Sunday, November 10, 2019

Life and Death

November 10, 2019 –– 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Maccabees 7:1–2, 9–14 / 2 Thessalonians 2:16–3:5 / Luke 20:27–38
Life and Death

This is the time of year when the Church turns our attention through the readings to the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. The wisdom of Christian Tradition knows we will not easily think about those things on our own. Our society is obsessed with the here and now. Physical comfort, convenience, and entertainment would be contenders for a “secular trinity.” The Scriptures and the lives of the saints tell us that faithfulness to God is more important that all those things––that faithfulness to God is even worth dying for.  But…. if we are going to hold life in this world loosely, we must have a good reason for our faith. If this life is all there is, the “secular trinity” seems most reasonable. How do we understand the tension of life and death?

The Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection. They were the aristocrats of Jewish society and collaborated with Rome, the power of the day. Their focus was the here-and-now. An unbalanced focus on life in this world is not an unusual response for the wealthy of any time or place. The Sadducees did not wish to lose their wealth, their comfort, and their “place.” But comfort and convenience can suffocate spiritual life. Who feels a need for God if it seems everything is going great? To the comfortable, heaven can seem like a fairy tale with no relevant meaning. Temporal life becomes more important than God; death is to be avoided at all costs and the interim filled with whatever helps us forget we are going to die.

Contrast the Sadducees with the seven brothers and their mother in the Maccabees story. Life certainly was not comfortable and convenient for them. Alexander the Great’s empire had extended into Judea and there was a tyrannical demand that everyone be totally unified in their allegiance to the state. There was no place for a religious commitment that conflicted with the unification of the social order. How shall we respond when there is pressure to be absorbed into a conformed pattern of living that denies God and his truth? This old Jewish story tells us: Even after being tortured one of the brothers said, It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him….

One gross distortion of contemporary Christian Faith is to see it as a spiritual insurance policy providing coverage from hard and painful things in life. Prayer becomes access to a divine vending machine––say the right words and you get supernatural goodies. The Thessalonian letter written by St Paul almost 2000 years ago is an ongoing reminder to all Christians that the world can be a hard place––especially for those who give total allegiance to Jesus. Here the Apostle Paul is asking the Thessalonian Christians to pray that we may be delivered from perverse and wicked people, for not all have faith. He knows that all Christians are in a spiritual war and we need God's perspective and presence.

When people give Jesus total allegiance and Christians have a passion to extend the Gospel to the whole earth, there will be obstacles. Christian faith and practice are being suppressed more and more in our own nation. Much of the world is closed to Christian witness today because spiritual warfare is real. There is opposition to Christian Faith to the point of persecution and death. It’s been that way throughout history, yet it’s not only an in-the-past issue. More Christians died for their faith in the 20th Century than all previous centuries combined! It is estimated that in the two millennia of Christian history, 70 million faithful have died for the Faith, and 45.5 million––65%–– were in the last century. We are in a spiritual war. Satan does not want the love and the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ to prevail.

How can we stay faithful? How can we not succumb to the numbing effects of seduction like the Sadducees? How can we choose faithfulness to Jesus above ridicule or financial loss, or even   physical persecution? Well, we have examples of faith like the seven brothers and their mother. We have the martyrs of the Church. Most of all, we have Jesus affirming a life that goes beyond this world: the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob is a God of the living. As Paul tells the Thessalonians: the Lord is faithful. And so we pray each day for the grace to live in true faithfulness––to give total allegiance to Jesus.

We cannot give witness to something we don't live, and we're not expected to live something God hasn't provided. Knowing Jesus Christ is to know God's love. And knowing that love, we are to show the love of Jesus.... to our wife or husband.... to our children.... to our neighbors.... to the people at work. We are to witness to the love of Christ everywhere we go. When we do that, we are being witnesses of the Gospel (the root of “witness” is martyr). When we witness to the love of God, we show that there is something more important than our own comfort and convenience, or even our very lives. It is because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and coming again to bring total healing to this broken world.

Luke’s setting for this part of his Gospel is Jesus on the way to the cross (see Lu 9:51). This is  so we can know the power of God over death itself. Maccabees tells the story of people who paid the ultimate price for faithfulness to God. Each one of us as Christians is called to “martyrdom” –– laying down our lives in selfless love as a witness to Jesus. It may be a “red martyrdom”–– laying down our physical lives for Jesus’ sake, but more often it’s what the Church calls “white martyrdom”–– dying daily to our selfish desires so that the life and love of Christ in us can grow.

We often hear, “Life is short…. better enjoy it.” How about, “Eternity is long, better prepare for it!”  That is how to keep a true perspective on life and death

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