Sunday, November 3, 2013

Homily - 32nd Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

32nd Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

First Reading: 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14     Second Reading: 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5     Gospel Reading: Luke 20:27-38

A very zealous soul-winning preacher recently came upon a farmer working in his field. Being concerned about the farmer's soul the preacher asked the man, “Are you laboring in the vineyard of the Lord my good man?”
Not even looking at the preacher and continuing his work the farmer replied, “Naw, these are soybeans.”
You don't understand,” said the preacher. “Are you a Christian?”
With the same amount of interest as his previous answer the farmer said, “Nope, my name is Jones. You must be looking for Jim Christian. He lives a mile south of here.”
The young determined preacher tried again asking the farmer, “Are you lost?”
Naw, I've lived here all my life,” answered the farmer.
Are you prepared for the resurrection?” the frustrated preacher asked.
This caught the farmer's attention and he asked, “When's it gonna be?”
Thinking he had accomplished something the young preacher replied, “It could be today, tomorrow, or the next day.”
Taking a handkerchief from his back pocket and wiping his brow the farmer replied, “Well, don't mention it to my wife. She don't get out very much and she will wanna go all three days.”

Today is the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. For the final few Sundays of each Liturgical Year, the Church turns her reflective and prayerful attention to what we call 'eschatological' concerns, i.e. to our own personal end of life and to the 'end of the world.' The Scripture Readings of today bring our attention to the fact of resurrection of the body and the truth of life eternal. The First Reading from the 2nd Book of Maccabees describes the torture and martyrdom of seven brothers who urged by their heroic mother remained faithful to God with the hope that they will enjoy the glory of the resurrection to come. This passage also prepares us for the Gospel Reading from St. Luke which deals with a question the Sadducees challenged Jesus with about the resurrection, something they did not believe in. The Second Reading from the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians exhorts the suffering to remain steadfast in their faith and tells them not to be over anxious about the situation of after-life or the end of the world, and to draw strength from their hope that when Jesus appeared again in glory, their persecutors would be punished and they, themselves, would be relieved of every affliction.

The First Reading of today from the 2nd Book of Maccabees is a macabre tale of the torture and execution of seven brothers immediately followed by the killing of their mother. The Lectionary shields us from the worst, excising six verses from the middle of the tale, but a glimpse at the full text reveals how the Seleucid monarch, Antiochus Epiphanes, a Syrian king who forces the people of God to adopt pagan religious practices, and his henchmen literally butcher their victims, as though preparing them for the table, or for smoking altars, and then cook them in large pans and cauldrons. One-by-one the brothers are fried alive.
The best part of the story for us is the Jewish family's faith in their own resurrection. It is significant to note that this is one of the few Old Testament passages that expresses faith in a resurrection. Although they lived two centuries before Christ, their faith helped to prepare the way for his coming. They had great hope in resurrection. Each one of them was willing to die for the Law of Moses because they believed in after-life and that at the last trumpet, the King of the universe would raise them up to an everlasting life. They were ready to die rather than sin, trusting in the Lord God to raise them up again with their bodies being fully restored. Theirs was an incredible faith displayed in the face of death and torture. Each son seems to proclaim more eloquently than the one before him faith in God and conviction of life after death.
The reading concludes with the testimony of the fourth son who warns his persecutors that their crimes will gain them no joy in the world to come. He tells them that one cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him. He tells his torturers that they will have no resurrection to life awaiting them because of their wickedness. On the other hand shame and everlasting contempt awaits the wicked. They were sustained and strengthened in their sufferings by the pious exhortation of their faith-inspired mother. More so they were firmly convinced that God of the Universe, the God of Justice and love, had glorious eternal life in store for them. Thus so a clear and lively hope for the final resurrection became widespread among the Jews. The first reading therefore underlines the foundations of belief and hope in the life hereafter. It was born out of suffering that tested faith.

In today's Gospel Reading, we hear about an encounter between Jesus and some Sadducees. Who were the Sadducees? Basically they were a sect within the Jewish community. They included many of the priestly class and upper echelon families. Politically they were more ready to compromise with the Romans in the interests of their own power and wealth. Another distinguishing mark of the Sadducees was that they only accepted as the word of God the part of the Old Testament known as the Pentateuch. The Pentateuch consists of the first five books of the Hebrew (Old) Testament, which are traditionally attributed to Moses as their author. They were literal interpreters of the written Law of Moses, which means that they were in disagreement with the position of the Pharisees, who offered an oral interpretation of the Law of Moses. Because of this, the Sadducees did not accept beliefs which were found in other parts of the Hebrew Testament. So, for instance, they refused to believe in the existence of angels, or spirits, or resurrection from the dead. The Sadducees are described in this Gospel as opponents to the belief in resurrection. They cringed at Jesus' preaching about the resurrection and tried to belittle him.
In the Gospel passage we see that the Sadducees are trying to trick Jesus by getting him to respond to a hypothetical and an impossible question about the resurrection. Their attack is prompted by an obscure law. They use the example of Levirate marriage, found in the Law of Moses, to disprove belief in the resurrection. According to Deuteronomy 25:5-10, if a man died without producing an heir, the man's brother should marry his wife and the offspring of this union would inherit the property and carry on the name of the man who had died. The Sadducees use this as an example to challenge belief in the resurrection. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second up to the seventh married her one after the other and also died childless. Finally, the woman died. At the resurrection, they asked, whose wife would she be, since the seven brothers were married to her? In fact their question radiated that sarcasm and ridicule and they never sincerely expected a response from Jesus. Their aim was to corner Jesus into an improbable religious belief and make him a laughing stock before the people.
Jesus answers the question on various levels. First of all, he implies that life after death is not exactly the same as physical existence. In his proper reply Jesus tells the people that the children of this world take wives and husbands, but those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world and in the resurrection from the dead do not marry because they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels, and being children of the resurrection they are children of God. In other words, in the resurrection, when we are transformed at the twinkle of an eye, just like the angels of God, we will receive spiritual bodies that are incorruptible. In this physical world, God has instituted the Sacrament of marriage and procreation for mankind to multiply and spread all over the earth. But once in Heaven, there will be no more procreation. The man from Heaven does not live by the same rules as the man of dust. Jesus' answer cuts the ground from under the Sadducees by revealing that the risen life beyond the grave, the identity of God's people, is a matter of being God's children, not of being any one's husband or wife. It will indeed be given by our being sisters and brothers in Christ, and thus adopted sons and daughters of the Father.
Again, since Sadducees held only the Law of Moses as their guide, Jesus concludes his argument to that by citing the remarkable incident of Moses encountering God in the burning bush. God calling out to Moses from the burning bush identifies himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. When Moses did encounter God, these Patriarchs were dead and gone. But we have the God who is God of the living persons and cannot be God of those dead. Yet God says to Moses that he is the God of those persons. That meant for certain that those persons were not dead in the divine sense but were still living. The creative power of God brings life after death. This argument puts the Sadducees to silence and indeed Jesus had met them on their own ground and won the battle. They dare not contradict the word of God coming through Moses.
It is not in today’s Gospel passage but immediately after this Luke comments: “And some of the teachers of the Law (possibly Pharisees) answered, ‘Teacher, you have spoken well’. In other words, they were delighted to see the Sadducees put down. And Luke continues, “For they (the teachers of the Law) no longer dared to ask Jesus any question.” Jesus had established his authority but he had also guaranteed his final destiny.

Today’s Second Reading from the Second Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians opens our eyes to the fact that the Lord strengthens our hearts in every good work and word. He tells the Thessalonians, "The Lord is faithful," and it is the supreme justification for the hope of all Christians. Paul prays that Jesus and his loving Father will give the Thessalonians the help they need to be courageous and hopeful in living up to the Gospel and proclaiming it to others. We learn that through prayer, the word and the work of the Lord that is manifested through us rapidly spreads and in this way God is glorified everywhere. Through our prayers for each other, we faithful children of God are rescued from the wicked and evil people. To protect all, God placed His Holy Spirit within each and every one of us so that those baptized may follow His statutes and keep His ordinances and obey them. Here we experience the humanness of Paul, who tells them that he is begging Christ and God the Father to console and strengthen them so that they may continue to live their faith. In return he asks them to pray that he will be able to continue to spread the Christian faith to many others. 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.

The Scripture Readings today invite us to think of death. We face death all the time. Life’s end may well come when one least expects it. All the more reason to live our daily life with a healthy and balanced on-going awareness of our own individual mortality. What we do in life and how we do it ought to be approached with that joyful expectancy and awareness. Christian belief in immortality is unique and special. The Gospel tells us of the Good News of the fullness of life in this age and of the resurrection in the age to come. For us death is a door that opens us to full of surprises and not a wall which blinds us from every possible vision. Our resurrection gives us the hope that we will be with God fully alive and active fulfilling the call that God has given us. The great way Jesus affirmed the hope for resurrection was by his own rising from the dead. Jesus' resurrection does not only tell us that the dead will rise, it causes the dead to rise. Jesus the 'First-Fruit' enables the harvest to take place; his resurrection is the 'channel' through which God's Spirit will flow to all the dead to restore them to life, and his risen glory is the 'prototype' on which the Spirit will pattern God's friends when they rise.
So what message do we take home this Sunday? Today's readings challenge us to live in the light of the resurrection, full of hope that indeed there is life after this present earthly life. That is why we confess in the Creed that 'I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.' The resurrection is the centerpiece of our faith and Christians have shed their blood because of that faith. Again, just as in the First Reading, the Jewish family endured suffering because of their faith in the resurrection, we too must be prepared to defend and to live our faith in the resurrection. Moreover, St. Paul was aware of this kind of opposition and persecution. It is as though he speaks directly to us in today’s Second Reading. “Pray that you might be delivered from perverse and wicked people. For not all have faith. Be faithful to the Lord and the Lord will be faithful to you.” That is why the Gospel Reading today invites us not only to celebrate our faith in the living God, but also to be quite clear on what our faith in the resurrection means. "He is God of the living, not of the dead."  And this is the Good News of today.


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