THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (C)
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It is easy for us Christians to take for granted the resurrection of the body. After all, our Lord and Savior is the One who rose from the dead after three days in the tomb. He is the Resurrection and the Life. Our creed culminates with our profession, "I believe in the resurrection of the body." Our Catechism teaches, "Belief in the resurrection of the dead has been an essential element of the Christian faith from its beginnings" (CCC 991). St. Paul exhorts, "How can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain..." (1 Cor 15:12-13).
Belief in the resurrection of the dead is fundamental to Christianity. But it was not so for Judaism, our elder brother in the faith. The Sadducees, such as those Jesus spoke with in today's gospel reading from Luke 20:27-38, did not believe in the possibility of resurrection. Hence their somewhat convoluted question to Jesus, hoping to catch our Lord in an inconsistency.
But many Jews did believe in a bodily resurrection. And we see in our first reading today testimony to the power of that faith (2 Mac 7:1-2, 9-14). Seven brothers, along with their mother, were captured and tortured. The king who held them captive was attempting to "force them to eat pork in violation of God's law." The brothers' response? One said, "We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors... the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying."
Another brother held out his hands and said, "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." Yet another of the brothers attested, "It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him." Their belief in the resurrection infused their faith and gave them the courage to stand up to even the harshest of oppressors.
We today may look at this scene and think, "Aren't these brothers overreacting? All this, because someone wants to make them eat pork? I mean, I know their religious laws forbid it, but be reasonable... if given the choice between a ham sandwich and death by mutilation, that's an easy choice. Live to fight another day. It's not worth it."
And that's the difference between men with faith like these brothers, and most people of today. These brothers would argue vehemently with the assertion that "it's not worth it." On the contrary, their faith, they would say, is worth everything and anything, because it is that faith that will save them. It is faith that keeps them loyal to God, their creator. And it is He who will raise them up on the last day. These brothers understood well; if you do not attain everlasting life, then ultimately you attain nothing at all.
The world we live in today is not much different from the world of the seven brothers. Oh, no one is trying to force people of faith to eat pork sandwiches. Besides, for us Christians, those dietary restrictions have been lifted. The prohibition of eating certain foods (along with a host of other laws) was a religious discipline given to the people of Israel by God. And it was the same God who lifted those restrictions (see Acts 10:9-16). But at the time of Maccabees, it was the law of God and these men would not violate it, no matter the personal cost to themselves.
Today we still live under the law of God, but it is a moral law based not on some seemingly arbitrary rule from on high, but on the natural law. That is to say, our moral law is based on what it means to be human. That law is not particular to a certain race or tribe, but is universally applicable to all mankind. It is, as St. Paul puts it, "written on our hearts" (Rom 2:15).
The Catholic Church in America is in a situation where many of its faithful are being required by our government to violate that law by providing insurance coverage for procedures that we know to be immoral - contraception, sterilization, abortion. This is the scandal of the HHS mandate as it still stands today. But there are more examples beyond even this. A Protestant couple in New Mexico who own their own photography business have been taken to court for declining to photograph a same-sex couple's wedding. A Methodist church in New Jersey was sued last year for not allowing their gazebo to be rented out for a same-sex marriage ceremony. Christians today are more and more routinely being forced to do things that violate our consciences and our moral principles.
But the real scandal here is that so many Christians - Catholics included - do not see what is the big deal. These are the ones who would look to the seven brothers in today's first reading and say, "Suck it up. Eat the ham sandwich. It's not worth it." They do not understand. These men were willing to lay down their lives rather than violate, not an objective moral principle, but a discipline of their faith. Yet we today stand so willing to violate our own human nature to avoid having to pay a fine. I suggest that we have come to this point only because we have so often and so routinely violated that moral law of our own volition. Therefore we are all the more ready to do so when a little pressure is applied.
I have never been put in a position like the seven brothers we read about today. But I would not be surprised if at some point before my days have ended I find myself standing in their shoes. I expect many of you will face a similar moment. I hope and I pray for each of us, myself included, that we may have the courage and the faith to stand firm, and say along with those brave souls, It is from Christ that I received this body and this life; it is for the sake of Christ that I disdain them; from Him I hope to receive them again. Amen.
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374 | POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723
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