Updated: Nov 20, 2019
Thirty-Second Sunday – Year C
Reflecting on today’s readings we can discern a message about authentic life and the kinds of relationships and connections that pave the way to fulfilment. The seven brothers in the first extract from the book of Maccabees are remarkably firm in their conviction that fidelity to their values is on a par with life itself. They are prepared to face torture rather than go against the commandment that forbids eating unclean food. We might well ask, ‘Is it such a big issue – eating a piece of pork or bacon?’ and our question would be missing the point. It’s not about eating this or that; it’s about honouring something that represents a way of life, a commitment to a set of values that does not allow any compromise.
What values do I live by to the extent of not making way for compromise? Or is everything relative and ad hoc?
It is worth noting that the two books of Maccabees were written about the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid invasion that took place in the years 166-160 B.C. The Seleucids were a dynasty of Greek- speaking Syrian rulers who inherited their kingdom from their ancestor, Seleucus. Seleucus was a general in the army of Alexander the Great and, after Alexander’s death, took over a section of the Alexandrian empire that included Syria, Iraq, Iran and lands to the east as far as India. The invasion of Palestine was prompted by greed for wealth, power and territorial expansion. The Seleucids Hellenised all the lands they conquered, introducing the Greek language, Greek customs, values and culture. Most Jews, clinging to their age-old traditions, rejected the invader while many less committed Jews embraced Greek culture, fashions and way of life.
Resisting the Seleucids was the Hasmonean family, whose patriarch was the priest Mattathias who called his people to revolt. His eldest son Judah led the revolt by engaging his followers in a guerrilla- style resistance. Judah was soon given the nickname Maccabee, possibly derived from the Hebrew mqbt, which means ‘hammer’. The authors of the books of Maccabees told the story of the revolt, highlighting the loyalty, nationalism and heroism of the Maccabee brothers and their followers. The invaders were eventually driven out and relative peace reigned in Palestine until the arrival of the Romans a century later in 63 B.C.
The seven anonymous brothers introduced in today’s reading are held up as national heroes prepared to undergo torture and death rather than betray their commitment to the values of their religion. Their torturers are portrayed as inhuman, lacking respect for the Jews, their God and their faith.
He has a strong hope in a God that is constantly creating and re-creating
Today’s psalm extract comes from a poem whose author is going through a difficult period. There is a note of ambivalence running through the psalm –
for the poet, the divine Presence seems to be an intermittent reality, sometimes there and sometimes not, and yet there is a solid trust that undergirds his spirituality.
He has a strong hope in a God that he believes is constantly creating and re-creating. He relies on the foundation of Hebrew spirituality that there are good times and rough times and God will give people the strength to endure through all of them.
A characteristic of Paul’s pastoral care is his enduring attitude of encouragement
The second reading from the second letter to the Christians of Thessalonica, a port city on the northern coast of Greece, has a final greeting that is typical of the sign-off remarks we see in the letters of Paul. A characteristic of Paul’s pastoral care for his communities is his enduring attitude of encouragement. He not only encourages his people through his visits and letters but refers to God as the God of encouragement.
The brilliant thing about this attitude of Paul’s is his appreciation of the value of encouragement and its power to enhance relationships and bring about healing. Encouragement is the ultimate shot in the arm that can restore a broken heart and lift a shattered spirit. The marvellous outcome of encouragement is that it restores the one who encourages as much as the person receiving the lift.
The ‘good hope’ mentioned by the writer as a gift from God is recognised in the ancient Greco-Roman world as the hope for a good afterlife. The gifts Paul mentions are gifts bestowed by grace. This is better translated as gifts handed on gratuitously by divine graciousness. In his final prayer Paul does not pray that the community might be delivered from trials but he is aware of the reality of the human condition and so prays that the Thessalonians will have the strength to bear up under trials. His prayer also is that the community will conduct their lives in such a way that they will show the love of God in all their relationships and dealings with each other.
In the gospel reading from Luke we see a group of Sadducees approaching Jesus to ask him about resurrection from the dead. The Sadducees were a religious party who were opposed to the Pharisees in theology and some beliefs. They were traditionalists and insisted on a literal reading of the Hebrew Bible. They were members of priestly families and were economically better off than most of the Pharisees. They regarded the Pharisees’ belief in resurrection after death as a novel idea that had no basis in the Scriptures. Consequently, the question they put to Jesus is a test rather than a search for knowledge or answers. They wanted to know Jesus’ opinion on the status of marriage in the afterlife, possibly with a view to mocking his answer.
Rather than pour scorn on their fake question, Jesus presents them with a calm and well thought out response. Marriage, he says, as an institution and formal contract is out of place in the age to come. In other words, there will be no need for such formalities as we will all be connected in a spiritual way. Physical activity, like eating, sleeping and having to die will be non-issues and irrelevant in such a spiritual realm. We can admire the patience with which Jesus responds to a not very honest question.
He concludes his point with a typically Jewish deduction by saying that the divine statement made to Moses at the burning bush about the patriarchs implied that the patriarchs had been raised from the dead. God is the God of the living, so if God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob then these three characters must somehow be alive. For Jesus, this is argument enough that there must be a life beyond the grave.
Jesus’ teachings were almost all directed to living a quality life in the here and now
It is good for us to recall that Jesus rarely addressed the afterlife. His teachings were almost all directed to our living a quality life in the here and now. Central to his evaluation of a quality life is the way we treat each other in practical terms. If we read Matthew 25 carefully we get a clear glimpse of Jesus’ bottom line, which is, quality life here and now is giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing to those without, giving healing and release to those imprisoned by difficult conditions, visiting the sick, caring for the disabled. These gifts we pass on to others are the badges that will give us entry to the reign of God, here and now, and fullness of this state later on. In fact, the positive way we care for and reach out to others is the best expression of encouragement we can offer.
Another golden vehicle of encouragement we can all become experts in is listening.
One of the best compliments we pay another person is to genuinely listen to what they have to say. All we need to do is give them our time and attention. And yet it is sometimes so hard to do when we are in a hurry or when we can’t wait for a person to stop speaking before we jump in a say our bit.
Look at the many TV interviewers who are not really listening but often hyperventilating in anticipation of asking their next question. True respect shines through when we are practising a culture of genuine listening.
One resolution we could make out of today’s liturgy is to practise authentic listening as a mark of respect and encouragement.
One of the simplest things about all facts of life is that to get where you want to go, you must keep on keeping on. Norman V. Peale (Author of: The Power of Positive Thinking) An appreciative listener is always stimulating. Agatha Christie
A man’s wife had just bought a new line of expensive cosmetics guaranteed to make her look years younger. She sat in front of the mirror for what had to be hours, applying the ‘miracle products. Finally, when she was finished, she turned to her husband and asked, ‘Darling, honestly now, what age would you say I am?’ He nodded in assessment and carefully said, ‘Well, judging from your skin I’d say twenty, Your hair, eighteen. Your figure, 25.’ ‘Oh, you’re so sweet!’ she gushed. ‘Well, hang on,’ he replied, ‘I’m not finished adding it up yet.’