23Nov 23 November 2013. Saturday of the Thirty-Third Week

1 Macc 6:1ff. Antiochus sees his plans collapsing and attributes this 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.

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.

A Faith that Perseveresto the end

In the tyrant king Antiochus is defeated in his plans to impose a pagan uniformity on his Jewish people. 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 had not belief in the resurrection, yet they always worshipped Yaheh, the God of the living. Somehow or other, a link seems to be missing in their thought.  The Maccabees story shows that military victory is not a final conclusion. The proper religious attitude to life includes faith and perseverance, fidelity over the long haul. Such faith leads to ultimate victory and peace.

In the Gospel we have the odd story of the woman who in succession married seven brothers, culminating in the question. “At the resurrection, whose wife will she be?” It is a story told by Jesus’ enemies to discredit his belief in the afterlife. Jesus does not lower himself to the level of the questioners but answers by suggesting the mysterious way by which in the afterlife we will live in the presence of the living God. The ultimate answer, for which we should risk everything, even life itself, is in the divine mystery of God’s heart. Already we live within that mystery  and live by its strength, for eternal life begins here and now.