they disdained their earthly lives for the sake of obeying until death the One Who gives life.
Contrast their behavior with the behavior of the Sadducees in the Gospel reading. A sect even more legalistically radical than the Pharisees, they followed the Law so closely that they did not believe in resurrection – because the idea of resurrection isn’t explicitly written into the Torah. And so they seem to treat the belief with a sort of mocking contempt – and they treat Jesus with even more. And yet their question regarding the seven brothers who married the same woman (“Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?”) backfires as Jesus cuts through the absurd sophistry of their insincere logic. He first reminds them that marriage was instituted for earthly life and for earthly reasons; those who enjoy heavenly life with God no longer need marriage but instead “are like the angels,” spirits whose lives are completed by God Himself. But then He, the living Torah, delves into the written Torah itself to argue that the idea of resurrection has been there since the beginning, waiting to be revealed. He recalls the passage in which God identifies Himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the Hebrew patriarchs hundreds of years in the grave by that point. “[H]e is not God of the dead, but of the living,” He tells them (and us), “for to him all are alive.”
Whether we believe it or not, there is not a single moment when the children of God are not alive. And that bit of truth has more to do with God than with us, even as we seek relationship with Him or not. “[N]ot all have faith,” Saint Paul writes to the Thessalonians in our Second Reading. “But the Lord is faithful.” Not only will He give us the strength and protection we need to weather the trials of this earthly life – if we seriously ask Him – but He continuously desires us to be with Him for ever, directly, across all dimensions, within all dimensions. He won’t just draw our souls to Himself in the heavenly realm, but He will unite heaven and earth together to allow us to enjoy eternal life with Him in fullness of being, body and soul. That’s what the Incarnation means, as we’ve seen: it’s the union of heaven and earth in a single Person Who both died and rose from death to show us the reality of the destiny God desires for each one of us, saint and sinner. This is the Gospel truth, the Word of God that, with our own aid, “may speed forward and be glorified,” as it did in Paul’s time and down to ours. Indeed, with a hope like ours, how can we be silent about it?
The goal is in sight, and it’s our turn to take the ball and run.