19 Nov, Saturday of Week 33

1 Macc 6:1ff. The Syrian king Antiochus sees his plans for empire and renown collapsing and attributes his failures to his persecution of the Jews.

Lk 20:27ff. Jesus defends the resurrection of the dead by stating that God is the God of the living, not of the dead.

Faith that Perseveres

The readings seem to provide more questions than answers, yet they rely on a strong faith which ultimately supports us better than rational arguments. In First Maccabees international political events seem to justify fidelity to God. The tyrant, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, is defeated in his plans to impose uniformity on his empire, even to the extent of demanding of the Jewish people complete conformity to his pagan religion. An awkward question emerges from the gospel: if God is the God of the living, does it follow that the just will rise from the grave? After all, the Old Testament people for centuries did not include the resurrection among their religious beliefs, yet they always worshipped Yaheh, the God of the living. Somehow or other, a link seems to be missing in the argument.

The Maccabee story shows that military victory is not a final, definitive conclusion. Although this era ends with the Maccabean family, later to be called Hasmoneans, established as royalty in Jerusalem, this dynasty soon became corrupt, and by its infighting, and its dissolute members, led to the occupation of Palestine by the Romans in 63 B.C. The fact that this book remains in our Bible affirms the Hebrew conviction that politics are necessary, though they must be sustained by deeper, more basic religious values, which reach beyond this life into the resurrection of the body.

The proper religious attitude is faith and perseverance, fidelity over the long haul. Such faith will also lead us to ultimate victory and peace. The purification of our lives and of our world may be more intense than we even imagine. History must take its full course, at times with seeming foolishness and weakness. History takes its course in strange ways, as instanced in the Gospel. First the awkward story of the woman who was obliged to marry seven brothers, one after another, and then becomes the enigmatic factor in the story. “At the resurrection, whose wife will she be?” It is only a story – and it is told by Jesus’ enemies – yet it was told and repeated, to the chagrin of women. Jesus does not lower himself to the level of the questioners but answers the question in a different way, to bear upon life after death and the mysterious form which our bodies will take at that time, mysterious, yet full of life, and by that life we testify to the God of the living. The ultimate answer, for which we should risk everything, our history and our human fate on earth, rests in the divine mystery of God’s heart. mystery. Yet we already live within that mystery, feel its attraction, and live off its strength, for already we are part of this earth and part of the life in heaven.

First Reading: 1 Maccabees 6:1-13

King Antiochus was going through the upper provinces when he heard that Elymais in Persia was a city famed for its wealth in silver and gold. Its temple was very rich, containing golden shields, breastplates, and weapons left there by Alexander son of Philip, the Macedonian king who first reigned over the Greeks. So he came and tried to take the city and plunder it, but he could not because his plan had become known to the citizens and they withstood him in battle. So he fled and in great disappointment left there to return to Babylon.

Then someone came to him in Persia and reported that the armies that had gone into the land of Judah had been routed; that Lysias had gone first with a strong force, but had turned and fled before the Jews; that the Jews had grown strong from the arms, supplies, and abundant spoils that they had taken from the armies they had cut down; that they had torn down the abomination that he had erected on the altar in Jerusalem; and that they had surrounded the sanctuary with high walls as before, and also Beth-zur, his town.

When the king heard this news, he was astounded and badly shaken. He took to his bed and became sick from disappointment, because things had not turned out for him as he had planned. He lay there for many days, because deep disappointment continually gripped him, and he realized that he was dying. So he called all his Friends and said to them, “Sleep has departed from my eyes and I am downhearted with worry. I said to myself, “To what distress I have come! And into what a great flood I now am plunged! For I was kind and beloved in my power.’ But now I remember the wrong I did in Jerusalem. I seized all its vessels of silver and gold, and I sent to destroy the inhabitants of Judah without good reason. I know that it is because of this that these misfortunes have come upon me; here I am, perishing of bitter disappointment in a strange land.”

Gospel: Luke 20:27-40

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him another question.

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