II Mc 7:1-2, 9-14; II Thes 2: 16--3:5; Lk 20: 27-38
Introduction: As we near the end of the Church's liturgical year, the readings become more eschatological -- having to do with the end times. The main theme of today’s readings is the reality of life after death and of the relationship between our lives on earth and the life of glory or punishment that will follow. The readings invite us to consider the true meaning of the Resurrection in our lives.
Homily starter anecdote: Resurrection of the dead: The film Amadeus ends showing the funeral of the great musician Mozart. (https://youtu.be/vCY4ryE9uF ) He died at the age of 35. A genius as a composer, he never re-copied his compositions. He never had to make corrections, so the first draft was also the final copy. A child prodigy, he started playing several instruments at the age of four, wrote several symphonies by the age of eight and created at least 528 musical compositions before he died at age 35. He was a genius, whom one authority calls "one of the brightest stars in the musical firmament." What a waste, that he should have died so young! It makes you wonder: is this life all there is? Imagine a beloved spouse, a darling parent or grandparent, a close friend, lying cold in the coffin. Is this life all there is? We try to comfort ourselves with the doctrine of the resurrection. We say: the genius of people like Mozart is not going to be wasted. The love of dear ones - the squeeze of their hands and the music in their voices - that love will be enjoyed in even greater intensity. A Sadducee in Jesus’ time might say, "I don't believe it; the doctrine is absurd." That was the point the Sadducees wanted to make by challenging Jesus in today’s Gospel, with an absurd story of a woman who married seven husbands. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
Scripture lessons summarized: The first reading describes a Jewish family, consisting of a mother and her seven sons, who refused their conqueror’s command to eat pork, forbidden as “unclean” by Jewish Law. Because of their Faith in, and obedience to, God, they endure suffering and accept martyrdom. During their torture, three of the brothers speak, and each of them finds strength in the belief that he will eventually be raised and rewarded by God. In the refrain for today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 17) we proclaim our Faith: “Lord, when Your glory appears, my joy will be full!” The second reading encourages the Thessalonians who were waiting for the Parousia or the second coming of Christ, to trust in the fidelity of God Who would strengthen their hearts in every good work and word. The same theme of the resurrection of the dead is the basis of the confrontation described in today’s Gospel passage. In this confrontation, Jesus ingeniously escapes from a doctrinal trap set for him and explains the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, supported by the Pharisees and denied by the Sadducees. Jesus speaks of God as the God of the living and declares that heavenly life with God in glory is totally different from earthly life, explaining that there is no marriage in heaven in the earthly sense.
First reading: II Mc 7:1-2, 9-14 explained: A belief in Divine Judgment with reward or punishment for each of us after death, together with a lively hope for resurrection, is not clearly seen in the Jewish writings until the second century BC. I Maccabees, written in Hebrew by a Palestinian Jew, and II Maccabees, written in Greek by an Alexandrian Pharisee, both in the late second century BC, are named after Judas Maccabaeus, the hero of the war for Jewish independence against Antiochus IV Epiphanes who had wrested Egypt from the control of Ptolemy, King of Egypt, then raided the Temple in Jerusalem carrying off all its golden vessels and treasures. He next attempted to Hellenize the Jews by imposing Greek culture and idol worship on them under pain of torture and death. The Second Book of Maccabees is the story of invaders who had the job of convincing the Jews who remained faithful to the Law and Covenant, to give up their Faith. The invaders met with heroic resistance. In today's passage, the resisters express their hope of resurrection, and this hope helps them defy their persecutors. The selection describes a Jewish family, consisting of a mother and her seven sons, who refused Antiochus IV Epiphanes’ command to eat pork, (forbidden as “unclean” by Jewish law). Because of their Faith and obedience to God, they endured suffering and accepted martyrdom. The conviction that the dead would be raised on the last day had not become widely accepted at that time, nor even by the time of Jesus. But in our first reading, three of the brothers speak, and each of them finds strength in the belief that he will eventually be raised by God. One says, “You may discharge us from this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up.” Another says that he hopes to receive his severed limbs again in heaven. The fourth son also says that he is “relying on God’s promise that we shall be raised up by Him.”
The second reading: II Thes 2: 16- 3:5 explained: Today’s second reading is comprised of three short prayers. In the first (2:16-17), and third (3:5), prayers, Paul asks that his readers remain constant in their commitment, bolstered by the knowledge that theirs is truly the work of the Gospel. In the second prayer (3:1-4), he asks that the community remember him and his ministry to God. Prayer prepares us and equips us to welcome even that most dreaded moment of life and, in that moment, to embrace death as a passage through which we will come face to face with the God who calls us to Life Everlasting. Paul hints at the necessity of adjustment to an adverse religious environment in Thessalonica when he prays for the community’s endurance (II Thes 2:16-3:5). The belief that the Parousia, or the “second coming of Jesus in glory,” was just around the corner, was common among the Thessalonian Christians. So Paul was anxious about three things: i) keeping the Thessalonian Christians from getting off track in their excitement about the end, ii) getting the word of God spread as far as possible while there was still time, and iii) keeping them steadfast and faithful to the Gospel. "May the Lord," he writes, "direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ."
Gospel exegesis: The context: Jesus had reached Jerusalem for his final Passover feast. He wept over Jerusalem, cleansed the Temple and started teaching there. As part of a well-planned plot to trap Jesus, the chief priests, the scribes and the Pharisees approached him with two controversial questions: i) "Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things and who is it who gave you this authority?" (Lk 20:2), and ii) "Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" (Lk 20:22). Learning that Jesus had ingeniously escaped from the first two traps, the Sadducees, in today’s Gospel lesson, asked a question concerning the marital state after the resurrection. The challenge to Jesus was clear: do you believe in the written Torah which is silent on the resurrection, or do you side with the Pharisees, accepting their belief in the resurrection based on oral traditions and interpretations, and thus subjecting Moses to ridicule?
Afterlife theology of the Pharisees: The Pharisees were an entirely religious group with no political ambitions and were content with any government which gave them religious freedom. They accepted both the Torah and the Prophets as authoritative Scripture, and they relied heavily on oral tradition to understand Scripture. They observed all the regulations and rules of the oral and ceremonial law, such as the Sabbath laws and the laws about ritual handwashing. The Pharisees believed in, and hoped for, the coming of the Messiah. They believed also in the resurrection of the dead, in angels, in spirits and in fate, i.e., that a man's life was planned and ordered by God. The word "resurrection" does not appear in the Pentateuch (Torah), but the beginnings of the concept are found in Job 19:26; Psalm 16:10; 49:15; Isaiah 25:8; 26:16-19; Daniel 12:2; and Hosea 13:14. “Those who had died would be raised so that they too could receive their due reward.” (Daniel [165 BC]: 12:2). Ezekiel 37 recounts the prophet's vision of dry bones rising to life, but the image refers to the Jewish nation rather than to individual persons. The idea of the resurrection is further developed in the Deuterocanonical books (see II Mc 7).
Heaven-on-earth theology of the Sadducees: The Sadducees constituted a party of wealth, power and privilege, which controlled the Temple worship. Although few in number, the Sadducees were the Jewish governing class, and they supported Roman rule. Nearly all priests were Sadducees. They acknowledged only written Scripture as bearing God’s word, accepting only the first five books of the Hebrew Bible as authoritative; they rejected the oral tradition which Pharisees found necessary for applying God's revealed word to everyday life. They gave the writings of the prophets a lower place in their system. The Sadducees believed in unrestricted free-will and not in fate or Divine Providence. They assumed that we control our own destinies through our personal actions. They rejected the idea of the resurrection, because it was not found in the Torah. Nor did they believe in the coming of the Messiah.
The trap: When the Sadducees saw that Jesus had silenced the emissaries of the Sanhedrin, they confronted him with a question ridiculing the belief in the resurrection of the dead about which, they claimed, Moses had written nothing. Their question put Jesus in a no-win political position. If Jesus defended the concept of the resurrection, he would displease the Sadducees. If he failed to do so, he would displease the Pharisees. Thus, either way, he would alienate a part of the crowd. The Sadducees’ question was based on the Levirate Law of marriage included in the Mosaic regulations, and hence was regarded as binding by the Sadducees. That law provided for the economic and social security of widows in a Jewish society where women had no legal rights and could not earn wages [Dt 25:5-10] According to that law, if a man died childless, his brother must marry the widow and beget children to carry on the line. In their hypothetical question, they asked Jesus who, in Heaven, would be the husband of the woman who had been married in succession to seven of her brothers–in-law (“levires”), and had died childless. Jesus turns their insincere query into an occasion for genuine teaching. First, he draws a sharp distinction between “this age” (our earthly life) and “that age” (life at the resurrection or life after death). He makes it clear that the resurrection is not simply a continuation of earthly life. He speaks here of the resurrection not of everyone but only of “those judged worthy of a place in the age to come.”
Going on the offensive as defense: Jesus begins his counterargument by pointing out the Sadducees’ ignorance about the existence and nature of life after death with God. He refutes their misconception that eternal life is in this world. Then Jesus goes on the offensive, making two points. First, he provides positive Biblical proof for the reality of resurrected existence: God said to Moses from the burning bush, "I AM the God of your Fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob" (Ex 3:1-6). Jesus here presumes that Yahweh's burning bush statement is in the present tense. Since God is claiming at the time He is speaking to Moses that He is God of the patriarchs, these three patriarchs must still alive at the time of Moses, 600 years after their deaths. So, God must somehow be sustaining the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by granting them resurrection and eternal life. Thus, Jesus uses the Sadducees' sacred text of the Torah to respond to their anti-resurrection belief, and therefore, the resurrection of the body can be proved from the Torah itself. Second, Jesus explains that the afterlife won't be just an eternal replay of this life. Things will be different after we die. Normal human relations, including marriage, will be transformed. Then Jesus tells the Sadducees (who denied angels and spirits), that those whom God considers worthy of the resurrection and heavenly life with Him are immortal, like the angels and hence are “children of God.”
Teaching of the Church: According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, our belief in the resurrection is based upon a faith-relationship with God as Creator. “God revealed the resurrection of the dead to His people progressively” (CCC #992). Resurrection is implied in the earlier books of the Old Testament, becomes clearer in the later books and is emphatically asserted in II Maccabees (Ex 3:6; Jb 19:25-26; Ps 16:9-10; 49:15; 73:24; Hos 6:1-2; Dn 12:2). The teaching of Jesus and the Apostles on this topic is crystal clear in the New Testament [Mt 26:17-31, 31-46, 28:1-10, Mk 16:1-8, Jn 3:16, 5:29, 11:1-57, 11:25-26, 2:19, 20:1-18, 20:10-18, Acts 1:1-11, 2:23-24, Rom 1:3-4, 4:25, 5:8, 10:9, 1 Cor 1:15, 1:18, 15:1-58, Heb 11:1, 12:2, 1 Thes 4:13-18, 1 Jn 3:16, 2 Tm 1:10.] Hence, the whole of Christian theology is based on the belief in our resurrection and everlasting life of reward or punishment.
Life messages: 1) We need to live as people of the Resurrection: This means that we are not to lie buried in the tomb of our sins and evil habits. Instead, we are to live joyful and peaceful lives, constantly experiencing the real Presence of the Risen Lord who gives us the assurance that our bodies also will be raised. In addition, the hope of our resurrection and eternal life with God gives us lasting peace and celestial joy amid the boredom and tension of our day-to-day lives. An awareness of the all-pervading presence of the Spirit of the living God [Jn 11:27; Acts 14:14; Rom 9:26; 1 Thes 1:9; 1 Tm 3:15, 4:10, 6:17; 2 Cor 3:3, 6:16; Heb3:12, 9:12, 10:31, 12:22; Rv 7:2] will help us to control our thoughts, desires, words and behavior. The salutary thought of our own resurrection and eternal glory should also inspire us to honor our bodies, keeping them holy, pure, and free from evil habits, and to respect those with whom we come in contact, rendering them loving and humble service.
2) We need to offer living worship to a living God. The reason we come together each week to pray for the needs of the community, share the Word and break the Bread is that we have Faith and Hope in a living God Who loves us and Whom we love. If God is the God of the living, should not worship of this God also be alive? Our worship services and relation to God must be life-giving rather than life-draining experiences. Unfortunately, Holy Mass and other worship services are often described as "dead” or "boring." Even Church volunteers sometimes complain of being exhausted in their work. The proclamation that our God is the God of the living has to mean something positive to us. It should affect our lives today and every day, especially during our Sunday worship. In response to Him, our participation in prayers and songs during the Holy Mass should be active and our behavior in Church reverent, though not gloomy. As we continue our Eucharist celebration and gather around the Table of the Lord, let us give thanks to Almighty God for this foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet that awaits us in the place that God has prepared for us. (Fr. Antony Kadavil).