Throughout our reading of St. Luke’s Gospel this year – Luke has told us about Jesus making his way to Jerusalem. Along this journey, he has been teaching his followers what discipleship means and what they must do to carry on his life and ministry.
Jesus has told them along the way that he would suffer, die,and be raised from the dead IN Jerusalem. And now his feet are standing within the gates of Jesusalem: Jesus is teaching in the Temple just a few days before he will be put to death.
While many people welcomed Jesus when he arrived in Jerusalem – others did not - like the Sadducees.
They are part of the wealthy aristocracy who cooperate with the occupying Romans.
They are the fundamentalists of their day who insist that the only authentic word of God comes from the Torah - the first five books of the Old Testament.
They are also the priests of the Temple - and they are the ones who stand to loose the most if any of what Jesus teaches comes about - and so they want to take one last stand to discredit him before the crowds who follow him.
So they try to trap him in his teaching about the resurrection of the dead. Knowing there is NO mention of the resurrection in the Torah,
they quote a marriage law found in the Book of Deuteronomy, part of the Torah – part of their most sacred texts.
The law they quote requires that if a man dies without a male heir – then his brother is to marry his widow and produce such an heir.
The Sadducees propose a somewhat ridiculous situation of a woman who married all seven of the men in one family and still died childless. Whose wife will she be if there is such a thing — as resurrection?
They think Jesus has only two options: to either dismiss the law of Moses – thereby showing he is not a faithful Jew – to to dismiss the idea of resurrection - which has been part of his teaching. . .
But Jesus responds that they do not understand the nature of resurrection and the new life that follows.
They are focussing on the reality of an earthly kingdom. But Jesus is referring to the reign of God – which will be ushered in by his own death and resurrection.
Resurrection is life transformed by the God of the living. As his closest followers will discover - life transformed is not the same life on earth – as they will fail to recognize him after his transformation from death, his resurrection, in the weeks to come – they will think he is a ghost, or the gardener – there will be something physically different about him – much like when he was transfigured before Peter, James, and John.
At the heart of our faith – is the Paschal Mystery: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As we walk together to the New and Eternal Jerusalem, we are convinced that death is not the end. We do our best to trust in the promise of Jesus that if we die with him – we will rise with him.
But as much as we want to believe that – we do sometimes have a hard time explaining it in a clear and understandable way.
The Second Book of Maccabees provides an insight. It tells the story of a very difficult time for the people of Israel two centuries before the birth of Christ.
The Greeks had taken control of Israel – and decided to ban all religious practices – except their own.
The king at the time was Antiochus Epiphanes which in Greek means: Zeus Revealed. In other words, his name meant: just call me god!
At his command, the temple in Jerusalem was desecrated, and all other places of worship were destroyed. Those who refused to worship HIM were put to death.
So in today’s first reading, a faithful Jewish mother is arrested, along with her seven sons. They are given a choice – worship the king – the one with the big ego – or be killed.
Each of the brothers refuses to worship the king and chooses to die rather than abandon their trust in the one true God. Each of the brothers is murdered in a brutal way, along with their mother.
They choose death because of their firm belief that God would raise them up again. Their heroic actions are more eloquent than any theological or philosophical attempt to explain the mystery of life after death.
We may think that what happened to the mother and her sons is an isolated event that happened a long time ago.
But we have all heard of the anti-Jewish rhetoric that has been growing the last few years.
And according to the World Watch List released by the magazine Christianity Today:
Everyday, 13 Christians worldwide are killed because of their faith.
Everyday, 12 churches or Christian buildings are attacked.
And everyday, 12 Christians are unjustly arrested or imprisoned.
North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iran, Nigeria, and India – being the countries most dangerous for Christians to live in.
Now we might think, well those numbers aren’t too high – but isn’t just one too high?
It is the firm belief in the resurrection which continues to give these Christians hope – and should give us hope - in whatever slight difficulties or hardships we need to endure, to remain faithful.
It is the firm belief in the Paschal Mystery which continues to give us hope: that light is stronger than darkness. That love is stronger than hate. And that life is certainly stronger than death.
It is the firm belief that: We shall rise again on the last day with the faithful rich and poor. Coming to the house of Lord Jesus, we will find an open door there, we will find an open door,
Moments in time...