"But the Lord is faithful..."

The Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
Responsorial: Psalm 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15
Second Reading: 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
Gospel Passage: Luke 20:27-38

Recently, I visited an exhibit of artifacts from the tomb of “King Tut.” Many of the items were richly decorated for the deceased ruler to use in the afterlife. Egyptian religion was very focused on the question of immortality, and the Pharaohs consumed enormous resources in their quest to secure a place for themselves in the next life. As beautiful as the exhibition items were, I could not help thinking of those who had to labor long and hard in order for the dead Pharaoh to be surrounded by such luxury.

Curiously, the ancient religion of Israel appeared less interested in the question of the afterlife than many other Bronze Age religions. The core books of the Old Testament, the Torah or Pentateuch, focus on relationship with God in this life. They speak of humanity’s origin in God and God’s providential care of humanity. They depict God’s special choice of Israel and the Lord’s promises of land, progeny, and an everlasting kingdom. They detail the obligations of the people to live in accord with the covenant.

Many speculate that the Pentateuch’s relative silence on the question of existence after death may have been a reaction to the Egyptian obsession with immortality and the suffering that such obsessions imposed on those subject to the whims of the allegedly divine Pharaohs. Whatever the cause, Israel’s is a concrete faith that focuses on the gift of life and the living of life in proper relationship to God, creation, and other people. Later Israelites spoke in vague terms of a shadowy existence after death in “Sheol,” but did not propose that existence as a place of judgment or reward.

Nevertheless, later generations of Jews did begin to ask more specific questions about the next world. The shift in interest appears to have been provoked by a crisis of faith during and after the Babylonian Exile. With the loss of the land and kingdom promised by the Lord, Israel had to come to a new understanding of its relationship to God. Part of that process concerned the obvious injustice of this world in which the powerful appear to prosper even as they abuse the vulnerable. How could a just God permit such injustice to stand unchallenged? If Israel’s faith spoke only of righteousness in this life, then what about those who die for the sake of righteousness?

Such is a major concern of the Second Book of Maccabees which depicts the resistance of faithful Jews to pagan persecutors. In the grisly tale of the suffering and death of the seven brothers and their mother we hear convictions that go beyond the earlier vague notions of Sheol. Here faithful Jews trust in the goodness and justice of God and speak of their faith that God will judge people after death, rescuing the just and punishing the wicked.

While the claims about the resurrection to judgment might represent a shift from earlier Jewish traditions, they were founded upon the most fundamental and ancient convictions of Israel. The hope of these martyrs rested on the faithfulness of God. They knew the Lord would never abandon those who clung to the mercy and justice of God.

That same trust in the faithfulness of God is expressed in the Psalm response and the Second Letter to the Thessalonians. As Paul addressed a community that had become fretful about the end of time, he reassured them regarding the fundamental goodness of God. They could not know the future, but they could be certain that God would be with them in the present and future.

The passage from Luke deals explicitly with the debate in Judaism over the question of the afterlife. In Jesus’ day, the question was a matter of legitimate debate, given Israel’s traditions and the strong emphasis on living this life according to the Law and leaving other questions to God. The Sadducees, who recognized the authority of the Pentateuch alone, were likeliest to be skeptical about claims for resurrection.

In this instance, however, their debate is not legitimate. They have no interest in discovering the truth, only the desire to entrap Jesus in an impossible question. They cast the question of resurrection as if it were merely the reanimation of the dead body. They fail to remember the larger context of God’s faithfulness.

Jesus’ rebuke of his opponents and assertion of the resurrection is nothing like the Egyptian obsession with the next life. Jesus’ teachings summon people to a life of goodness and compassion in this world. Discipleship is far from “otherworldly.” However, Jesus also proclaims the faithfulness of God and cites God’s primary role as the author and sustainer of life. As Jesus said these words, the hour of His death approached. Jesus’ faithfulness would be matched by the faithfulness of God and Christian believers would see the power of the God of the Living to love us into life.

Monday, November 8
Reading I: Ti 1:1-9; Responsorial: Ps 24:1b-2, 3-4ab, 5-6; Gospel: Lk 17:1-6
Tuesday, November 9
Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome) Reading I: Ez 47:1-2, 8-9, 12; Responsorial: Ps 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9; Reading II: 1 Cor 3:9c-11, 16-17; Gospel: Jn 2:13-22
Wednesday, November 10
(Memorial of Saint Leo the Great, pope and doctor of the Church) Reading I: Ti 3:1-7; Responsorial: Ps 23:1b-3a, 3bc-4, 5, 6; Gospel: Lk 17:11-19
Thursday, November 11
(Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours, bishop) Reading I: Phlm 7-20; Responsorial: Ps 146:7, 8-9a, 9bc-10; Gospel: Lk 17:20-25
Friday, November 12
(Memorial of Saint Josaphat, bishop and martyr) Reading I: 2 Jn 4-9; Responsorial: Ps 119:1, 2, 10, 11, 17, 18; Gospel: Lk 17:26-37
Saturday, November 13
(Memorial of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, virgin) Reading I: 3 Jn 5-8; Responsorial: Ps 112:1-2, 3-4, 5-6; Gospel: Lk 18:1-8