32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)

Readings:
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
Psalm 17:1, 5-6, 8
2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
Luke 20:27-38 or 20:27, 34-38

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for humanity, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings ~ The Hope of the Resurrection and Deliverance from Persecution
The First Reading and the Gospel Reading focus on the hope of resurrection, while the Psalm and the Second Reading call for perseverance and hope in God's justice in the midst of trials and suffering. Both the First Reading and the hypothetical story in the Gospel Reading involve the fate of seven brothers.

The story in our First Reading has a historical basis. The suffering endured by the Jews in the 2nd century BC has been attested to in ancient secular documents. It was during the period of Seleucid Greek domination of Judah that the efforts were made to eradicate the Jewish faith and culture to be replaced by Hellenistic culture and the worship of Greek idols. The reading from the 2nd Book of Maccabees records the faith of a woman's seven sons in defending their belief in the God of Israel and their obedience to the Law of Moses. Each son, in turn, endured torture and martyrdom rather than to deny the One True God. The story should invite each of us to an examination of conscience in asking ourselves, "Am I prepared to suffer martyrdom for Christ, believing that there is an eternal life open to me beyond this temporal life?" and, "Is denying Christ in this temporal life worth risking my eternal salvation?" Jesus promised us, if we deny Him before others, He will deny us on the Day of Judgment. However, if we acknowledge Him, He will defend us in the presence of angels before the throne of His heavenly Father (Luke 12:8-9).

In the Psalm Reading, the psalmist has been unjustly attacked by his enemies and seeks refuge before the justice seat of Yahweh, within God's holy Temple. The psalmist cries out for God's just judgment, and he confidently petitions God's divine aid against his enemies. He trusts in God's special care, using the metaphor of God's protective wings, an image which comes from God's dwelling place between the wings of the cherubim above the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant in the Jerusalem Temple's Holy of Holies. The same loving intervention is open to all of God's children who seek His divine justice when unjustly persecuted. Even if justice is not achieved in this life, we have God's assurance that we will receive His divine justice in the resurrection that is to come (Rev 7:15, 17).

Our Second Reading is from St. Paul's second letter to the faith community he founded at Thessalonica in Macedonia (Acts 17:19). Paul encourages the congregation to continue in good works and in sharing God's word in the Gospel. Paul promises that these righteous acts will strengthen them in faith and bring them closer to the glory of God. Paul also asks for their prayers for him and his missionary team. He asks for them to pray that the Gospel message of salvation that they preach will spread quickly and will be received in faith as it was among the members of their community. He also asks them to pray that the missionary team will be protected from persecution from those who reject the Gospel. We must continue St. Paul's same petitions for the servants of Jesus Christ who carry the Gospel message of salvation to their own communities and across the face of the earth.

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus rebukes the Sadducees who reject the doctrine of the resurrection. Correcting their misconceptions, He tells them that resurrected life will be very different from life on earth. Since life is eternal, there is no longer any need to produce more generations of the living to replace the dead in the heavenly kingdom. Resurrected life in both body and spirit is eternal; therefore, it is no longer necessary for the sacrament of marriage that is an earthly partnership with God to increase the population on earth.

The hope of mankind's physical resurrection in the Second Advent of Christ is one of the great gifts of our promised eternal salvation. Just before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, as a promise of our future resurrection at the end of the Age of Man, He told Lazarus' grieving sister Martha: "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." And then Jesus asked her, "Do you believe this?" (Jn 11:25-26). This is the question that our readings ask each of us today: "Can you persevere in suffering to continue in faith, taking strength from the promises of God?" and "Do you believe when Jesus returns in His Second Advent that He has the power to raise you up from the dead to a new and eternal life in both body and spirit?" Your entire eternal future depends on your answers to these questions.

The First Reading 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14 ~ Heroic Martyrdom for the sake of the Resurrection
1 It happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king, to force them to eat pork in violation of God's law.  2 One of the brothers, speaking for the others, said: "What do you expect to achieve by questioning us?  We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors." 
9 At the point of death he said: "You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.  It is for his laws that we are dying."  10 After him the third suffered their cruel sport.  He put out his tongue at once when told to do so, and bravely held out his hands, 11 as he spoke these noble words: "It was from Heaven that I received these; for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him I hope to receive them again."  12 Even the king and his attendants marveled at the young man's courage, because he regarded his sufferings as nothing.  13 After he had died, they tortured and maltreated the fourth brother in the same way.  14 When he was near death, he said, "It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life."

After the Persians had allowed the Jews to return from exile in Babylon to Judah (6th century BC), the armies of Alexander the Great defeated the Persians in the 4th century BC. When Alexander died, his generals divided his empire. At the time the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees were written, the Jews were suffering under the domination of the Syrian-Greek Empire of the Seleucids. In the 2nd century BC, Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes tried to impose Greek culture and religion on all the subjects in his empire. He set up a statue of Zeus in the Jerusalem Temple, offered sacrifices to the Greek gods, and tried to force observant Jews to break the Law of Moses by eating ritually unclean foods like pork (see Lev 11:1-8). The penalty for non-compliance was torture and death. This savagery was even imposed upon women and children (1 Mac 1:60ff). The story in our reading has a historical basis and the suffering the Jews endured in this period has been attested to in ancient secular documents (see for example, Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 12:5.3-4; 12.6.1-3; Wars of the Jews, 1.1.1-2).

What a good mother the brothers had to instill in them a selflessly love of God and to be obedient to His Law. The seven brothers in the story profess their belief in the resurrection of the righteous and the promise of eternal life by the power of the Creator. Each brother bravely accepts martyrdom rather than defy the commands of God under the Sinai covenant, and each brother is confident that God will keep His promise that they will live again. It is a promise foretold by the Archangel Michael to the prophet Daniel in the 6th century BC: Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace. But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament. And those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever (Dan 12:1-2). Jesus spoke of the two destinies for the resurrected dead in Matthew 25:31-46: eternal life for the obedient righteous and eternal death for the unrepentant sinners who deny Christ by denying his obligation to the poor and suffering. Which destiny will be yours?

Responsorial Psalm 17:1, 5-6, 8 ~ A Prayer for Rescue from Persecutors
The response is: "Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full."

1 Hear, O LORD, a just suit; attend to my outcry; harken to my prayer from the lips without deceit. 
Response:
5 My steps have been steadfast in you paths, my feet have not faltered.  6 I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me; hear my word.
Response:
8 Keep me as the apple of your eye, hide me in the shadow of your wings.  But I in justice shall behold your face; on waking I shall be content in your presence.
Response:

This psalm is attributed to King David.  The psalmist has been unjustly attacked and seeks refuge before the justice seat of Yahweh, the righteous judge, within the Temple.  Confident of being found innocent of the charges against him, the psalmist cries out for God's judgment (verses 1-5).  He confidently petitions God's divine aid against his enemies (verses 6-8).  In verse 8 he calls out: Keep me as the apple of your eye, hide me in the shadow of your wings.  But I in justice shall behold your face; on waking I shall be content in your presence, using familiar images of God's special care (see Dt 32:10; Prov 7:2; and Is 49:2).  The metaphor of God's protective wings comes from God's dwelling place between the wings of the cherubim above the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant in the Jerusalem Temple's Holy of Holies (1 Kng 6:23-28; 8:6-7).  The same metaphor of God's protective wings will be used by Jesus in His lament over the fate of Jerusalem (Mt 23:37).

The Second Reading 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5 ~ Encouragement to Persevere
16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.  3:1 Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may speed forward and be glorified, as it did among you, 2 and that we may be delivered from perverse and wicked people, for not all have faith.  3 But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.  4 We are confident of you in the Lord that what we instruct you, you are doing and will continue to do.  5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ.

Our reading is from St. Paul's second letter to the faith community he founded at Thessalonica in Macedonia (Acts 17:19).  In this passage, Paul encourages the congregation to continue in good "deeds" and in sharing God's "word" in the Gospel (verse 17).  These righteous acts will strengthen them in faith and bring them closer to the glory of God.  Next, Paul asks for their prayers for him and his missionary team.  He asks for them to pray:

  1. That the Gospel message of salvation that they preach will spread quickly and will be received in faith as it was among the members of their community.
  2. That the missionary team will be protected from persecution from those who reject the Gospel.

The second prayer request is directed for protection from "perverse and wicked people" who do not have faith (2:2).  Paul and his companions have suffered for Christ in spreading the Gospel of salvation.  In 2 Corinthians he wrote: Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure.  And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches (2 Cor 11:25-28). 

But Paul also prays for the Thessalonians.  He prays that:

  1. God will protect and strengthen them.
  2. God will guard them from the "evil one."

He knows that they will be tempted by evil, but he also knows that it is God's promise that they will not be tempted beyond their powers of resistance (1 Cor 10:13).

Finally, Paul tells the Thessalonians that the missionary team has confidence in them to be an obedient and faithful community in Christ, and he gives them his blessing in verse 5: May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ.  May Paul's blessing for the 1st century church at Thessalonica be our blessing today: that we commit ourselves selflessly to the love of God and that we continued to endure all for the sake of our salvation in Christ Jesus!

The Gospel of Luke 20:27-38 ~ The Sadducees question Jesus on the Resurrection
27 Some Sadducees, those who deny there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to him, 28 saying, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us, 'If someone's brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.'  29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless.  30 Then the second 31 and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless.  32 Finally the woman also died.  33 Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?  For all seven had been married to her."  34 Jesus said to them, "The children of this age marry and remarry; 35 but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.  36 They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise [being sons of the resurrection].  37 That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called 'Lord' the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; 38 and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive."  39 Some of the scribes said in reply, "Teacher, you have answered well."  40 And they no longer dared to ask him anything. [..] = literal translation (Interlineal Bible Greek-English, vol. IV, page 230).

The Sadducees were the religious/political party that was for the most part composed of the chief priests.  We have information concerning the beliefs of the Sadducees from Scripture and from the writings of Flavius Josephus, a Jewish priest and historian (c. 34/37-100 AD)

27 Some Sadducees, those who deny there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to him, 28 saying, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us, 'If someone's brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.'
To press their belief in the absurdity of a physical resurrection, the Sadducees allude to a passage in Deuteronomy 25:1-5. In the Latin Vulgate, the statute on marriage in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 came to be known as "levirate marriage," since the word levir means "brother-in-law," designating the husband's brother in Latin.  According to the Law, a man was forbidden to marry his brother's wife if she had borne children to his brother, but an exception was made if the brother died without an heir.  In that case, it was his closest kinsman's obligation to marry the widow and give his deceased kinsman an heir (see the Book of Ruth 4:5).  The Sadducees then propose an extreme hypothetical case of a woman who married seven times in turn to seven brothers.  At the conclusion of their story, with the intention of debunking the doctrine of the resurrection and to make Jesus look foolish, they ask whose wife she will be in the resurrection.

In this same exchange in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives them a shockingly strong rebuke (remember these are chief priests of the ministerial priesthood).  In Matthew 22:29, Jesus told the chief priests You are misled because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.  The "power of God" refers to the resurrection of the dead.  Jesus then instructed them in reverse order, telling them they do not understand the resurrection nor do they understand the Pentateuch/the Torah of Moses.  He will continue to prove His point on their failure to understand the Scriptures in His exchange with the religious leaders in Luke 20:17-18 and 41-44.  The Sadducees, who believed that they were the authoritative interpreters of the Torah of Moses and the "shepherds of Israel," must have been highly insulted.

34 Jesus said to them, "The children of this age marry and remarry; 35 but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.  36 They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise [being sons of the resurrection]. 
Resurrected life will be very different from life on earth. Since life is eternal, there is no longer any need to produce more generations of the living, and, therefore, there is no longer any need for marriage (see 2 Cor 15:35-40).

Jesus rebuked then saying, 37 That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called 'Lord' the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; 38 and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive."
Knowing that the Sadducees considered the Torah of Moses to be Spirit inspired Scripture, Jesus used the Torah to prove their incorrect understanding of the resurrection of the dead.  As a proof-text to correct their misunderstanding of Scripture and the resurrection, Jesus refers to what God told Moses to tell the children of Israel concerning the identity of the God (verse 37).  The exchange between God and Moses that Jesus is referring to is from Moses' experience of God in the incident of the bush that did not burn up when God told Moses to go and liberate His people in Exodus 3:15-16.  Jesus' point in referring to this passage is that since God continues a personal relationship with the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob after their physical death, there must be a form of life for them in the future.  For other O.T. passages about the resurrection, see Is 25:8; 26:19; Ps 73:24-25; and Dan 12:1-3.

Jesus has shown that the Sadducees do not understand the meaning of resurrected life nor do they understand that the Torah of Moses contains evidence for belief in the resurrection.  Jesus is "coming against the shepherds of Israel" who are not correctly "tending the sheep" of Israel.   Jesus, God incarnate, is now the Shepherd of God's flock (see Jn chapter 10) as prophesied by the 6th century BC prophet Ezekiel: The Lord Yahweh says this: Look, I am against the shepherds.  I shall take my flock out of their charge and henceforth not allow them to feed my flock.  And the shepherds will stop feeding themselves, because I shall rescue my sheep from their mouths to stop them for being food for them.  For the Lord Yahweh says this: Look, I myself shall take care of my flock and look after it (Ez 34:10-11 NJB).

Catechism References:
2 Maccabees 7:9 and 14 (CCC 992)
2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5 (CCC 162)
Luke 20:27-38 (CCC 366, 990-991, 997-998)

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