So much more awaits us in the Kingdom of God

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32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) November 6 (2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14; Psalm 17; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5; Luke 20:27-38)

Would we be ready to suffer torture and death for our faith and our intimate convictions? We could be like Peter in the gospels and insist that we would hold on even if everyone else was chickening out. It is easy to boast of our courage and fortitude as long as the suffering is only theoretical. But if we were to be dragged before the authorities and forced to decide on the spot, it wouldn’t be so easy – in fact, the mere thought can be frightening.

The brethren of the martyrdom story in the Maccabees seemed indifferent to the pain and suffering they were about to endure and seemed almost unaware of it. But this is a martyrology – a story designed more to inspire than to tell raw facts. We can take their jovial nonchalance with a grain of salt. But in fact, many faithful Jews suffered and died for their religious beliefs during the Maccabean War at the hands of their Greek oppressors, who were trying to erase Jewish religion and culture.

These martyrs considered it more important to remain faithful to the laws of the God of their ancestors than to cling to life. They were also certain that God would recognize their loyalty by raising them from the dead and granting them new life.

This is the first time the Resurrection is mentioned in the Bible, and it appears in an apocryphal work rather than in the Old Testament itself. Bloody and deadly martyrdom to the faith is relatively rare today, but is by no means unheard of, and usually occurs at the hands of totalitarian governments. There have been many cases in recent years where believers have paid the ultimate price for their faith. Often they didn’t even have a choice.

But in most societies, the call to deny one’s faith is much more indirect—and dangerous. There may be subtle and less subtle pressures in the workplace, class, or governments to violate one’s conscience and commitment to God. Ridicule, job loss and social ostracism are the weapons of choice, and they take their toll. We can learn from the Maccabees’ account their firm commitment to God and their spiritual resolve, as well as their confidence in God that their faithfulness would not be in vain.

The Second Letter to the Thessalonians can provide some encouragement. The author invokes God the Father and the Lord Jesus as the source of love and grace that gives us comfort and good hope. He prays that they will continue to comfort the hearts of believers in all they say and do. The Lord is faithful, we can be sure of that. If our love remains sure, we will be strengthened and able to participate in the firmness of Christ in our trials. Facing life with all its challenges is not a lonely affair – we are surrounded by the love of Christ and the company of angels.

The Sadducees were certain they had cornered Jesus with their dead-end question. Since they did not believe in the Resurrection, they asked the seemingly impossible question of the woman married in succession to seven brothers. At the Resurrection, whose wife will she be? Jesus answered in an unexpected way: she will not be married to any of the seven. The resurrection transforms us and raises us to a very different level of existence – we will be like angels, sons and daughters of God. The resurrection described in Maccabees was very literal and physical, but the picture Jesus painted was one of spiritual transformation. Those who are thus transformed no longer need marriage – it is an earthly need and practice. He challenged them to think in spiritual and transcendent terms rather than in earthly terms. And to prove that the dead are raised, Jesus then described Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as being alive in God, because God is the God of the living and not of the dead.

His words were a challenge to his listeners, as they could be to us if we stopped to ponder them. We need to broaden and deepen our consciousness. Living with God does not simply mean resuming our earthly life where it left off, but a whole new way of existing. Great things are in store for us!

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