Martin McNamara, MSC
A. The bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
B. Reflection & Dialogue: The Resurrection of the Dead and Life Everlasting
The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
First Reading (2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14). The King of the world will raise us up to live for ever. This reading is part of a long chapter on the martyrdom of the seven sons and their mother during the fierce and savage persecution (167-164 BC) of the Greek king Antiochus IV, in his attempt to utterly wipe out the Jewish religion and have it replaced by a pagan cult. This martyrdom served as a model for persecuted believers whether Jews or Christian, and these Jewish martyrs were venerated by the Christian church. Belief in the bodily resurrection had become more common among sections of the Jewish community at that time, and it served as encouragement for those called on to die rather than forsake their religion. Explicit faith in the resurrection is made by the second, the third and the fourth brother in today’s reading. They will be raised up to life again by God, the King of the world. The reading goes well with the gospel passage read today, in which Jesus defends belief in bodily resurrection against the Sadducees, who denied it.
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 16). I shall be filled, when I awake, with the sight of your glory, O Lord.
Second Reading (2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5). May the Lord strengthen you in everything good that you do or say. This reading is the concluding section of this epistle on encouragement to persevere (2 Thessalonians 2:13-3-5). This, in turn, comes after a section of this letter on the (second) coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the prelude to it (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12), part of which was read in last Sunday’s second reading. This present section seems to have the end time in mind also. It speaks of how believers can prepare, and be prepared, for it. One is a spirit of thankfulness and confidence in an awareness of being called by God and saved by the Holy Spirit who makes us holy and gives faith in the truth. Believers are called by the Gospel to claim as their own the glory of Christ, to be glorified by the Christ’s own glory (2:13-14). Flowing from these truths there comes a call to the first recipients of this letter and to all believers to stand firm and to keep the traditions they have been taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter. The traditions are the truths of Christianity that Paul himself had received from the Lord, from the early Church, and which he had passed on, by word of mouth, orally, and by letter – his first letter to the Thessalonians and possibly others (2:15).
All Christian belief is kept alive by prayer, and in this reading Paul recalls all the gifts that have been given to believers by Christ and God the Father, the gifts of love, of comfort and hope, and he prays that they will be comforted and strengthened by God in everything good within them, in what they do and say. Having prayed for them, Paul now calls on them to pray for a variety of matters. The first is that the true faith, the Lord’s message, may spread quickly, and furthermore that it may be received with honour by others as it has among them. Paul is probably thinking of malevolent unbelievers, interfering bigoted and evil people. The Gospel was already experiencing sustained attack. He concludes with a profession of faith in the Lord who is faithful and will sustain the believing community to which he writes — and all believers in the future who will read or listen to his message of hope and encouragement.
The Gospel (Luke 20:27-38). He is God, not of the dead, but of the living. The setting for this episode in the life of Jesus is Jerusalem and probably in the Temple itself. We are in Judea, which was then under direct Roman rule, paying taxes directly to Caesar. Two groups put questions to Jesus, in an attempt to get him into trouble with the Roman authorities, or to embarrass him. One is a question by spies of the scribes and high priests as to whether taxes should be paid to Caesar. Jesus replies with the well-known statement on what to render to Caesar and what to God. The Temple was controlled by priests of the Sadducee persuasion. It is well known from the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the contemporary historian Josephus, that a chief tenet of Sadducee conviction was denial of the resurrection of the body on the last day. While the Jews had a very keen sense of God’s presence with them in the Temple, in worship, in prayer and in time of trouble, and while they believed firmly that God rewarded the good and punished the wicked, they had no belief in life after death with reward or punishment. They had no concept of a personal existence after death. The spirit of man, and all living things, at death returned to the God who gave it. Not that death meant total extinction. A shade of the human remained, and all the shades of good and evil persons were herded together in an underworld. This left the question of divine retribution and of personal union with God unanswered, questions on which intimations and questions are visible in earlier biblical literature. Matters came to a head with the fierce persecution of the Greek king Antiochus Epiphanes in 167-164 BC and his attempt to wipe out the Jewish religion. Many martyrs sacrificed their lives from the faith. It was then that belief in a bodily resurrection at the end of time became formulated. The belief gave courage to the martyrs (as is clear from today’s first reading). The belief in the resurrection was strongly advocated by the Pharisees, but denied by the Sadducees. They attempt to show how foolish the belief is by the example of the law of what is known as levirate marriage (levir is Latin for brother-in-law) of Deuteronomy 25:5-6). Jesus points out their error: the next life is not a continuation or replica of this with begetting and death. Life there is comparable to that of the angels. He further notes that there is more to a biblical text than the mere letter. There is the power of the living God behind it. The reading gives a clear example of the development of doctrine, which will develop further with the resurrection of Jesus. Belief in our own eternal life and resurrection is as certain as belief in Jesus’ own. Both are intertwined. The joys of eternal life pass beyond what has entered into the mind oh mortal.
B. Reflection & Dialogue: The Resurrection of the Dead and Life Everlasting
The Nicene Creed ends with the words: We look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. As this liturgical year draws to a close we, clergy and laity, could profitably reflect on these truths. There is no need here to dwell on the first of these, which has been commented on in today’s readings.
With regard to eternal life, one is often asked as to what we really know about it, going on credible sources and leaving imagination aside. We have the words of St Paul (1 Corinthians 2:9): “As it is written: What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”. We can recall that it will not be as human life is here on earth, but as Jesus said to the Sadducees, comparable to that of the angels. We know, however, that in the Church we pray to the elect in heaven, that they hear our prayers, and intercede for the living on earth. They thus are aware of events on earth, a truth we profess in belief in the communion of saints. One could expand on this, but this is not necessary here.
Another truth worth recalling at this time is that our belief in eternal life does not affect our concern for human affairs, and the betterment of our society and way of life. In fact it should add to it. Since we look forward to new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home (2 Peter 3:13) we should aim to have our present world already conform to this as much as possible.