The 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 10 November 2019
Lectionary Readings: 2 Mac 7:1-2, 9-14; Ps 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15; 2 Thess 2:16-3:5; Lk 20:27-38
Theme: God is more powerful than death
As the liturgical year winds down, the passages from Luke’s Gospel for the next four weeks address our deepest fears and offer us our most profound hope. Today, Jesus speaks of God as a God of the living who promises that, come the resurrection, all will be God’s children. Next week, the readings speak of the persecutions that will precede the return of the Son of Man, with Jesus’ promise to his disciples that “not a hair on your head will be destroyed”. The feast of Christ the King will show Jesus offering salvation and paradise at the moment of his death, and the First Sunday of Advent turns again to preparation for the return of the Son of Man. The thread winding through this tapestry of readings is the victory over death and the promise of unending life. In the gospel today, the Sadducees, who accepted the authority of the Torah alone and did not – unlike the Pharisees who did – believe in the resurrection of the body, try to trap Jesus over the meaning of scripture. In answer, Jesus contrasts their understanding of resurrection with a true understanding, citing one of the most important texts for all Jews, the revelation of God to Moses that God is a God of the living, not of the dead.
Today’s gospel and those for the coming Sundays affirm God’s love and victory over the power of death. Such a victory evokes today’s dramatic first reading from the Second Book of Maccabees, an excerpt from the story of the martyrdom of the seven brothers during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 BCE) before the Maccabean revolt. Each of the brothers, urged on by their mother, affirms, in the face of unspeakable torture and death, both their fidelity in God’s Law and their trust in the resurrection. The fourth brother shouts out in faith, “Ours is the better choice, to meet death at men’s hands, yet relying on God’s promise that we shall be raised up by him”. The fidelity and victory of the Maccabean martyrs and the eventual triumph of the Maccabees against Antiochus Epiphanes is celebrated each year by our Jewish sisters and brothers in the beautiful festival of light known as Chanukah.
Both of the letters to the probably largely gentile Christian community in the important city of Thessalonika, capital of Macedonia, are concerned with the Second Coming of Christ, which is why they are read on Sundays at the end of our liturgical year. Today, our reading from 2 Thessalonians, encourages the Christians in Thessalonika to persevere in their faith, despite being surrounded by those who do not share that faith. The verse just before our reading starts says, “Stand firm … and keep the traditions that we taught you”. The source of hope and strength is sure: “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father who has given us his love and, through God’s grace, such inexhaustible comfort and such sure hope, comfort you and strengthen you in everything good that you do or say.”
Psalm 17, from which sadly we only read a few scattered verses today, is both a cry to God in a situation of great distress and a sure hope that God’s support will be there when we need it most. Poignant lines which we, unfortunately, do not read are: “Guard me as the apple of your eye./Hide me in the shadow of your wings/from the violent attack of the wicked.” The poem begins with a cry for justice: “Lord, hear a cause that is just” and ends with the firm assurance of God’s response: “in my justice I shall see your face/and be filled, when I awake, with the sight of your glory”.
We, too, are called to hold firm to our faith in a God of the living who is more powerful than death. Today is Remembrance Sunday in the United Kingdom when we remember with gratitude those women and men who, in a violent world, so generously made the ultimate sacrifice. Let us continue to pray for peace and for those still suffering from war both in our own country and in other parts of the world.