A Reflection on the Readings for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading 1 2 Mc 7:1-2, 9-14
Reading 2 2 Thes 2:16-3:5
Alleluia Rev 1:5a, 6b
Gospel Lk 20:27-38
There is a shorter form of the gospel that may be proclaimed this week, but first, a little history on Israel leading up to the time of the Maccabees:
In the 10th century B.C., after the death of Solomon, the son of David, the nation of Israel split into two separate entities. There was Israel in the north and Judah in the south. In 722 B.C., Israel was overrun by the Assyrians, and whatever Israelites survived the onslaught were exiled into other lands conquered by the Assyrians. They were apparently not even allowed to stay together as families or clans but were dispersed throughout Assyrian territories, resulting in what is known as The Lost Tribes of Israel.
In 587 B.C., the same fate fell to Judah when the Babylonians overtook the nation and exiled the survivors. This time, the people were exiled together into Babylon, so they were not dispersed. Therefore, after 587 B.C., the nation of Israel no longer existed. About 40 years later, the Persians conquered the Babylonians and allowed the people to return to Palestine and rebuild. Although they were back in Palestine, they were no longer an independent nation as they were now a province of Persia (modern-day Iran).
Then in the mid-4th century B.C., Alexander the Great conquered the Persians and took over their territory, including Palestine, and along with Alexander came Greek culture, art and religious practices. Just before Alexander died in 323 B.C., he divided his kingdom among his generals, and one of those generals established the Seleucid Empire, which eventually included Palestine. The Seleucid kings demanded that Greek culture and religion be practiced throughout their territory which meant that the Jews of Palestine were required to abandon their law and customs, including circumcision, feast days, the Sabbath, Mosaic Law, and all other Jewish observances, under penalty of death. That brings us to the Maccabean Revolt against the Greek measures, the subject of which is the content of the books of 1st and 2nd Maccabees. The Maccabean Revolt ended Greek domination of Palestine, but Jewish self-rule didn’t last long. In 63 B.C., the Romans marched in and took control of the area, and Roman rule was established, which brings us up to the time of Christ.
The Books of Maccabees are two of those seven Old Testament books that are rejected by the Hebrew canon and by Protestants. For the criteria used by Jewish scholars to consider a book as sacred, see last week’s commentary. 1st Maccabees was probably written in Hebrew by a Palestinian Jew about 100 B.C., but the original Hebrew was lost and what survived was a Greek translation of the original. The name “Maccabee” means “hammer,” and that name is applied to Judas, the son of the priest Mattathias whose exploits resulted in the overthrow of the Seleucid overlords and the re-establishment of Jewish law and customs. It is these exploits of Judas Maccabeus that is the primary subject of the books of Maccabees, but primarily of 1st Maccabees.
2nd Maccabees is not a sequel to 1st Maccabees, although there seems to be a good deal of overlap between them. The primary purpose of 2nd Mc seems to be to give a theological interpretation to the events of 1st Maccabees, praising God for intervening on behalf of the armies of Judas Maccabeus in liberating the people of Judah from the Seleucids. But of particular theological importance in 2nd Maccabees is the unknown author’s teaching on the resurrection of the just: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him” (2Mc 7:9, 14), which is part of our first reading this week. Also important in 2nd Maccabees is the intercession of the saints in heaven for those on earth (2Mc 15: 11-16). Of particular importance in 2nd Maccabees is the concept of those living on earth offering prayers for the dead (2Mc 12: 39-46). I suggest you read this passage as it is often used as a “proof text” for the church’s Doctrine of Purgatory.
Our first reading this week is an example of the mandatory Greek culture and law that was imposed on the people of Judah, which resulted in the Maccabean Revolt. But it can be a very profound example to us today of the secularization of our society. We are surrounded by those who would like to destroy the Catholic Church and have us renounce our beliefs and “come into the modern world.” Are we willing to defend our faith in the face of the “modern world?” Are we willing to go as far as the seven brothers in our reading and die for our faith rather than cave into those who would destroy it? If we don’t bear witness to our faith, then no one will pay attention to it, and it will have no effect. Can we pray as our Responsorial Psalm proclaims: “My steps have been steadfast in your paths, my feet have not faltered.”
St. Paul reminds us in our 2nd reading that God will: “encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word ….. that we may be delivered from perverse and wicked people.” If we believe what St. Paul tells us here, then we must perform those good deeds and speak those words, then God will encourage and strengthen us.
Our gospel reading from Luke draws attention to the Sadducees, who were the priestly class of religious leaders of Israel, compared to the Pharisees, who were more political leaders. The Pharisees interpreted the law and expanded upon it placing more and more burdens on the people with their interpretations. The Sadducees, on the other hand, adhered strictly to the written Law of Moses and did not believe in interpretations of the law nor did they believe in angels or spirits, an afterlife, or the resurrection of the dead. So they tried to trick Jesus with a particular Mosaic Law: Whose wife will she be at the resurrection as she has been married to seven different brothers? Jesus points out to them that there is a resurrection of the dead, and those who died are no longer dead but living. In addition, they are like angels and are children of God because God is the God of the living, not the dead (the living are all those who have been resurrected), like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
So the message of our readings this week is the Resurrection and the afterlife in heaven we all pray for. But it’s not an automatic for us. We have to bear witness to our faith in Christ and defend it. Otherwise, we may hear what the last son said before he died: “But for you, there will be no resurrection to life.”
Author: Ric Cross