Lectionary 156, Gospel Luke 20: 27-38
In the first reading today a woman, when faced with torture on account of her faith, cries out: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him”. As we continually confront images of shocking violence coming from the lands of the Bible in the news each day we ought to consider the fearful reality of modern day martyrdom, and more broadly, religious violence. For her part, the mother in the Book of Maccabees endured terrible violence and faced death itself with hope, confident that God would raise her and her sons up to new life after their tormentors put them to death. Read 2 Macc 7:20-23 (not included in today’s lectionary reading) for her eloquent testimony to her faith in the resurrection.
This brings us to question how our lives are defined by the resurrection of Christ from the dead, which is the foundational tenet of Christian faith and the source of all existential hope—the sine qua non of human purpose and dignity. The gospel narrative of Jesus and the Sadducees illustrates helps us to explore this theme. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, a topic which was the subject of diverse views in the Judaism of our Lord’s time. The unusual story which they propose to him as a trick question is an example of what was known in ancient Israel as levirate marriage, the directive found many ancient cultures that if a man died without children his brother had an obligation to marry the widow and bear children “for his brother”, so that the memory and line of the deceased brother might not vanish. The practice in general of marrying a former sister-in-law was both forbidden in the Old Testament (Lev 18:16; and 20:21) and allowed in the case when the deceased man died childless (Deut 25:5-6). Read Deut 25:9 to see how seriously this obligation was taken in Israel!
Jesus sidesteps the entire lengthy question and goes to the heart of the matter: he knows the Sadducees deny the resurrection and did not believe in life and earthly death, so in order to demonstrate the reality of the resurrection he invokes an example they cannot possibly refute, coming as it does from a seminal moment in the Torah. Referring to a passage in the Book of Exodus, he says: “That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out ‘Lord,’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” (Luke 20:37-38).
The fear that grips many people today on account of war, violence, and uncertainty is one that is understandable yet which is also surmountable. The life to which God ultimately calls us is eternal and imperishable, and even when faced with danger we know—believing that we will share in Jesus’ resurrection—that we will inherit the same glory that the mother and her seven sons did in the Book of Maccabees when they stood firm at a time of great anguish and persecution.
Turning back to the brave mother in Maccabees and the skepticism of the Sadducees in the gospel, we see how even in times of strife, hardship, and violence, which the Church has seen so many times through its history, we can indeed overcome all fears and anxieties by living the present life to its fullest, as the genuine gift of God it is, and by standing firm in our faith that the resurrection of Jesus “turns the tables” on all human fears and puts them in the infinitely larger context of our own eternal life in Christ.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.