2 Mc. 7:1-2, 9-14; Ps. 17; 2 Thes. 2:16-3:5; Lk. 20:27-38
(Audio recorded live, 6 November 2022)
As our liturgical year is drawing to a close, our readings naturally focus us on the last things. These last things are death, judgment, heaven, and hell. Today, we are specifically focusing on the resurrection of the body, that is, what happens after our earthly life has ended.
Our first reading from the second book of Maccabees recounts the events leading to the martyrdom of seven brothers who refused to eat unclean meat. The Law of Moses forbid anyone to eat unclean meat such as pig, hare, or shellfish, but the more important Law in this circumstance likely has to do with meat sacrificed to idols. The First Commandment makes it abundantly clear that there shall be no other Gods except Yahweh, and to partake of meat sacrificed to false gods is to sin against the First Commandment, for that meat was offered to another deity. As God says in the Book of Exodus: “You shall not bow down to any other god, for the LORD…is a jealous God” (Ex. 34:14). Since the brothers refused to eat unclean meat, the king had them executed. But, as they are being tortured, we hear of their faith in the resurrection of the body. The one brother says, “the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying,” and the other brother says, “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him….” Their statements were immortalized in the book of Maccabees so that all people may come to appreciate their courage and their zeal for the Commandments of Almighty God, but particularly for we Christians, because of their belief in the resurrection of the body.
The ancient Israelite understanding of eternal life meant having many children, so that the family name and bloodline could carry on for generations. The Israelites did not begin to consider the possibility of a bodily resurrection after earthly death until a few hundred years before Christ. That is why it was not yet common among the Jews when Jesus came—it carried on in certain sects, but not in the mainstream.
St. Paul speaks of the importance of persevering in the faith, praying that God may give them the grace to encourage their hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word. Why might it be important to carry out good deeds and speak good words? Well, Paul himself encountered the risen Lord, so he had first-hand proof of the Resurrection. But, he also realized that having faith alone was not enough. It is one thing to say, “Yeah, I believe;” it is another to actually live like a believer. We are called to follow the Way of Jesus. It is a way of morality, critical thinking, goodness, kindness, beatitude, and love. A wicked man says and does wicked things; a good man says and does good things. Paul is encouraging his congregation to avoid those wicked men who would lead them astray from the Lord. He also instructs them to continue doing what they are already doing. In other words, to stay on the path; go the distance; finish the race. Do not give in to temptation, and pray for the grace to live a life worthy of the Lord. That is to say, live in a way worthy of the reward of eternal life.
Jesus’ encounter with the Sadducees is interesting, but somewhat convoluted. The Sadducees were the priestly class and did not believe in the resurrection of the body. They antagonized Jesus for espousing this idea in his teachings about himself, namely, that he should rise on the third day. So, they ask him a silly question that has no logical end. If they did not believe in the resurrection, then the answer to such a question is of no importance to them. Have you ever had an argument with someone who asks questions they don’t care to have answered? Most of us may try and answer such questions, but they usually end up making us frustrated and the other person grins because they know they choked us up. But, Jesus never falls for such deception, rather, he first qualifies who will rise, saying, “those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” The age Jesus is talking about is the age of grace, and only those who have been graced, that is, baptized, will attain to the resurrection of the dead. Baptized believers have received the gift of eternal life. But, just because they are baptized does not mean they cannot fall into sin. It just means that they have the sanctifying grace that enables them to enter into the beatific vision of God. When we are united with God, there is no more need for marriage. Marriage is an earthly institution; union with God, however, is heavenly.
Lastly, Jesus shows that God is God of the living by quoting Sacred Scripture. When God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush, he says, “I am the God of your father…the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex. 3:6). God refers to the patriarchs in the present tense, for to God all are alive. Not only has Jesus qualified the terms of resurrection of the body, he has also shown, in a most cogent manner, that God is God of the living, not the dead. And God is always encouraging his people to choose life, the only choice that truly matters.
So, from the witness of the seven brothers in the book of Maccabees to the resurrection of Jesus himself, we have a certain hope that we too shall join in the resurrection of Jesus along with those men and women who led exceptional lives of holiness, provided we imitate their example and follow Jesus without reservation. Life on this earth is a tremendous gift, and we have an amazing opportunity to live in such a way that the love of God may come through us.
One last word on living a life of love. As I said, it is not just saying we believe but living in a way that reflects what we believe, therefore, service is necessarily tied to a life of love. Today marks the beginning of Vocations Awareness Week, a time dedicated to encouraging and promoting a life of service to the Church. So, let us spend some time in prayer asking the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. That includes young men to the priesthood, young men and women to the religious life, and all men and women of good will who seek to reflect the love of God through their good deeds and words. It was out of love that we came to be, and so may our existence be a reflection of that love, most especially whenever we receive the ultimate outpouring of love, which is Jesus Christ himself, in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.