THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14; Psalm 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5; Luke 20:27-38
Last Sunday’s liturgy began a theme, but not yet intensely, of the wrapping up of life on earth through a mention of “the Day of the Lord.” In today’s first reading that theme is continued in the rather new Old Testament teaching that there is a resurrection of the dead. That teaching explicitly enters Old Testament teaching for the first time in Daniel 12:1-3, about 165 B.C. The Second Book of Maccabees, from which our first reading is taken, follows the Book of Daniel in this teaching, but in greater detail. The date of 2 Maccabees is approximately 124 B.C. The author teaches the resurrection of the dead through a story of a pious Jewish mother and her seven sons. The historical setting of the story is the persecution of pious Jews in Judea and Jerusalem during the 160s B.C. by King Antiochus IV of Syria. As the story opens, the mother and her seven sons had undergone torture “to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law.” This law is found in Leviticus 11:7 and Deuteronomy 14:8. The observance of this law distinguished Jews from others as much as abstaining from meat on Fridays formerly distinguished Catholics from others.
One of the seven brothers spoke for the family, “We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.” As the young man was dying, he professed his faith in the resurrection of the dead. Speaking to the king, he said, “You damned fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.” Another of the seven sons was threatened with amputation of his limbs. He held out his hands, and said, “I received these from Heaven, (a reference to God while avoiding speaking the name of God). For the sake of his laws I am ready to give them up. From him I hope to receive them again,” a profession of faith in the resurrection of the body. While the next of the seven was tortured, he said, “It is my choice to die . . . . with the hope God gives of being raised up by him . . . .” There is a denial of the resurrection of the wicked, as the young man says to the king, “. . . but for you there will be no resurrection to life.” Even though the historical setting goes back to an earlier time, 168-165 B.C., the composition of the story need not be historical in the sense of having actually happened. Like the parables of Jesus in the New Testament, imaginative stories are a form of teaching the truths of revelation. In this case, the resurrection of the body.
The Responsorial Psalm 17, sings nothing explicit about a resurrection, but it is implied in these words, “In justice I shall see your face, on waking I shall be content in your presence.” The term waking was hardly intended to be understood as a resurrection of the dead, but rather a waking up in the morning. When, however, these words are placed as a response to the first reading’s profession of a resurrection of the dead, they take on a new and fuller meaning. Just as for Christians, falling asleep was a metaphor for death, so waking up became a metaphor for the resurrection of the dead.
The second reading, from 2 Thessalonians, says nothing explicit about a resurrection of the dead.
However, the use of the term “good hope” in the opening sentence implies a resurrection. Why?
This term was used by various pagan mystery religions (secret rites) to describe happiness after death. In a Christian context, “good hope” refers to the return of Jesus. The technical word for Jesus’ return: Parousia, that is, being present.
After passing through Jericho, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. There was the triumphal entry into the Holy City, Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem, and his teaching in the temple. In Luke’s arrangement of material, Jesus began his teaching career in the temple at age twelve. After a brief life time of another few decades he has returned to his Father’s house for his final days of teaching. The authorities of the temple question his authority to teach in the temple. These were the high priestly clans, the Sadducees, so named after an ancestor Zadok, who was chief priest in the temple during the reign of King David, 1000-961 B.C. One of their doctrines was a denial of the resurrection. After the Pharisee/scribes tested Jesus about whether or not it is legitimate for Jews, now under Roman occupation, to pay taxes to Caesar, they got their comeuppance through Jesus’ clever answer. The Sadducees thought they could do better. They too approached Jesus in the temple. Their aim was to embarrass him. They knew that he accepted the Pharisee belief in a resurrection. They denied the resurrection because they claimed they could not find any basis for it in the Torah, (first five books of the Bible), the only Scriptures they accepted.
According to the Torah, if a man dies leaving a widow but no child, his brother has the duty to impregnate his sister-in-law to generate a descendant for his dead brother. One after another of six brothers of the deceased obeyed this law but none succeeded. Whose wife of the seven brothers will she be in the resurrection? They thought they had him. Jesus however got the better of them. His answer was this. In the story of the burning bush in Exodus 3, the Lord God is called “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” God however is not the God of the dead, but of the living, “for to God all are alive.” The conclusion: if these three Patriarchs from whom Jews trace their ancestry are still alive, there can be a resurrection. Therefore it is legitimate to believe in a resurrection. The scribes/Pharisees were standing by listening to Jesus defeat the Sadducees. Between the two groups there was no love. Their verdict: “Teacher, you have spoken well!” No more questions. Good to know that when in the Creed at Sunday Mass we profess, “I believe in the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting,” we proclaim a belief that came to into Christianity from the too-much-maligned Jews the gospels call the Pharisees.