Jesus models how to answer challenges to faith

By: By Tim Irwin

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 10

2 Maccabees 7:12,9-14; Psalm 17:1,5-6,8,15; 2 Thessalonians 2:16 — 3:5; Luke 20:27-38

God reveals and humanity peels. Unlike the proverbial onion, the peeling takes time. The first reading for the Thirty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time comes from the Second Book of Maccabees. Describing events less than two centuries before Christ’s birth, it offers the most fully developed understanding of the resurrection found in the Old Testament.

A Greek king named Antiochus ruled the Holy Land. He wished to turn the Children of Israel away from God. To that end, he ordered the arrest, torture, and death of anyone who observed God’s laws. The authorities arrest seven brothers and their mother.

“One of the brothers, speaking for the others, said: ‘What do you expect to achieve by questioning us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.'” This sends the king into a rage. Gruesome amputations follow against the brother who spoke. The bullies force his family to watch. In turn, the rest of the family meets the same fate.

The third brother says, “It was from Heaven that I received these; for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him I hope to receive them again.” The fourth brother says, “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.”

Paul’s message to the Thessalonians echoes the ongoing impact of the villainous tormentors of the faithful: “Finally, brothers and sisters pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may speed forward and be glorified, as it did among you, and that we may be delivered from perverse and wicked people, for not all have faith.” The intention of the letter is to refocus the Thessalonians away from a concern as to the exact time of Jesus’ second coming and toward a life of prayer and work in the face of ever-more daunting trials. Paul says, “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ.”

The Gospel from Luke highlights a less violent form of bullying. Some Sadducees hope to entrap Jesus in a contradiction: “Teacher, Moses wrote for us, ‘if someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless. Then the second and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her.”

Jesus answers by explaining that in risen life nobody marries. Jesus says, “They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God.”

The readings for this Sunday invite us to be people of faith in the face of detractors of all sorts. It’s unlikely, but not impossible, that we will face the treachery akin to that faced by the seven brothers and their mother, but we will surely deal with the likes of the Sadducees. Many people hope to discredit our faith arguing that our belief in the resurrection of the dead is irrational. Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees models the way to respond.

Faith is not irrational; it’s transrational. Our faith does not contradict reason, rather it surpasses reason. The joy and contentment of the risen life of Christ cannot be explained in a way that makes sense. Suffice to say, “They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God.”

TIM IRWIN teaches at Peoria Notre Dame High School, where he chairs the Theology Department. He is a member of St. Mark’s Parish in Peoria.

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