32nd SUNDAY of ORDINARY TIME – 2016 YEAR C
2 Maccabees 7.1-2, 9-14
2 Thessalonians 2.16-3.5
One day many years ago the cook of the house where I lived in an African country came to me. He told me he would have to go to his family living in a rural area as a younger married brother had just died. When he returned he said that tremendous pressure had been put on him to take the wife of the dead brother so that she could have children in honour of the dead brother. This custom was very strong in their tribe. It meant that he would have failed the ancestors by not having children with the wife of the dead brother. In that way the name of the tribe would be continued. He then explained that he had refused to do what they asked of him which was very heroic. He would give financial support to the wife but not marry her. He added, ‘Father, how could I do what they asked since I have become a Catholic and believe in the resurrection of the dead. If I did I wouldn’t be true to my faith’.
He was confronted with a situation similar to the question the Sadducees put to Jesus in today’s gospel. These Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. They held that when a person died he or she went to Sheol. This nether world was imagined as an immense tomb where people were abandoned and forgotten by God. Nothing more than a shadow was left of the human being.
The Pharisees and Scribes, the other main groups mentioned in the gospels who opposed Jesus believed in the resurrection of the dead. However, the idea of life after death was born rather late in Israel. The first clear mention is in the Book of Daniel ch.12.2, only about 150 years before the birth of Jesus. About a century later the Book of Maccabees from where we get our first reading today speaks very clearly about the resurrection from the dead.
If we are honest, for many of us the argument used by Jesus in the gospel doesn’t say much to us but it was a kind of reasoning that certainly would have appealed to his listeners. However, the answer Jesus gives has a permanently valid truth about it. He is saying that we must not think of heaven in terms of this earth. Life there will be much different. It would save people a lot of misunderstanding and not a little anxiety if we ceased to speculate about what heaven is like and left things to the love of God.
Not too long ago I met a man who said he no longer believed in the resurrection. Rather he believes now in reincarnation. By this he means that when we die we start another kind of existence on this earth. For people like him it is one way of trying to explain that we continue our existence after death. With the Christian idea of resurrection it is mainly the work of God with whom we cooperate. Jesus says in John’s gospel “I am the Resurrection and the Life”. So the resurrection is about a relationship to the Living God and to others which lasts forever. It is God who will raise us up as he did Jesus.
Ultimately a person’s belief in the Christian doctrine of the resurrection is a matter of faith and trust.
We trust what Jesus says that if we have tried to do his will here and now despite our human failings God will raise us up after our deaths. St.Paul says that ‘Eye has not seen nor ear heard what great things God has prepared for those who love him’. Anyone genuinely trying to live a good life will be raised up on the last day. If we don’t want to be part of God’s kingdom he won’t force us to come in. God never rejects anyone but we can refuse to accept him.
The Resurrection is the final test of our faith. We either accept it or we don’t. We have never seen anyone come back from the dead. Will we accept God’s word in scripture and what Jesus says?
One I heard a young African priest preaching about death. He said that there were two kinds of people. The living, those still on the earth and the ‘living dead’. He would not call those who died the dead as if that ended their existence. He felt the term ‘living dead’ was a more dynamic phrase and I agree with him.
I would find it very hard to accept in view of what Jesus says about the resurrection that I will never see again the people I have known and loved on this earth, my parents, relatives, friends etc. I am convinced of the Resurrection because I know from my own personal experience of God’s incredible love for me here that Jesus is alive. I have received too many signs in my life up to now to doubt this.
Our faith and hope in the resurrection must be translated into a commitment to defend life, be it that of the unborn or those ageing or wherever the terrible injustices of our world deprive people of their dignity. Jesus says this clearly in John’s gospel ‘. I have come that they may have life and have it to the full’.
“Lord Jesus, we believe that you are the Resurrection and the Life. Thank you for your promise to raise us up on the last day. We believe this Good News. May we commit ourselves to do all we can here on earth so that we may be lifegivers like you, signs of our future resurrection after death. Amen”
(Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA. New Manila. November 2, 2004)