“Cherish the hope God gives of being raised by him” (2 Macc 7:14)

by Susanna Mak
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

2 Maccabees 7:1-2,9-14

2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5

Luke 20:27-38

How far are we willing to push the boundaries in order to reach our ultimate goal or to fulfill our deepest desires? This week’s readings offer some refreshing and encouraging insights about taking a stand for something (or someone) in which (whom) we truly believe. From the tales of the violent death of the seven brothers in Maccabees to the encouraging words of St. Paul; from the Psalmist’s hope-filled prayer to Jesus’ teachings about resurrection and eternal life, the Holy Spirit is gently guiding our gaze away from ourselves - our earthly concerns and worries - to the eternal King of kings and Lord of lords; “to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thes 3:5).

In the first reading, the story about the seven brothers told in 2 Maccabees can surely surpass any Netflix series! This story has everything a blockbuster needs: the villain - a raging king, Antiochus; the heroes - seven righteous and defiant brothers; the witness - the grieving mother; and of course, violence - “torture with whips and thongs”; and death (2 Macc 7:1). Behind the seemingly gratuitous violence lies a tableau of courage rooted in one’s unflinching faith and hope in God. In this animated story, Antiochus compels the seven brothers to eat swine’s flesh that is prohibited by the laws of their ancestors. One of the brothers bravely retorts by saying that they’d rather die than betray their God. One by one, the brothers are tortured and put to death, but not before proclaiming their steadfast faith and hope in the God of their ancestors, “One cannot but choose to [...] cherish the hope God gives of being raised by him” (2 Macc 7:14). In the same way, we are reminded of God’s unconditional love and faithfulness and are called to take courage in taking a stand for our faith - “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). All seven brothers die in the hope that God, “King of the universe” (contrary to King Antioch’s limited, temporary, and elusive power), will raise them up “to an everlasting renewal of life” (2 Macc 7:9). King Antiochus may have the power to take away lives but he is utterly powerless in raising up lives!

St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians reminds us that “the Lord is faithful” and will “strengthen” and “guard” us from “the evil one” (2 Thes 3:3). When we encounter impossible situations or people in our everyday lives, we are tempted to either lash out in rage (complaints, gossips, etc.) or simply throw in the towel. The seven brothers in Maccabees have gone through worse and yet they refuse to surrender! They stand firm in defending their faith; knowing that they will be raised by God. Therefore, as St. Paul writes, may we stand firm in “good hope” and be strengthened by God’s love (2 Thes 2:16).

So, what is eternal life? Certainly, it looks nothing like our earthly existence. Jesus explains, “they cannot die anymore [...] being children of the resurrection” (Lk 20:36). In the Sadducees’ attempt to trap Jesus with yet another mundane scenario, Jesus has shown them, and us, that “those who are considered worthy of a place in … the resurrection from the dead [...] are like Angels and are sons and daughters of God, being children of the resurrection” (Lk 20:34-36). Can we “earn” our rightful place in resurrection? We must be mindful that salvation is a gift, not a right to be "earned": “by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph 2:8-9). As for resurrection, "All the dead will rise, 'those who have done good [i.e. those who are saved], to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment" (CCC 998, cf. Daniel 12:2).

As we journey on over hills and valleys, let us turn our gaze away from our own darkness to the light of Christ. “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope”. (2Thes 2:16)