Leaven for heaven - 32nd Sunday of the Year – Cycle C – 10 November 2019
Leaven for heaven
32nd Sunday of the Year – Cycle C – 10 November 2019
Readings: 2 Macc 7:1-2, 9-14; 2 Thess 2:16 – 3:5; Lk 20:27-38
“The King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life” (Macc)
Three Scriptural Signposts
1. As we move towards the close of the annual liturgical cycle, the readings lead us to reflect upon end-time realities: last judgement, heaven, hell, reward, punishment, etc. In this regard, the first and third readings have three points in common: (a) they contain stories about hope in the afterlife; (b) there is mention of seven men; and, (c) there are indications about what the resurrection means and implies concretely. The two books of Maccabees describe the war of liberation which the Jews, led by Mattathias and his sons, waged and eventually won against the pagan, tyrant king of Syria. The desire of Antiochus Epiphanes IV (who reigned from 175-163 BC)—Hellenistic king of the Seleucid Empire—was to destroy the Jewish religion with the Temple and all that was dear to the Jews in order to Hellenize them. His attempts were thwarted by the heroism of the Maccabees who stood firm in their faith. Today’s passage describes the deep faith, courage and martyrdom of a mother and her seven sons during this persecution of the Jews who remained faithful to the Law despite threats, tortures and their murders. They were forced to consume pork—an abomination according to Jewish dietary stipulations— which they refused, and were killed. The story of the seven brothers provides evidence for the later development in Judaism of the hope for the resurrection from the dead. One of the brothers declares: “the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws” and another says, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of men and to cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by him.” The Jewish hope was not merely the resuscitation of the body and prolongation of this earthly life but an entirely new mode of existence: a renewal.
2. While the first reading reports a fact that is substantially historical, in the gospel passage, the Sadducees’ story about a woman’s seven husbands is fabricated in order to trap Jesus and show him in poor light. Of course, the Bible (Deut 25:5-10) does mention the ‘levirate marriage’—from the Latin ‘levir’ meaning brother or brother-in-law—whereby upon the death of a woman’s husband, his brother is expected to marry his brother’s wife in order to continue the family lineage. This caveat notwithstanding, it seems rather farfetched that a woman should marry seven brothers one after the other; stranger still is the question of the Sadducees: “In the resurrection, whose wife will the woman be?” (v.33). Confronted by this quaint question, Jesus makes two points to explain the resurrection. First, resurrection is not a prolongation of our present earthly life but it is an entirely new mode of life; and since in that new life there is no death, to provide for perpetuation of the human race is pointless. Second, far from making the resurrection seem absurd, the Pentateuch has an understanding of God that is fully consistent with such a hope in everlasting life. This is so because the Bible repeatedly talks about God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob even after their death—and so they must be alive!
3. Jesus seeks to explain to the Sadducees that God has been revealed basically as the God of Life and of all living beings. This Life is enhanced by God entering into relationship with human beings, a relationship that can never be destroyed—not even by death. Thus, after death, we shall rise and be “like angels” and “children of God” (v.36). Our resurrected bodies will be different from our earthly bodies with their sexual, procreative and other corporal instincts. This is well described by Paul (see 1 Cor 15:42-44) who speaks of an earthly, corruptible body which is “sown” and the imperishable, glorious “spiritual body” which rises from the dead and is incapable of dying any more.
Linking the Psalm and Second Reading to the Theme
The responsorial psalm (17) echoes the martyr’s cry for vindication: “Lord, hear a cause that is just, pay heed to my cry.” Beginning with distress, the psalm ends in a note of confidence: “I shall see your face and be filled, when I awake, with the sight of your glory.” It’s unlikely that the psalmist refers to the resurrection when he says “when I awake.” However, seen in the context of the first reading, the verses seem to acquire a deeper meaning. The second reading, too, has a forward orientation since Paul reminds his community at Thessalonica that: “The Lord is faithful” and speaks of God “who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope.” It is for us, then, to hold on to God’s promises with deep faith and fearlessness.
Pope Francis’ View of Heaven [Homily at Domus Sanctae Marthae on April 27, 2018]:
“Christians must continue to remind themselves that ‘God is faithful’ and that He will fulfill his promise. Heaven will be that encounter, an encounter with the Lord who has gone there to prepare the place, the encounter with each one of us. And this gives us confidence; it makes trust grow .... May the Lord give us this awareness of being on a journey with this promise. May the Lord give us this grace: to look up and think: ‘The Lord is praying for me’.”
A Contextual Concern:
Just as the Maccabees stood up for their faith and were persecuted in the pre-Christian era, there are many simple people in villages, nationwide, who give witness to Christ and are ‘faith-full’ Christians today despite trials and tribulations.
A Point for Reflection:
Today, many people are skeptical about resurrection and the reality of heaven. G. B. Shaw reportedly remarked, “I like heaven for the climate, but prefer hell for the company!” Do people get a foretaste of heaven by the witness of our lives? Heaven is not only an ‘up there’ reality but a tangible ‘down here’ fact that we create for ourselves and others.
In Lighter Vein:
After their death, a cardinal and a lawyer reached heaven. The cardinal was given a small room while the lawyer was assigned a huge suite with all luxuries. “Excuse me, St Peter,” clarified the lawyer, “Don’t you think that the cardinal deserves a much better room than mine?” Peter replied, “No, we have many cardinals here but you are our only lawyer.”
“My husband is an angel,” said a young married woman to an older one. “You are lucky,” mumbled the older woman, “Mine is still alive!” We can never be sure who is in heaven. But, like those seven brave brothers, let’s make sure we get there.